BEIRUT: Outgoing Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad al-Asiri said in a speech Thursday that his country would not interfere in the presidential election, and also attributed the rise of Islamic fanaticism to the Iranian revolution.
“I honestly tell you that the kingdom did not and will not interfere [in naming candidates]. The decision should be a Lebanese one,” Asiri told reporters after paying a farewell visit to the Union of Journalists.
“The kingdom encourages all parties to come up with suitable solutions in order to choose a president as soon as possible, but it will not interfere in this issue,” Asiri said. “The process of the government formation proved what I am saying now: We did not interfere in its formation.”
Asiri said that the absence of a president created problems between Lebanon and other countries, particularly in the process of appointing ambassadors.
Commenting on former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s surprise return to Lebanon last week, Asiri said that the Future Movement leader, an ally of the kingdom, returned to the country at the “appropriate time.”
“There are requirements for the parliamentary and presidential elections that should be fulfilled. Former Prime Minister Hariri represents a political component in Lebanon. Therefore, I believe his presence in Lebanon is necessary and came at the right moment,” Asiri said.
Separately, the outgoing ambassador said that fanaticism in Islam had emerged following the Iranian revolution of 1979.
“I honestly say that I only recognized that I am a Sunni when [Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini’s revolution happened. Before that, I only knew that I am a Muslim,”Asiri noted.
He called on Lebanese journalists to raise a voice of moderation against extremism, which he said was “new to Lebanon.”
“I hope the Lebanese press will be inspired by what the Saudi King [Abdullah] has called for, which is fighting terrorism and the murky ideology that deviates from Islam and human values,” Asiri said, in reference to a speech delivered by the Saudi king earlier this month.
Asiri was due to leave the country Saturday to start his new job as the ambassador to Pakistan but has delayed his departure and will remain in Lebanon for some time, the embassy’s media officer said.
Asiri also visited former Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani Thursday.
“I paid a farewell visit to his eminence and also to congratulate Muslims for the recent achievement in Dar al-Fatwa, which, God willing, will reflect [positively] on the current situation,” Asiri said, referring to the election of Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian as Lebanon’s new grand mufti.
“We all know that Dar al-Fatwa represents the voice of moderation and we hope that everybody will embrace it so that it can fulfill its duties,”Asiri said.