Lebanese patriarch makes historic Saudi visit amid Hariri crisis
Lebanon’s Christian Maronite Patriarch began a historic visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday (November 13) under heightened scrutiny amid political tensions that have thrust his country back to the forefront of the conflict between the Sunni kingdom and Shi’ite rival Iran.
Patriarch Beshara 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. Maronites number about 900,000 in Lebanon, around a quarter of the population.
An official visit to Saudi Arabia by such a senior non-Muslim cleric is a rare act of religious openness for the kingdom, which hosts the holiest sites in Islam and bans the practice of other religions but says it wants to open up more to the world.
It is also the first trip to Riyadh by a senior Lebanese official since the start of a crisis sparked by Saad al-Hariri’s resignation as Lebanese prime minister on November 4 from the Saudi capital.