Saudi Arabia Reportedly Gives Lebanese Ambassador 48 Hours to Leave Kingdom
17:26 GMT 29.10.2021 (Updated: 21:08 GMT 29.10.2021)
The Saudi monarchy has given Lebanon's ambassador in Riyadh 48 hours to leave the kingdom, the latest incident in a growing row between the two Arab states after Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi publicly criticized the Saudi coalition's seven-year-long war in Yemen.
Saudi state media made the announcement
on Friday, noting that its own ambassador in Beirut had also been recalled for consultations. The kingdom has also banned all Lebanese imports and is reportedly considering severing diplomatic ties entirely.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, a body composed of all Persian Gulf nations, will meet in the morning to discuss expelling all Lebanese ambassadors from their respective states. Several Gulf states are very close to the Saudi kingdom, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Kuwait, while Qatar has mended its relationship with the Saudi bloc over the past year, but remains in a careful balancing act with Iran, as well.
Just before midnight on Friday, Bahrain's Foreign Ministry said it also demands Lebanon's ambassador leave the island nation within 48 hours "against the background of a series of unacceptable and offensive statements issued by Lebanese officials in recent times." However, they clarified that other Lebanese citizens living there remain welcome and are not being asked to leave.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said in a statement late Friday evening that he regrets the Saudi kingdom's decision and will continue to work hard to alleviate Riyadh's concerns. He also appealed to other Arab leaders to help Lebanon overcome the crisis with Saudi Arabia.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said late Friday that he would chair an emergency ministerial meeting on Saturday "to search for opportunities to overcome regrettable differences."
"Since we are sure that what is happening is a problem, and not a crisis with our brothers in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, and this can be overcome through dialogue," Habib said.
Lebanese television also reported that Habib had asked Kordahi to "do the right thing" and resign.
Criticism of War in Yemen Deepens Row
Relations between the two states have spiraled downhill after Kordahi criticized the Saudi-led coalition's conduct in the War in Yemen, where the coalition of Sunni states and local militias is fighting an insurgency by the Zaidi Shiite Houthi movement, who controls the capital and most of northern Yemen.
In the interview that aired on Monday, Kordahi said the Houthis were "defending themselves ... against an external aggression" and that their "homes, villages, funerals and weddings were being bombed" by the coalition. He also called the Saudis' seven-year war effort "futile" and said was "time for it to end."
Mitaki said on Friday that Kordahi's statement do no represent the government's opinion and he reaffirmed the keenness of Lebanese-Gulf relations.
His comments came after a two-week air blitz
by the Saudi Royal Air Force against a Houthi offensive in Mar'ib and Shabwa Provinces, the last stronghold in northern Yemen for the country's internationally-recognized government led by President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, with whom the Saudis are allied. The war has claimed nearly a quarter-million lives, many of which have died due to indirect causes such as famine and disease, including cholera and COVID-19.
The Saudi release on Friday describes Kordahi's comments as "slanderous" and "deplorable and unacceptable."
"This also comes in addition to Lebanon’s failure to take the measures demanded by the Kingdom to stop the export of the scourge of drugs from Lebanon through Lebanese exports to the Kingdom, especially in light of the terrorist Hezbollah’s control of all ports, as well as the failure to take penalties against those involved in those crimes that target the people of Lebanon," the statement added.
Saudi Arabia’s General Directorate for Narcotics Control has interdicted several large shipments of drugs in the past year that it says came from Lebanon. In April, Saudi customs seized
2.4 million Captagon amphetamine tablets hidden inside pomegranates shipped from Lebanon, which it said had been the work of Hezbollah. Then in June, a shipment of 14 million
Captagon tablets was reportedly found inside a shipment of iron plates by authorities in the port of Jeddah, Al-Arabiya reported at the time, citing the Saudi Press Agency.
Saudi media giant MBC Group, the Arab world’s largest private media conglomerate, announced earlier on Friday it would close all its operations
in Lebanon. Kordahi once hosted the Arabic version of the popular game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" which aired on MBC from 2000 until 2010. MBC also operates Al-Arabiya.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia classified the Lebanese group Al-Qard Al-Hassan as a terrorist organization, claiming it "works on managing funds for the terrorist organisation [Hezbollah] and its financing, including support for military purposes" and banning all transactions with the group. Riyadh has long shunned the Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is a member, due to allegations that Hezbollah has helped the Houthis and because Washington regards Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Kordahi is close to the Maronite Catholic Marada Movement, which are close allies of Hezbollah.
In November 2017, Lebanon's then-Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, was effectively kidnapped for two weeks during a vacation in Saudi Arabia and forced to deliver a pre-written resignation message. While he did so, he voided the declaration as soon as he returned to Lebanon and continued to head the Lebanese government until January 2020.
Riyadh then attempted to claim Lebanon had declared war
on Saudi Arabia due to alleged actions by Hezbollah.