Kordahi Worsens The Lebanese Crisis

Published November 1st, 2021 - 06:01 GMT
Soldiers outside the Lebanese Central Bank
Soldiers roll away a flaming tire after protests over the economic crisis outside the central bank branch in northern Lebanon © Fathi Al-Masri/AFP

Relations between the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Lebanon are not likely to improve anytime soon. If anything they are taking a dive downwards despite the stiff upper lips being maintained by politicians in Beirut. 


While relations between the Gulf and Lebanon has always been "cool", this time around the Saudis, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis and the Emiratis are determined to show their displeasure with Lebanon despite its malaise that is bordering on economic collapse. 


Starting with Riyadh and Manama, Gulf politicians have become very upset and the only way to register their anger has been to withdraw their ambassadors from Beirut. Further, they told the Lebanese ambassadors in their respective capitals they had 48 hours to leave. It was a short, cold, slick, sharp sentences, delivered nearly all at once.


Soon afterwards, and in a bid to show unity Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates followed the Saudi and Bahraini moves.  The message being received in Beirut was that Lebanese ambassadors in those capitals were no longer welcomed. 


Lebanon, a long friend of the Gulf countries suddenly stand at a crossroad; its politicians, starting from president Michael Aoun, prime minister Nagib Mikati and the rest of the ministers and parliamentarians are flabbergasted. The news hit them right on their heads.

 
This is quickly turning to be one of the biggest diplomatic and political crisis in decades. In fact, it was a first time event of such magnitude. At the heart of the dispute is George Kardahi. He was appointed as Minister of Information in the Mikati government that was formed last September after a 13-month deadlock of trying to form a cabinet after the devastating Beirut Port blast on 4 August 2020. 


Lebanon had become in shambles, economic deterioration worsened. The world financial institutions refused to lend any money to Lebanon until it got its house in order and formed a trustworthy and reliable government.


Kordahi was brought in because he was a well-known television personality across the Arab world, he, or it was thought, had flair and ability to communicate, which is what Lebanon needed. Little did Premier Mikatai know he would be facing a major crisis one month later.


The deluge 


All hell broke lose when an interview made by Kordahi to an Al Jazeera  TV blog went live on Tuesday 26 October, 2021. The Saudis, initially, were wild with anger as they heard Kordahi say the Houthis "were defending themselves (...) against external aggression", adding "my personal opinion is that this war in Yemen needs to end. Houses, buildings, villages and cities are being attacked by fighter jets. Elsewhere he said homes, villages and weddings were being bombed" by the Saudi-led coalition and that it is time to end the seven-year-old war because it's "futile".


The recordings were made on 5th August as Kordahi points out, long before he was asked to become the Lebanese Minister of Information but this didn't wash down well neither with the Saudis nor with the UAE, the major partner with Riyadh in the long-enduring war in Yemen that has become bloody over the years that killed over 10,000 mention the thousands of injured and displaced. 


While the Saudis are not saying so in public that he should go for this is a Lebanese state matter and issue, the implication is there for all to see. The withdrawal of the ambassadors is a pressure valve that is being enforced on the Beirut government that Kordahi shouldn't be in the government. 


But pressure is being practised in other ways.  Along with the recalling of its envoy, Saudi Arabia has ceased all imports from Lebanon. It already banned all fruit and vegetable produce from Lebanon last April after finding captagon pills were being smuggled to Saudi and then it relaxed the ban when the Lebanese authorities promised to tighten inspection and then it reinforced the ban in June when more pills were uncovered. 


But now it is becoming a different ball game altogether because the Saudi markets have been huge for Lebanese products and has been so for decades. Today, it is estimated that Lebanon pockets $221 million per year from its exports to Saudi. If this were to stop, it would be a major problem to the Beirut treasury especially in this hour of need. 


Besides that, Lebanese exports to the rest of the GCC countries must be considered. This time around what is surprising is the fact Kuwait has joined Saudi in joining the spat of ambassadorial recall. Kuwait has been complaining of finding 'unsavory' smuggled goods in its cargo, and that's why it taking a tough stand this time around. Usually it plays a calming, independent hand in its diplomacy as on the siege of Qatar when it sought to play the role of mediator but this time around, it maybe prepared to forego such a role which suggests there is a serious problem.


There is a two-way street to look at this. Lebanese politicians may not worry much about what is happening now vis-sa-vis the Gulf. They may sit back and let the storm settle and calm down. After all, things can't get much worse for the temperament of politicians is usually to not think out-of-the-box but bide their time and leave things to wither away regardless of the pile up and its problems.


It is suggested for instance there are 377,000 Lebanese expats in the Gulf and 200,000 of these are in Saudi Arabia with remittances amounting to $125 million per year. If these were to stop it would be an additional problem. However, the Saudi government has made it clear that the Lebanese expats in the Kingdom won't be affected as a measure of the brotherly Arab connection.


It can be said thank God for that because Lebanon is presently experiencing one of the worst economic recessions the world experienced in 150 years. 


Back to Kordahi 


What maybe making matters worse for the Saudis is the fact that Kordahi is being lauded by the Houthis and Hezbollah. They believe he is a hero for speaking out against the Yemeni war. Hezbollah, after a fashion, is believed to be backing him through the complicated Lebanese political system. 


Kordahi, although an independent, is believed to have the backing of the Marada Movement, one of the Christian parties headed by Sulieman Franjieh. Marada might be one of the smaller parties but it has the backing of Hezbollah. 


In term of the cabinet equation no one can force him to resign unless two-thirds vote against him, he quits willingly or parliament impeaches him. Thus, he is likely to remain as minister whether the Saudis want him there or not. However, there is mounting pressure for him inside Lebanon to quit.


For the time being it seems a very awkward situation from all sides; the Saudis - along maybe with their allies - can only change the economic screws even tighter but what good will that do since the situation can't get any worse than it already is and it is ordinary people that will be affected.


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