The tension between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon has spread this Saturday to other monarchies in the Gulf. Kuwait and Bahrain have followed in the footsteps of Riyadh, which the day before expelled the Lebanese ambassador for the statements of a minister on the military intervention in Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates has shown its solidarity by withdrawing its diplomats from Beirut. The Saudi government has also banned the importation of Lebanese products, a measure of economic pressure that is targeted by Hezbollah, the Shiite Islamist movement ally of Iran in the Levantine country.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry justified the expulsion of Ambassador Fawzi Kabbara for some “damaging” comments by the Lebanese Information Minister, Georges Kordahi, and Beirut’s lack of measures “to stop (…) the plague of drugs” that has come to the kingdom from That country.
Kordahi, a man close to Lebanese President Michel Aoun (considered pro-Hezbollah), said last August, before taking office, that the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen was bombing homes, funerals and weddings, and that the Huthi rebels ( aligned with Iran) were “defending themselves against external aggression.” His statements, in an interview with the Qatari television Al Jazeera, were circulated again this week on social networks, which unleashed the diplomatic scuffle.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia gave Kabbara 48 hours to leave the kingdom and called his ambassador in Lebanon for consultations. Bahrain, a satellite country of Riyadh, did the same; and on Saturday Kuwait also expelled the Lebanese charge d’affaires. The UAE, for its part, has withdrawn its diplomats from Beirut and banned its citizens from traveling to Lebanon, a measure that was already in effect in the Desert Kingdom.
The dispute has alarmed the Arab League, which in an unusually quick reaction on Saturday expressed its concern about the deterioration of relations between Lebanon and the Gulf monarchies, and asked them to “reflect on the measures they propose to take (.. .) in order to avoid further negative effects on the collapse of the Lebanese economy ”.
Lebanon is going through a very serious financial crisis that the World Bank considers one of the worst in modern history. He hoped to be able to enlist the help of investors from the Gulf, a region to which hundreds of thousands of Lebanese expatriates have contributed for decades to develop. Now that assistance is in the air.
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The Saudi decision to close its doors to Lebanese imports also leaves Beirut without its fourth foreign market. Last year, Lebanon sent goods worth $ 200 million to the kingdom, a major source of foreign exchange alongside remittances from migrants. Riyadh already banned the importation of Lebanese fruits and vegetables last April because, it denounced, the shipments were used to hide drugs and Beirut had not been able to solve it. Now, that prohibition extends to all merchandise.
But the disagreement between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon is not new and has roots that transcend the bilateral relationship. For years, Riyadh has been suspicious of the growing power of Hezbollah, which the kingdom, like the United States, considers a terrorist organization. He accuses the group of providing assistance and training to the Huthi, who in 2015 overthrew the Government of Yemen, without the Saudi military intervention having succeeded in reinstating it.
In 2017, the differences became especially visible when then-Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was arrested during a visit to Riyadh and forced to resign. The intervention of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, allowed his return to Beirut a few days later.
Last May, Lebanese acting Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe had to resign after having linked the Gulf monarchies with the rise of the jihadist group Islamic State. Now, there are also voices calling for Kordahi’s resignation, but he resists.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.