Berri slams caricature insulting Saudi king (The Daily Star, 20/02/2013)

Speaker Nabih Berri condemned caricatures insulting Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz that were distributed on flyers in several Beirut neighborhoods and hanged in a banner on a pedestrian bridge in Jal alDib Tuesday.

A parliamentary source told The Daily Star that Berri met with Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad alAsiri in Parliament to convey his disapproval over the incident. Berri reportedly ripped the flyer apart after being shown the caricature by an unnamed Future Movement MP.

“This is unacceptable; we will not forget the efforts exerted by Saudi King Abdullah in helping Lebanon throughout various stages of the country’s history. This is not how we should treat a man who we cherish and respect,” the source quoted Berri as saying. Berri was addressing lawmakers at the beginning of a session for joint parliamentary committees to discuss electoral drafts.

The Saudi monarch was depicted as the king of spades in a deck of playing cards holding blood-stained swords in the caricatures that were widely distributed Tuesday morning.

State Prosecutor Hatem Madi immediately ordered the arrests of the individuals believed to be involved in the incident.

“Judge Hatem Madi tasked the Central Criminal Investigation Bureau with launching a probe to determine the identity of the individuals responsible for this act, locate them, arrest them and refer them to the judiciary,” a judicial source told The Daily Star.

The caricatures sparked a wave of condemnation by various individuals in Lebanon. The head of the Beirut Chamber of Commerce, Mohammad Choukeir, voiced his concern that the caricatures would have negative repercussions for Lebanese citizens living in Gulf countries. “Further offending Gulf states will negatively impact nearly 500,000 Lebanese people living in the region,” Choukeir told the Central News Agency.

Future Movement Akkar MP Khaled Daher indirectly blamed Hezbollah for the incident.

“There is a certain Lebanese party that is linked with Iran, and works to spread the policy of Iran, which is to show hostility to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states,” Daher said in an interview with a local radio station.

Relations between Lebanon and various Gulf countries have been marred by controversy in recent weeks. Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun criticized the lack of support for opposition protesters in Bahrain by the international community during an interview with an Iranian television station last week.

The political fallout from Aoun’s remarks resulted in the Bahraini Foreign Ministry summoning Lebanon’s charge d’affairs to protest the comments. On Sunday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati telephoned his Bahraini counterpart to clarify that the Lebanese government does not endorse Aoun’s comments that were made in a personal capacity.

The criticism of King Abdullah is an apparent response to an unflattering caricature of Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai published in the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan this week. Asiri told the state-run National News Agency Friday “that the caricature was an individual act and does not reflect in any way the opinion of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” The caricature in Al-Watan depicted Rai as President Bashar Assad and came days after the patriarch’s historic visit to Syria.

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