Dubai: Lebanon’s Christian Maronite Patriarch, who made a historic visit to Saudi Arabia Tuesday, expressed support for the reasons behind Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri’s resignation.
Hariri, a Saudi ally said his resignation on November 4 had been prompted by an assassination plot and accused Iran and Hezbollah of sowing strife in the region. He denies there are any constraints on his movement.
Patriarch Bechara Al Rai met Hariri as well as King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman as part of a trip that was planned well before the Lebanese political crisis brought on by Hariri’s resignation.
“Hariri is returning as fast as possible and I support the reasons for his resignation,” Al Rai was quoted as saying by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.
Hariri tweeted he was fine and would return to Lebanon in the next two days
On Twitter, he urged Lebanese to remain calm and said his family would stay in Saudi Arabia, calling it “their country”.
The events have thrust Lebanon back to the forefront of the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Al Rai’s trip has come under heightened scrutiny in light of Hariri’s resignation, but an official visit to Saudi Arabia by such a senior non-Muslim cleric is significant as a important demonstration of religious openness in the country.
Prince Mohammad says he wants Saudi Arabia to open up more to the world.
In addition to imposing radical economic reforms, the 32-year-old heir-apparent has pledged to relax strict social norms and revive a “middle-of-the-road, moderate Islam open to the world and all religions, traditions and people”.
Al Rai heads the Maronite church, which has a presence in Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus and follows an Eastern rite of the Roman Catholic Church.
Flanked by Catholic clerics wearing vestments and gold crosses, Rai discussed religious tolerance and combating extremism with the king and his son, the Saudi state news agency said.