Lebanese hold Saudi Arabia flags during a protest in support of the kingdom (photo: AP)
The Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah intensified Lebanon’s problems this week when Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi criticised Saudi Arabia’s policies on the Houthi rebels in Yemen, causing Hizbullah to describe the resulting backlash against Kordahi from Riyadh and other Gulf capitals as “unjust”.
Kordahi called the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen “futile” and said Yemen was being subjected to “aggression”. The Iran-aligned Houthis were “defending themselves,” he said, leading Hizbullah to support Kordahi since it is also an ally of Iran.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Kordahi had been expressing his “personal opinions,” but for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries his words were a political intervention that led to Lebanon’s ambassadors being expelled from the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.
Saudi Arabia has halted Lebanese imports to the country, something which could cost Lebanon up to 8.25 per cent of its total exports. The value of Lebanese exports is around $3.54 billion, of which $243.7 million is to Saudi Arabia.
If the Saudi measures continue, the crisis in the industrial sector in Lebanon can only worsen, according to expert Paul Abi Nasr, who pointed out that the other GCC countries have not banned imports from Lebanon. He said that 50 per cent of Lebanese exports go to the GCC countries and that Lebanon did not have an alternative to this major market.
Abdo Ghasoub, an expert in international law, said that Lebanese citizens working in the GCC countries were not likely to be affected by the moves, as they were mostly employees and were not charged with interfering in political affairs.
Secretary-General of the Lebanese Business Council in Kuwait Karim Darwiche told Al-Ahram Weekly that Kordahi’s statement had had serious repercussions on relations with Lebanon, however, and that it was an attack on the policies of Saudi Arabia and the GCC.
He said that the Kuwait Ministry of Foreign Affairs had expressed its regret over the situation, stating that the well-being of the Lebanese in Kuwait was its priority. He said that Lebanon should draw closer to the Arab countries and seek Arab support for its economy, adding that the GCC countries had historically supported development in Lebanon without considering political factors.
Some Lebanese businessmen, among them President of the Lebanese Exhibitions & Conferences Association (LECA) Elie Rizk, told the Weekly that they would take legal action against Kordahi under the Lebanese Constitution that states that any person doing harm to Lebanon can be prosecuted.
Charles Jeha, president of the Lebanese Business Council in Dubai and the UAE, described the situation as a “loss for Lebanon,” especially considering that the current economic conditions are not favourable and the Lebanese government has a responsibility to support the country’s industrial and agricultural sectors in managing the crisis.
He said that what was needed was change in the status quo or a new government in Lebanon. The current Lebanese government did not have appropriate policies, he said, and there were problems between the political parties.
He added that he was focusing on the interests of Lebanese abroad and those in Lebanon involved in exporting, where good relations with the GCC were very important to putting the country back on track diplomatically and economically.
Journalist Tony Boulos said Hizbullah was trying to detach Lebanon from Arab influence, adding that the group has always had an agenda that it has aimed to impose on successive Lebanese governments, especially during the period in office of Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
The government had not taken action against Hizbullah to protect the interests of the GCC, he said, and the reaction of Saudi Arabia was “understandable.” The GCC had acted in the interests of the Lebanese abroad, who condemned Hizbullah attempts to stir up conflict with the Arab countries, he added.
Boulos said he hoped that Lebanese citizens and parties considering themselves to be against Hizbullah would push for change.
Kordahi was considering his resignation until last weekend, but this was refused by head of the Marada Movement Suleiman Franjieh, who had named him to the position. Franjieh is considered to be pro-Hizbullah.