Lebanese minister George Kordahi resigns after row with Gulf states

Information minister set off a diplomatic storm with comments on war in Yemen

George Kordahi said he intended to resign from Lebanon's Cabinet. AP Photo
Powered by automated translation

Lebanon's Information Minister George Kordahi resigned on Friday weeks after comments he made about the war in Yemen caused a diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, citing French diplomatic pressure to step down.

"I decided to give up my ministerial position because Lebanon is more important than I am," he said during a live press conference.

Saudi Arabia reacted with outrage to Mr Kordahi's comments aired in late October in which he said that the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group in Yemen was acting in self defence. The interview had been recorded in August, before Mr Kordahi was appointed minister.

Saudi Arabia called Mr Kordahi's comments insulting, recalled its ambassador and banned all Lebanese imports. The UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait made similar moves.

Mr Kordahi initially resisted calls to step down over his comments, prolonging the crisis. He said on Friday that France had requested his resignation, which comes ahead of President Emmanuel Macron's visit to Riyadh.

"Today, we are facing new developments," he said. "I understand that the French want me to resign before Macron's visit to Saudi Arabia in order to help open a dialogue with Saudi officials about Lebanon."

France, a former colonial power, is heavily involved in the small Mediterranean country, which is suffering from an unprecedented economic crisis. Lebanon's financial meltdown, coupled with multiple other crises, has plunged more than three quarters of the nation’s population of 6 million, including a million Syrian refugees, into poverty.

Mr Kordahi said that he hoped that his resignation would lead to "better relations with Gulf states."

A French diplomatic source told The National that Mr Kordahi's resignation was "a guarantee that would probably facilitate discussions about Lebanon and its relations with Gulf countries during Mr Macron's meetings today and tomorrow".

A press statement issued by Mr Macron's office said that during his visit to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, he would "continue his efforts towards regional stability, in the face of tensions in the Gulf, Iran, and the crises situations in Iraq, Libya as well as Lebanon."

Mr Kordahi said that he had discussed his resignation with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and denied rumours that he had taken orders from Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah. The former minister is supported by a Hezbollah ally, a small Christian party called the Marada.

Yemen’s war began with the 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa by the Houthi rebels, who control much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year at the request of the Yemeni government.

The Saudi measures have caused anxiety, particularly among the many Lebanese who work in Gulf countries, and added to the country's economic woes. Lebanese exports to Saudi Arabia used to bring in about $240 million a year.

Saudi Arabia has been a traditional backer of Lebanon but ties deteriorated steadily with the increasing influence of Hezbollah, another Iran-backed group, in the small Mediterranean country.

Updated: December 04, 2021, 11:29 AM