Home Regional embassy Lebanon might not survive without alliance with Gulf countries – opinion

Lebanon might not survive without alliance with Gulf countries – opinion

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Throughout its history, Lebanon has known endless crises, wars and occupations, foreign interventions and two bloody civil wars. Nonetheless, for the past two years it has been mired in the throes of an unprecedented economic crisis, even in its own dark history.

The numbers say it all. Since the start of the economic crisis in October 2019, GDP has fallen by 40%, while the Lebanese pound has been devalued by as much as 90%. The massive loans taken out by the state, combined with the corruption of the regime, have pushed the national debt to 155% of GNP and the debt-to-product ratio to the highest in the world. Mistrust of the government on the part of local citizens and foreign investors has resulted in investment flight and a severe shortage of foreign exchange. The coronavirus pandemic combined with the explosion of August 2020 which razed the port of Beirut made the situation even worse.

Concretely, more than two-thirds of the citizens of the country formerly known as the “Switzerland of the Middle East” have plunged below the poverty line. Electricity and gasoline are now luxuries and even they are only occasionally available. And in 15% of households, children have had to stop going to school in recent months to help their families earn a living.

As if that weren’t enough, the technocratic government formed in September after a political crisis that lasted more than a year is also undermined by growing internal tensions between Hezbollah and its opponents, which recently deteriorated into shootings. in the streets of Beirut in broad daylight. .

Lebanon has suffered a further blow in recent days when Saudi Arabia announced the expulsion of Lebanon’s ambassador from Riyadh and the recall of its ambassador from Beirut for consultations. Worse yet, the Saudis also announced a complete ban on imports from Lebanon. Shortly after, his close allies Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates recalled their ambassadors from the Lebanese capital.

A POSTER of Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi is seen on a billboard in Sana’a, Yemen, on October 31. (credit: KHALED ABDULLAH / FILE PHOTO / REUTERS)

The harsh measures followed a statement by Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi (in August) criticizing the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen and accusing the Saudis of attacks on Houthi rebels who were only acting in “self-defense”. This statement infuriated Riyadh Palace. The ongoing military engagement in Yemen may not be top news in Israel, but it is the main issue on Saudi Arabia’s agenda, a war in defense of the homeland against aggression by the proxies of its biggest rival, Iran, who attacked targets within the Kingdom. The fact that the harsh Saudi reaction came more than two months after the Lebanese minister’s remarks (before he joined the government) shows that he was looking for an excuse to escalate his fight against Hezbollah.

Beirut is now trying to limit the damage and is looking for a quick exit from the crisis. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States as a whole are of paramount importance to Lebanon. So, for example, the volume of Lebanese exports to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates alone exceeded $ 1 billion in 2019. In other words, if Lebanon wants to rebuild its crumbling economy , it simply cannot afford to alienate the Gulf states.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati is well aware of this and hastened to form a special emergency cabinet tasked with proposing an early resolution of the crisis. His office even announced that he had hinted to Kordahi that he would do well to step down, saying he would have to “make the right decision” in order to avoid escalating the Lebanese crisis.

Despite the Saudi tough measures, Lebanon is too important for the Saudis to shy away from. The kingdom aspires to position itself as a regional power and a leader of the Sunni world in particular, and the Muslim world in general, and it cannot afford to lose its grip on the Land of the Cedars. What’s more, a Saudi withdrawal from Lebanon would make it even more vulnerable than it already is to an Iranian takeover.

Hezbollah, too, is well aware that Lebanon is unlikely to survive, let alone overcome the severe economic downturn, without the presence of the Gulf states. For now, Hezbollah is still expressing support for the minister who generated the storm and says his resignation is out of the question, but it is unlikely that Nasrallah will insist on preventing the resignation if it helps the Saudis to come down. tree they climbed.

The United States is trying to mediate between the parties. The American administration is interested in the survival of the fragile Lebanese government insofar as a representative of the American embassy in Beirut was present at the meeting of the emergency cabinet formed by the Prime Minister, according to Lebanese media.

In the light of the common interests of the parties, the current crisis is likely to be resolved sooner or later. However, a comprehensive solution to Lebanon’s deep woes is not in sight. The fragile sectarian balance of power is not conducive to solving the country’s fundamental problems. At the most, it makes it possible to cope with temporary crises, and even then with great difficulty and external help, making the next crisis a matter of time.

Professor Elie Podeh teaches in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University and is a member of the board of directors of Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policy. Eitan Ishai is a doctoral student at the Hebrew University, specializing in Lebanon.


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