Kuwait expels Beirut envoy in row over Saudi’s military role in Yemen

Originally posted to The Guardian website, 30 October 2021

Kuwait has given Lebanon’s envoy to the emirate 48 hours to leave, a day after Saudi Arabia made a similar move over a minister’s criticism of the Riyadh-led military intervention in Yemen.

The diplomatic row, in which Saudi Arabia has also suspended imports from Lebanon and Bahrain has expelled Beirut’s envoy to Manama, is another blow for a country already in the grip of crippling political and economic crises.

Lebanon had been counting on financial assistance from the Gulf to rescue its economy.

“Kuwait … asks Lebanese envoy to leave country in 48 hours,” Kuwait’s foreign ministry said in a brief statement carried by state news agency Kuna on Saturday, noting also that the emirate’s top diplomat to Beirut was also being recalled.Advertisement

The dispute was sparked by the broadcast this week of an interview in which Lebanon’s information minister, George Kordahi, criticised the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.

In his remarks – recorded in August but aired on Monday – Kordahi called the seven-year war in the Arabian peninsula country “futile” and said it was “time for it to end”.

Kordahi said Yemen’s Houthi rebels were “defending themselves … against an external aggression”, adding that “homes, villages, funerals and weddings were being bombed” by the Saudi-led coalition.

The Houthis are backed by Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran, which also wields significant influence in Lebanon, due to its strong backing of the powerful Shia movement Hezbollah.

The Lebanese minister’s comments led Saudi Arabia to announce on Friday that it was recalling its ambassador and it gave Beirut’s envoy 48 hours to leave Riyadh. His words have also sparked calls for him to resign or be sacked.

“Enough of catastrophes. Sack this minister who will destroy our relations with the Arab Gulf before it is too late,” Lebanon’s Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, said on Twitter.

Kuwait’s foreign ministry said the expulsion and recall was based on the “failure” of the Lebanese government to “address the unacceptable and reprehensible statements against the sisterly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the rest” of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

The GCC is a six-member regional body that comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Kuwait’s decision was also based on the Lebanese government’s “failure … to deter the continuous and increasing smuggling operations of the scourge of drugs to Kuwait and the rest of the GCC”, the ministry added.

The comments on smuggling echoed Riyadh’s line, which extended to Saudi Arabia on Friday imposing a suspension on all imports from Lebanon.

In its statement on Friday, Saudi Arabia also referred to Lebanon’s failure to “stop the export of the scourge of drugs … to the Kingdom, especially in light of the terrorist Hezbollah’s control of all ports”.

Saudi Arabia announced in June that it had confiscated thousands of Captagon pills hidden in a shipment of fruit from Lebanon. Captagon, a drug popular among fighters in war zones, is usually a blend of amphetamines, caffeine and other substances in pill form.Advertisement

Saudi Arabia, which wields strong influence over many of the smaller Gulf states, has stepped back from its former ally Lebanon in recent years, angered by the influence of Hezbollah.

In late 2017, Lebanon’s then prime minister, Saad Hariri, a Sunni who had been supported by Saudi Arabia for years, announced in a televised address from Riyadh that he was resigning, citing Iran’s “grip” on his country.

He spent two weeks in Riyadh amid speculation that he was being kept under house arrest there, before France intervened. He withdrew his resignation after arriving back in Lebanon.

Suleiman Franjieh, who heads Lebanon’s Marada movement and endorsed Kordahi’s nomination as minister, sprang to his defence on Saturday. He did not nominate him “to offer him as a sacrifice to anyone”, he said.

“Kordahi’s remarks reflected his opinion … He has proposed to me that he offer his resignation … but I refused because he did not make any mistake,” Franjieh added.


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