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LONDON / BEIRUT: When Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati formed a government in September, ending a 13-month political stalemate, a collective sigh of relief was heard across the country. But the writing was already on the wall.
It didn’t take long for the moment of truth to arrive. Yet it was not the economic crisis, the electricity crisis, the deadlock in the investigation into the Beirut explosion or the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in the country that exposed the government’s powerlessness. Mikati, it was something completely different.
It was discovered that a TV star turned Minister of Information harbored scandalous views on an issue that had only peripheral relevance to Lebanon’s problems, but which had the potential to precipitate a serious diplomatic crisis for the country.
In a recently revealed interview, George Kordahi claimed that the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in Yemen were defending themselves and the war in Yemen should end.
Although the interview was taped before he took up his cabinet post, Kordahi’s views came as a stark shock to Gulf friends and Arabs in Lebanon, who were the target of yet another nefarious campaign. originally from Lebanon.
Over the past six years, there have been continual attempts to smuggle arms from Lebanon to the Houthis and drug pills, primarily Captagon, from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
As Waleed Bukhari, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon, said in a tweet this year: “The amount of drugs and mind-altering drugs smuggled from Lebanon is enough to drown not only Saudi Arabia, but also the whole of the Arab world.
In this context, Lebanese leaders are naturally facing pressure to remove Kordahi from his post, a first step towards improving relations with the Gulf countries.
Lebanese officials have also urged their US and French counterparts to mediate the dispute over Kordahi’s comments. The Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that “Lebanon’s main concern (is) to have the best relations with its Gulf and Arab brothers”.
But everything suggests that the situation will get worse before it gets better.
Kordahi said he had no plans to quit his post. In a televised speech on Sunday, he said bluntly: “Resigning from the government is not an option.”
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Beirut and ordered their respective Lebanese ambassadors to leave. The UAE has banned its citizens from traveling to Lebanon.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan has made it clear that Kordahi’s statements are a symptom of the root of the problems plaguing Lebanon: the influence of Hezbollah, which has de facto ruled Lebanon for a very long time.
Seasoned observers of Lebanese politics see Kordahi as irrelevant at best. They point out that he has a habit of reading someone else’s script: first from a teleprompter as the host of the Arabic version of the quiz show “Who wants to win millions? And now scripts handed to him by Hezbollah, as described by Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas in a recent column.
What has been a rude wake-up call for Lebanon’s friends and sympathizers is not so much Kordahi’s ill-informed views on the war in Yemen, as the weak response from the Mikati government.
“Compared to the average Lebanese prime minister, Mikati is less confrontational and more consensus-oriented,” Chris Abi-Nassif, director of the Lebanese program at the Middle East Institute, told Arab News. “Last week’s diplomatic escalation took him by surprise, especially as he was banking on his relatively good relations with the Gulf to begin to reverse Lebanon’s downward trajectory.
The escalation, however, shows that he clearly has very little room for maneuver and political capital today to stand up against Hezbollah or appease (let alone engage) the Gulf states, which explains the ‘indecision in Beirut in recent days. “
Mikati, who is currently in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, was due to hold “several international and Arab meetings on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the current crisis between Lebanon and the countries of the Gulf “on the sidelines of the event. .
The precise conciliation measures he envisages are far from clear, even though Fawzi Kabbara, the Lebanese ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said on his return to Beirut that “the reestablishment of Lebanese-Saudi relations would be possible if the Lebanon accepts the conditions “.
Many Lebanese believe that any other leader would have sent Kordahi to pack his bags and accuse Mikati of failing to show strong leadership as the minister’s views contradict Lebanon’s official position on the conflict in Yemen.
They add that it is clear from the controversy that Kordahi’s protectors are Hezbollah and his ally, movement leader Marada Suleiman Frangieh, who have ostensibly congratulated him and made sure he stays in his post.
Mustafa Alloush, vice president of the Future Movement and former MP, said the situation would have been different if Kordahi had resigned quickly.
“Whether Kordahi resigns now or not is no longer relevant,” he told Arab News. “The Lebanese government has become a hostage and the proof is that the positions of Mikati and the Lebanese Foreign Ministry were neither decisive nor firm. Mikati had to be firm and order the impeachment of Kordahi and threaten to dissolve the government.
“But now I’m sure that damaging Lebanon’s relations with Saudi Arabia was intentional. Hezbollah continues its project by stoking hostility with the Arab states.
“The whole affair is linked to a long history of anti-Saudi statements and positions by Kordahi, former minister Charbel Wehbe and deputy Gebran Bassil, as well as the failure to address the issue of smuggling of Captagon from Lebanon to the Kingdom, and in pursuit of Hezbollah. insults and threats against Saudi Arabia.
Hezbollah has not been officially accused of being behind the upsurge in drug trafficking operations, but most of the fingers are pointing in its direction. According to a report by the Euro-Gulf Information Center: “The sale of drugs represents an important source of income for Hezbollah, made more important by the American sanctions against key members of the party and its main financial sponsor, Iran. . The collapse of the Lebanese state has also pushed Hezbollah deeper into the illicit drug trade – there is less to steal from the national economy. “
The accusations are hardly surprising given that Lebanon has long operated under the thumb of Hezbollah. The Lebanese people know only too well that the government’s merry-go-round hides the reality of Hezbollah’s role as a puppeteer. The Prime Minister takes advantage of the visible trappings of power, but it is ultimately Hezbollah that pulls the strings.
“Mikati is not the ideal candidate to do the heavy lifting in Beirut, neither with regard to the reforms required, nor with regard to the major political crises facing Lebanon,” said Bashar Halabi, an analyst. Lebanese politician, to Arab News.
“At best, Mikati is a compromise candidate who fills a gap when (former Prime Minister Saad) Hariri is not in power. He does not appreciate the great popularity or the courage of confrontations. Therefore, he is a “filler” of sorts. And with all these files blasting in her face, Mikati is also distraught and helpless.
Halabi added: “Today Hezbollah controls the country. It controls the executive, it controls the legislature, it controls the presidency, and it has great hold over the judiciary and the media.
“With Lebanon falling almost entirely under the influence of Iran, as the country becomes a satellite state of the Tehran regime and of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the peculiarity of Lebanon and what it represented for the countries of the Gulf has shrunk, whether as a geopolitical asset. , the banking sector, the health sector or a space with a lot of margin for the press.