George Kordahi resigns under Saudi pressure

BEIRUT, Lebanon – A Lebanese minister whose criticism of the Saudi-led war in Yemen sparked a diplomatic break between Lebanon and the ...

BEIRUT, Lebanon – A Lebanese minister whose criticism of the Saudi-led war in Yemen sparked a diplomatic break between Lebanon and the powerful Persian Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia, stepped down from his post on Friday, saying he hoped it would solve a crisis that has further damaged his country’s struggling economy.

George Kordahi, Minister of Information and flamboyant former host of the Arabic version of the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” told reporters he did not want to harm Lebanon or the many Lebanese working in the Gulf countries .

“Lebanon is more important than George Kordahi and the interests of the Lebanese are more important than my position,” he said.

The feud erupted in late October, when an Arab news channel broadcast an interview with Mr. Kordahi that had been taped before he joined the government.

Saudi Arabia responded by expelling the Lebanese ambassador from Riyadh and withdrawing the ambassador from the Kingdom of Beirut. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, close Saudi allies, have taken similar steps.

The incident shed light on the region’s power politics and the efforts Saudi Arabia will go to blunt criticism by putting pressure on weaker states.

In his comments, Kordahi severely criticized the intervention in Yemen, which aimed to overthrow the Houthi rebels who have seized much of the northwest of the country, calling it “futile”. He also said the Houthis were defending themselves against “external aggression”.

The crisis has sent shockwaves across Lebanon, where many families depend on remittances from relatives working in the Gulf states. The country was already suffering from one of the the most severe economic contractions in modern history, and many Lebanese feared that the anger of the Gulf countries would worsen the situation.

Saudi Arabia was once one of Lebanon’s main patrons and played an important role in its politics by funding politicians who shared its views. But those ties have frayed, as Saudi-backed figures lost ground to Hezbollah, the militant group and political party backed by Iran, the Saudis’ regional enemy.

Many Saudis have also come to believe that the Lebanese have for too long been happy to take Saudi money while offering little value in return.

As the crisis dragged on, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on Mr. Kordahi to resign. Mr. Kordahi, a Christian from a political party allied with Hezbollah, which supports rebels in Yemen, initially refused.

French President Emmanuel Macron is working to restore relations between the two sides, and Kordahi said on Friday he hoped the resignation ahead of the French leader’s visit to the Gulf countries, which began on Friday, could help to resolve the crisis.

Mr. Macron has been at the forefront international efforts to help Lebanon solve its financial problems, although the country’s leadership has made no progress on the reforms needed to unlock international aid. Many influential figures have also worked to obstruct a judicial investigation into a massive explosion in the port of Beirut last year that killed more than 200 people and damaged much of the capital.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Kordahi’s resignation was enough to convince the Gulf countries to end the crisis.

For his part, Mr Macron said after arriving in the United Arab Emirates on Friday that he was optimistic about bridging the gap.

“We will do our utmost to re-engage the Gulf regions for the benefit of Lebanon,” he said. “I hope that the coming hours will allow us to progress.

During his visit, Mr. Macron and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the Emirates, signed an agreement for the Emirates to purchase 80 Rafale fighter jets and 12 military helicopters.

Hwaida Saad contributed reports.

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Newsrust - US Top News: George Kordahi resigns under Saudi pressure
George Kordahi resigns under Saudi pressure
Newsrust - US Top News
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