Beirut-Lebanon’s interior minister said on Tuesday that every delay in resolving the diplomatic crisis with the Gulf countries could affect the lives of more Lebanese who have already struggled from a large-scale economic crisis.
Bassam Mawlawi stated that the resolution of the crisis started with the resignation of the cabinet minister, and his remarks aroused the anger of Saudi Arabia, saying that it was too late.
Saudi Arabia, a traditional ally of Lebanon, withdrew its ambassador last month after Lebanon’s Minister of Information George Kordahi (George Kordahi) withdrew its ambassador and asked the Lebanese envoy to leave. Kordasi said the war in Yemen was futile, calling it an aggression by the Saudi-led coalition.
The war in Yemen began in 2014 when Houthi rebels occupied Sana’a, and Houthi rebels controlled most of the northern part of the country. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year, determined to restore an internationally recognized government and expel the insurgents.
Kordasi recorded these comments a few weeks before his appointment as minister. Although many people, including the prime minister, appealed, he refused to apologize or step down. Lebanese officials stated that his remarks do not represent official government views.
“It will take a long time. It should not take more than a month to solve the problem,” Mawlawi told The Associated Press. “He should have resigned long ago. He should resign immediately. …Each delay will cause more serious damage to the Lebanese, whether in Lebanon or in the Gulf.”
Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait followed Saudi Arabia and also recalled their ambassadors.
Saudi Arabia has also banned Lebanon’s imports, affecting hundreds of companies and cutting off the channel to provide hundreds of millions of foreign exchange to Lebanon, which is already facing a severe economic collapse.
Mawlawi warned that Saudi Arabia’s import ban may be expanded to restrict all trade with Gulf countries, which may also damage the employment or residence of Lebanese living in oil-rich countries. The livelihoods of more than 350,000 Lebanese living in Gulf countries are threatened.
“We shouldn’t wait until the nooses on all Lebanese necks are tightened, so that we can take measures that we could have taken earlier, and could have been easier,” he said. “I think the delay makes the crisis more complicated.”
Mawlawi stated that Kordahi will not resign because he needs the approval of political supporters. Kordahi is supported by a powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah organization that criticizes Saudi Arabia’s pressure on Lebanon, calling it “extortion.”
Saudi officials said that Lebanon’s problem is more serious than Kodashi’s remarks, and its roots are in a system of alliances with Iran.
The stalemate paralyzed the government, and the government has been unable to hold meetings since October 12 because of reports that if Kodashi steps down, ministers allied with Hezbollah will resign.
Local media said that mediators seeking to end the deadlock are negotiating a trade-off between Bitar and Kordahi. According to reports, if Kordahi leaves, Bitar must also leave.
“The port explosion is a legal and judicial issue, and it is not legally appropriate to use it as part of the exchange,” said Mawlawi, who is also a judge himself. The investigation “is in the hands of the judiciary. The law must be enforced.”
Without the approval of two-thirds of the cabinet, Prime Minister Najib Mikati cannot fire Kodashi. Mawlawi called on Mikati to do so, if he could get votes.
“The government must take the initiative. I don’t think the government should wait for any initiatives or steps from the Gulf countries,” he said.
Mawlawi acknowledged the crisis with the Gulf countries before Kordahi made comments.
Last spring, Saudi Arabia announced that it had seized more than 5 million capsules of the amphetamine drug Captagon in a batch of pomegranates from Lebanon, and then Saudi Arabia took the first punitive measures against Lebanon. It then prohibited the import or transit of Lebanese products through its territory. In May, two persons suspected of smuggling were arrested.
Mawlawi said he has ordered stricter security measures at the border crossing to prevent smuggling, and said that investigations into smuggling gangs are still continuing.
“We must work with the Saudi authorities to draw conclusions to find out all the details of the issues that threaten the safety of Saudi Arabia and the Arab communities,” he said.
Mawlawi said that Lebanon’s economic crisis — described by the World Bank as one of the world’s worst crises in the past 150 years — has caused damage to the country’s security forces. In the past two years, the national currency and the salaries of civil servants have depreciated by more than 90% due to the soaring inflation rate and the shortage of infrastructure.
According to the latest data from the Ministry of the Interior, since the beginning of the crisis, at least 396 police officers and 4 police officers have left the force, with an estimated 27,000 members.
“We are trying to prevent these resignations… but we need to address the root cause of the problem,” Mawlawi said, calling for more international assistance to the internal security forces.