11/03/2021, 10.43
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Beirut a battleground in the power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia

by Fady Noun

The Saudis, Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain have withdrawn their ambassadors and broken off relations with Lebanon. Dispute fuelled by the Lebanese Information Minister's accusations against Riyadh over the war in Yemen. President and Prime Minister call for Cordhai's resignation, who may enjoy the political protection of a part of the Christian world (and Hezbollah). The fears of the Vatican. 




Beirut (AsiaNews) - Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and Bahrain have broken off diplomatic relations with Lebanon, recalling their ambassadors to Beirut and granted 48 hours to accredited ambassadors from Lebanon to leave their countries.

Riyadh, the first to take the initiative, last Friday, October 29, also decided to interrupt all trade with Lebanon, including imports of vegetables and legumes, which are a majo food product.

The Gulf monarchies involved in the dispute have gone so far as to ask their citizens in Lebanon to return home.

However, Saudi Arabia has also clarified that the break in diplomatic relations will not affect the status of the Lebanese working in the Wahhabi kingdom, about 140 thousand, and whose monthly monetary transfers are essential for Lebanon in this phase of severe economic crisis. 

The unprecedented diplomatic crisis comes after the statements made by the Lebanese Minister of Information Georges Cordahi, who criticized the intervention of Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen. During a television broadcast on August 5, and therefore prior to his appointment as head of the ministry (September 10), Cordahi has defined as "absurd" the continuation of the war in Yemen, which since 2014 has seen the government recognized by the international community (pro-Saudi) opposing the Shiite Houthi rebels, close to Iran. He had gone so far as to say that the insurgents were doing nothing more than defending themselves "in the face of external aggression." 

Head of State Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Nagib Mikati have vaily attempted to distance themselves from the statements of the Minister of Information. Mikati said he was "deeply sorry" for Riyadh's decision, stating that the words of the Minister of Information "do not reflect in any way the position of the government".

He then issued a tacit invitation, on at least two occasions, to Cordahi to resign. However, being able to count on the support of the small Christian Marada (pro-Syrian) party and Hezbollah, the latter flatly refused to do so. Claiming that his comments reflect his "personal opinion," he also refused to apologize.

For experts, the crisis even goes beyond the minister's words and reflects the ongoing power struggle between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, to which Lebanon itself is forced to pay a very heavy toll. "There is no crisis with Lebanon, but there is a crisis going on in Lebanon," Saudi Foreign Minister Fayçal ben Farhan told the al-Arabiya television satellite chain.

Speaking to Cnbc, he then clarified that "dealing with Lebanon and its current government is neither productive nor useful, due to Hezbollah's constant dominance on the political scene." Saudi Arabia also accuses Hezbollah of exploiting Lebanon as a hub to flood the kingdom with captagon pills and weaken its inner resistance.

Attending the dedicated climate change summit (Cop26) underway in Glasgow, Prime Minister Mikati has been in contact with Arab and Western leaders to plead Lebanon's case. Among these leaders are French President Emmanuel Macron and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. The French head of state expressed the importance for Paris of "economic and political stability in Lebanon".

In fact, neither France nor the United States want the resignation or the paralysis of a government born after many months of efforts and essential guarantor - with the army - of stability, in a nation otherwise in collapse.

Washington would have decided to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Its intervention, as well as that of France, is all the more vital because the Wahhabi kingdom and its Gulf neighbors are considered the main donors on which Lebanon's partners rely to bring a breath of fresh air to the government.

Finally, the Lebanon debate agency reports that the Vatican has decided to send Card. Pietro Parolin to Beirut in an effort to better understand what is at stake in the crisis and the central role played by the Maronite patriarch, Beshara Raï, in trying to calm the waters.

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