George Kordahi was a well-known Lebanese radio editor before he was offered a job in 2000 that would make him a star – featuring an Arabic version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. The video was broadcast throughout MBC, a channel run by the Saudi Arabian royal family.
However, 10 years after leaving MBC, a journalist who was recently appointed Lebanese media minister has lost his multi-million dollar country – to the annoyance of those in the Gulf. Kordahi’s criticism of the Saudi-UAE war against Houthi militants linked to Iran in Yemen, in a video that reappeared late last month, has sparked a hurricane.
Saudi Arabia responded by banning exports to Lebanon, expelling the Lebanese ambassador and remembering his ambassador to Beirut. The Gulf allies also severed their ties with Lebanon. All of this, in turn, has created a crisis in a country that is already embroiled in a financial crisis that has erupted during peacetime.
In the wake of the Great Recession, Beirut has relied heavily on Gulf funding, “the Lebanese capital since the 1950s,” said Roy Badaro, a Lebanese economist. In a recent interview, “Lebanon will not be able to cope with this fear for long,” Badaro warned.
For the Gulf states that have strengthened the economic regime of the previous Lebanese regime, Kordahi’s comments sparked long-standing grievances, and surprisingly highlighted all that had gone wrong in the previous relationship.
The rise of Hezbollah-backed Iran, a powerful Shia militia and a political party, has long been allied with Lebanon’s Gulf, which has seen their influence diminish. Hizbollah joins the Christian Marada party that supports Kordahi.
After Riyadh pulled out his ambassador, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan told Saudi Arabia-based Al-Arabiya TV that there was “a crisis in Lebanon because of the dominance of the Iranian delegation on display”.
“This is what worries us and this is what makes the deal with Lebanon so unprofitable for the empire and the Gulf states,” he said.
Some see ‘appreciation’ in Kordahi’s comments. Fouad Makhzoumi, a wealthy Lebanese man and a Sunni politician who trades in the Gulf, stated: “There has been. . . including disgust with Lebanon. This last thing [was] power to heal. ”
The Gulf provided billions of dollars to rebuild Lebanon after the 15-year civil war that ended in 1990., during a period of strong Lebanese-Saudi relations under Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. An architect, Hariri made billions in Saudi Arabia and strengthened Gulf funds in Lebanon. The breakdown in the relationship began with his assassination in 2005 – a massacre condemned by Iran-backed Hezbollah. The worst controversy came in 2017, when Saudi Arabia briefly arrested Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Rafiq’s son, and forced him to resign temporarily.
In a question released by Qatari Al Jazeera, Kordahi called the Saudi war in Yemen and the Houthis a “futile” conflict and described the Houthi as “defending themselves from a foreign war”. As Kordahi’s comments spread, the Saudis went “in vain,” said Heiko Wimmen, head of the Crisis Group project in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
“Riyadh condemns those who benefit and then does not give, give, hurt or hurt,” said Emile Hokayem, director of Middle East Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. But now “Saudi is leaving an empty space, especially in the Sunni region,” in which their political parties have traditionally relied on Saudi Arabia to help them.
These developments are seriously affecting Lebanon’s economy. More than half of Lebanon’s population has been impoverished since the economic and financial crisis began in 2019. It has just elected a fully operational government after a task force was active after the catastrophic 2020 eruption in the port of Beirut.
The Gulf is Lebanon’s largest exporter, an important source of solid money. Saudi Arabia was Lebanon’s largest agricultural market in 2020, and all exports to Saudi Arabia alone were worth more than $ 200m last year, according to the report.
Meanwhile, the central bank estimates that about 60 percent of remittances come from the Gulf, where about half a million Lebanese from Lebanon get petrodollars that have become a source of wealth for Lebanon.
For the Gulf insane, “this is a complete, irreversible explosion,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati professor of political science. “As long as Hezbollah has power, then I think the UAE and Saudi Arabia have decided to leave Lebanon.”
If two Gulf powerhouses leave Lebanon, Hezbollah will “try to explain in the press that he has won, that he will expel Saudi Arabia,” Makhzoumi said.
However, if the Gulf grew, by slowing down Lebanese business or suspending money transfers, for example, Hezbollah’s money “could not be replaced”, Makhzoumi said. “So this bull that is disrespectful, it is good for his people to show that they belong to Rambo. But as for the real world, how many can support it?”
However, Kordahi has rejected a request by Sunni Prime Minister Najib Mikati to step down. Hizbollah rejected Kordahi’s request for a ceasefire, calling it “the Lebanese invasion, its dignity and authority.” Meanwhile, in Yemen, where Houthi is located, posters with Kordahi have appeared.
“Today, if they take Kordahi, what will we reap in the kingdom?” Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said in a statement that he did not deny the allegations. “Nothing. They will ask for more. ”
Kordahi was one of many Lebanese people who benefited from the good years of Gulf-Lebanon relations. Millions, first shot in Beirut since 2000, helped him become “the highest paid television presenter in the Arab world”, according to his website. Well-known in the area, he found lucrative advertising deals and launched his own perfume and clothing industry.
However in recent years, Kordahi has expressed opposition to those who had previously paid in the Gulf. He publicly praised Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in 2013 and called him “smart, brave.” Kordahi also left MBC for backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Amid the chaos, Hezbollah is brutal. “Saudi Arabia is concerned because it has not been able to control the political decision in Lebanon, despite the amount it paid,” Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem, said on Wednesday. “No one can distort Hezbollah’s arm,” he added, “the Lebanese people.”
Additional reports of Simeon Kerr in Dubai and Andrew England in London.