General Hossam Zaki, secretary of the Arab League, arrived in Beirut on November 8 to hold talks with the Lebanese government. Al Jazeera reports that the talks were meant to resolve the current rift between the Saudi Arabian government and Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi. Kordahi previously criticized Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen against Houthi rebels in a pre-recorded interview released on October 26. Al Jazeera continues that Kordahi sympathized with the Houthi rebels, an Iran-backed group fighting in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, claiming that they were “defending themselves… against an external aggression.”
The Saudi Arabian government took offense to Kordahi’s claims, initially calling for his resignation. When Kordahi refused to give up his position, the Saudi Arabian government recalled their envoys, forced the Lebanese ambassadors to Saudi Arabia out of the country, and placed an embargo on Lebanese imports, according to France24. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is a political and economic alliance between Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has publicly condemned Kordahi’s comments. Many member nations of the GCC have followed Saudi Arabia’s lead by expelling Lebanon’s ambassadors from their borders and recalling their ambassadors to end diplomatic relations with Lebanon within 48 hours of the interview tape’s release.
Kordei’s criticism was the boiling point for tensions between the Lebanese and Saudi Arabian governments. Their relationship has been steadily declining as the radical, Iran-backed group Hezbollah has begun to obtain more influence within the Lebanese government. Over this past year, Saudi Arabia has periodically placed economic sanctions on certain Lebanese goods as the government fails to adequately regulate import and export shipments. Last May, Saudi Arabia discovered that millions of amphetamine pills were smuggled through Lebanese fruit shipments. The Washington Post reports that the Saudi Arabian government responding by banning Lebanese agricultural products, harming farmers in the region. Exports later resumed, but tensions still ran high among the two nations.
France24 describes how these repercussions place Lebanon in even more dire conditions, deepening an economic crisis that the World Bank has characterized as one of the world’s worst in over a century. Unemployment rates and fuel shortages have also risen to extreme levels. According to Al Monitor, Lebanon’s currency has depreciated by more than 90 percent in the past two years. Lebanon’s poor financial standing is why General Zaki is so determined to fix the country’s relations with its fellow Gulf countries.
Zaki met with Lebanese president Michael Aoun, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, and prime minister Najib Mikati on Monday to discuss the crisis and reach an agreement. He has made it apparent that he does not want the tensions between nations continue, and he intends to establish detente between the nations and is willing to do anything to make sure this crisis is ended as quickly and efficiently as possible. Reuters quotes Zaki as saying that the talks are heading in the “right direction” now that peace discussions are underway. He emphasized that he is also willing to travel to Saudi Arabia for further negotiations.
According to The Arab Weekly, progress is being made. Still, Zaki insists that “There is a crisis that everyone can see and is aware of and the majority of people know how to solve it, but not a single step has been taken in that direction, and this is necessary.” Political observers view this comment as a response to Kordahi’s refusal to resign, the Lebanese government’s insecurity in trade, and the lack of communication between all the parties involved.