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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Bankrupt Lebanon regrets Saudi Arabia’s criticism


George Kordahi was a little-known radio editor before the Lebanese broadcasting company found a job that made him a star in 2000-showing the Arabic version Who wants to be a millionaire?The game show is broadcast throughout the region on MBC, a channel funded by the Saudi Arabian royal family.

However, 10 years after exiting MBC, the media celebrity who was recently appointed Minister of Information of Lebanon just lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the country that angered his former Gulf patron and bankrupted him. In a video resurfaced at the end of last month, Kodahi criticized Saudi Arabia and the UAE for fighting the Houthi rebels allied with Iran in Yemen, which caused a diplomatic storm.

Saudi Arabia responded by banning all Lebanese imports, expelling the Lebanese ambassador and recalling its special envoy in Beirut. The Gulf allies have also severed diplomatic relations with Lebanon. All in all, these measures have dealt a serious blow to a country that has been in the worst economic crisis in peacetime.

Roy Badaro, a Lebanese economist, said that during the rapid economic collapse, Beirut relied more on the cash flow of the Gulf region. “Since the 1950s, this has been the lung of Lebanon.” Regarding the recent diplomatic quarrel, “Lebanon will not be able to withstand this kind of shock for a long time,” Badaro warned.

For the Gulf countries that have supported Lebanon’s previous governments financially, Kodashi’s remarks have caused dissatisfaction with long-term savings, and all the problems that have arisen in the once close relations have been dramatized.

The rise of Iran-backed Hezbollah, a powerful Shia paramilitary and political party, has long angered Lebanon’s Gulf allies, and they see their influence is waning. Hezbollah is allied with Malada, a Christian party that supports Kodashi.

After Riyadh withdrew its ambassador, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Falhan told Saudi Arabia’s Arab TV station that “Due to the rule of Iranian agents on the scene, there is a crisis in Lebanon”.

He said: “This is what we care about, which makes dealing with Lebanon futile for the kingdom and the Gulf countries.”

Some people see a kind of “ungratefulness” in Kordahi’s comments.Fuad Mahzumi, a Lebanese tycoon and Sunni politician who has business interests in the Gulf, said: “There was a compilation of the aversion to Lebanese. This last thing. [was] Trigger effect. “

After Lebanon’s devastating 15-year civil war ended in 1990, the Gulf countries donated billions of dollars to rebuild Lebanon, A period of strong relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. As a construction giant, Hariri made billions of dollars in Saudi Arabia and encouraged the Gulf region to invest in Lebanon. The deterioration of this relationship began when he was assassinated in 2005-the murder was blamed on Iran-backed Hezbollah. The most serious quarrel occurred in 2017, when Saudi Arabia briefly detained then Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafiq’s son, and temporarily forced him to resign.

In an interview aired on Al Jazeera TV in Qatar, Kordahi called Saudi Arabia’s proxy war with the Houthis in Yemen a “futility” conflict and described the Houthis as “defense against foreign attacks.” . Crisis Group Iraq, Syria and Lebanon project director Heiko Wimmen (Heiko Wimmen) said that when Kordahi’s remarks went viral online, the Saudis were “completely impeached.”

Emil Hokayem, a senior researcher for Middle East security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: “Riyadh is lashing out at those who have profited but failed to materialize, betrayed, disappointed or manipulated it.” But now “Saudi Arabia has left a vacuum, especially It’s in the Sunni community”, whose political faction has traditionally relied on the support of Saudi Arabia.

The severe response has had a serious impact on the Lebanese economy. Since the outbreak of the complex financial and economic crisis in 2019, more than half of Lebanon’s population has been in poverty.​​ After a devastating explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020, the caretaker government took control of the fort and only recently appointed a fully functioning government.

The Gulf region is Lebanon’s main export destination and an important source of hard currency. According to customs data, Saudi Arabia is Lebanon’s largest agricultural product export market in 2020, and its total exports to Saudi Arabia last year alone exceeded 200 million U.S. dollars.

At the same time, the Central Bank estimates that approximately 60% of remittances come from the Gulf region, where approximately 500,000 Lebanese expatriates earn petrodollars, which are the lifeblood of Lebanon’s economy.

UAE political science professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said that for the insulted Gulf, “this is an absolute and irreversible rupture”. “As long as Hezbollah is in power, then I think the UAE and Saudi Arabia have decided to abandon Lebanon.”

Mahzumi said that if the two Gulf powers abandon Lebanon, Hezbollah “will try to promote in the media that they have won and that they have pushed Saudi Arabia outside.”

However, if the situation in the Gulf escalates, such as by further restricting business in Lebanon or stopping remittances, Hezbollah’s money “will never replace it,” Mahzumi said. “So this kind of nonsense that they don’t care about is good for their own people, showing that they are Lambeth. But when it comes to the real country, how much can they support?”

However, Kodashi rejected a request to resign from the Sunni Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Hezbollah rejected the call for Kodashi to resign, calling it a “blatant attack on Lebanon and its dignity and sovereignty.” At the same time, in Yemen controlled by Houthi armed forces, billboards with the theme of Kodashi appeared.

“Today, if they fire Kodashi, what will we gain from the kingdom?” Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdullah Bu Habib said in the leaked comments, which he did not deny. “No. They will ask for more.”

Kodahi is one of many Lebanese who have benefited from the golden years of Gulf-Lebanon relations. millionaireAccording to his website, it was originally filmed in Beirut in 2000 and helped him become “the highest paid TV presenter in the Arab world.” He is a household name in the area, won a lucrative advertising contract, and launched his own perfume and clothing line.

In recent years, however, Kordahi has expressed controversial views about his former Gulf Payments Supervisor. He publicly praised Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in 2013, calling him “smart and brave.” Kordasi also left MBC for supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In the commotion, Hezbollah is provocative. Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qasim said on Wednesday: “Saudi Arabia is troubled because it cannot dominate Lebanon’s political decisions, despite the price it paid.” “No one can turn Hezbollah’s arm,” he added. , “Lebanese people.”

Additional reporting by Simeon Kerr in Dubai and Andrew England in London.



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