Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expressed full support on Wednesday for visiting Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Saad al-Hariri in his efforts to form a cabinet and resolve a crippling economic and political crisis.
Lebanon is battling an economic meltdown dubbed by the World Bank as one of the deepest depressions in modern history.
The financial crisis, which has propelled more than half of the population into poverty and seen the value of the currency drop by more than 90% in nearly two years, has been deepened by political deadlock.
Egypt holds diplomatic weight in the region and has provided some aid to Lebanon during the crisis. It is allied with Sunni Gulf powers that long channelled funds into Lebanon but have recently become alarmed by the rising influence of the Iran-backed armed Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
Under a sectarian power-sharing system, Lebanon’s president must be a Maronite Christian and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim.
Veteran Sunni politician Hariri has been at loggerheads for months with President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, over forming a new government. He is due to meet Aoun at the Baabda presidential palace on his return from Cairo.
Earlier on Wednesday, Aoun said he hoped he hoped Hariri would carry “positive indications” to the meeting, adding that efforts were still under way to form a cabinet.
In Egypt, Sisi welcomed Hariri, “reaffirming Egypt’s full support for Hariri’s political path which aims at restoring stability to Lebanon”, and for his attempts to deal with challenges including the formation of a government, a presidency statement said.
Amid speculation that Hariri would stand down this week, Egypt urged him not to give up on forming a cabinet, Saudi Arabian state-owned broadcaster Al Hadath said, citing unnamed sources.
Cairo would coordinate Arab efforts to help chart a way out of the crisis, the channel reported.
Hariri also met Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who stated Egypt’s support for Lebanon’s “exit from the current situation, and the necessity for all Lebanese parties to prioritise Lebanon’s highest interest over any narrow interests”, according to tweets from Hariri and the Egyptian foreign ministry.