Walid Joumblatt urges Gulf to re-engage with Lebanon amid diplomatic row

Druze leader says Lebanon’s current crisis is worse than Syrian occupation and Civil War

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Joumblatt stands at his house in Beirut's Clemenceau street on February 7, 2017. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Joumblatt has described the comments that sparked a diplomatic crisis between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia as “heresy” and called on Gulf countries to re-engage with Beirut.

Speaking to The National from his residence in the capital, Mr Joumblatt, 72, said Lebanon was suffering the consequences of Information Minister George Kordahi's comments about the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition. His remarks prompted the kingdom and four other Gulf states to withdraw their envoys from Beirut last month.

“It’s heresy what they are claiming and saying — attacking the Gulf and using the Yemenis to attack Saudi Arabia — really its heresy. We are in the middle of this conflict, paying the price,” he said.

Mr Joumblatt also called on Gulf countries to work with Lebanon through support for its institutions.

He issued a warning that Iran-backed groups stood to gain from Saudi Arabia’s withdrawal from the country, which is suffering from economic and political crises.

“Abandoning” Lebanon will make Hezbollah stronger, he said.

“I’m asking for them to deal with us cleverly. I’m not asking them to help politicians, but to help institutions, universities, hospitals and social institutions,” he said.

“Not all the Lebanese are pro-Iranian, not all the Lebanese accept Iranian policy. Not all the Lebanese have to pay the price for the fact Hezbollah controls the main levers of the government.”

The complex power-sharing arrangement that underpins Lebanon's political system — the so-called confessional system divides power between Christian and Muslim communities — means it is impossible to sack Mr Kordahi, Mr Joumblatt said.

“You cannot sack him because of political reasons, because of the unwillingness of Hezbollah and others, you cannot sack him — it’s a system based on the mutual consensus of all parties,” he said.

The diplomatic crisis sparked by Mr Kordahi’s comments threatens to isolate Lebanon from one of its traditional backers during a suffocating economic crisis, and as state institutions fail.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said last week that the kingdom's actions were a response to Hezbollah’s dominance of Lebanon's political system.

“We have come to the conclusion that dealing with Lebanon and its current government is not productive and not helpful,” he told US broadcaster CNBC.

Mr Joumblatt, who leads the Progressive Socialist Party but is no longer a member of parliament, said the country was facing the worst crisis in its history.

“Lebanon, even during the time of the Civil War, was better. It was better during the time of the Syrian occupation,” he said. Syrian forces occupied Lebanon between 1976 and 2005.

“Syria respected the Lebanese state, they did not abolish or weaken the Lebanese state. We were a satellite country, but we were not in this catastrophic economic situation.”

Updated: November 8th 2021, 3:34 PM
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