News / Middle East

    Beirut Struggles Under Growing Saudi Pressure

    FILE - Arab foreign ministers attend an emergency Arab League session in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 20, 2106. The Arab League has formally branded Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group a terrorist organization.
    FILE - Arab foreign ministers attend an emergency Arab League session in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 20, 2106. The Arab League has formally branded Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group a terrorist organization.

    As Saudi Arabia-led recriminations against Lebanon continue, the country's overseas workers and business leaders are holding their collective breath.

    Beirut airport is set to receive the latest in a series of unwelcome arrivals, as another group of Lebanese workers was expelled from the Gulf because of alleged links to Hezbollah. It's the latest of a flurry of hostile moves by Saudi-affiliated countries as relations with Lebanon turn bitter. 

    In Lebanon, concerns are rising that political sanctions are bleeding into business ones — a dangerous prospect in a country where Gulf ties provide a crucial shot in the arm for an economy beset by challenges.

    "This could create a catastrophe," warned Elie Rizk, the head of the Saudi Lebanese Business Development Commission.

    "Saudi-Lebanese relations go back a long way," he said, "but business ties could be badly impacted."

    FILE - Smoke rises as Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Jan. 3, 2016. Saudi Arabia canceled a multi-billion-dollar arms package after Lebanon failed to condemn the attack.
    FILE - Smoke rises as Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Jan. 3, 2016. Saudi Arabia canceled a multi-billion-dollar arms package after Lebanon failed to condemn the attack.

    The punishment being doled out to Lebanon began last month when Saudi Arabia canceled a multi-billion-dollar arms package in reaction to Lebanon's failure to condemn an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

    However, many regional analysts see it as part of a bigger conflict between Riyadh and Tehran, and evidence of growing Saudi anger at the power of Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    In the weeks that followed, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League have labeled Hezbollah a "terrorist group." Gulf governments have imposed travel bans on some Lebanese, in addition to expelling Lebanese workers, and have placed sanctions on a number of companies and individuals accused of being Hezbollah affiliated.

    Rizk says the government hasn't done enough to condemn Hezbollah and placate the GCC countries.

    "As the private sector, we are taking the initiative and holding meetings in Saudi Arabia and across the GCC to ensure Lebanon is represented properly, and playing the role of a shadow government," he said.

    "But we're not the government."

    Strong ties

    There are strong economic motivations to repair ties.

    Political deadlock and instability, accentuated by the Syrian war, have led to barely perceptible growth in Lebanon.

    "The GCC has always been a lifeline for the Lebanese economy," explained Nassib Ghobril, an analyst with Lebanese Byblos Bank. He says the current situation is unprecedented.

    FILE - Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters in Lebanon. Saudi anger at the power of Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon is growing, with Gulf governments labelling Hezbollah a "terrorist group" and placing sanctions on a number of companies and individuals accused of being Hezbollah affiliated.
    FILE - Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters in Lebanon. Saudi anger at the power of Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon is growing, with Gulf governments labelling Hezbollah a "terrorist group" and placing sanctions on a number of companies and individuals accused of being Hezbollah affiliated.

    Because of declines in other markets and industries, Ghobril says trade with the GCC nations has become even more important.

    At a time when other investors are steering clear, the Gulf has provided some economic stability.

    Ghobril estimates that three-quarters of foreign investment in Lebanon over the past three years came from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, while the region also plays an important role in the country's tourism sector.

    The Gulf also is the main market for many Lebanese exporters.

    In Beirut, Mark Acar owns Black Box, an energy industry company with offices in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. "We try not to worry too much unless something certain does happen, but clearly there's a possibility that we could see a bleed through," he told VOA.

    "People are watching, it's just that they can't really do anything."

    Worker fears

    This sense of helplessness extends to the thousands of Lebanese working in the Gulf and their families at home.

    For decades, remittances from Lebanese workers overseas have played a vital role in keeping the deeply indebted country afloat.

    "There's a lot of nervousness at the moment [among Lebanese migrant workers], there's no doubt about it," said Akhram Khater, director of the Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies.

    He estimated that there are around 180,000 Lebanese nationals in the Gulf, but some experts place the figure at closer to 500,000.

    Khater says that in the largely Sunni GCC countries, the fear would be particularly acute among Lebanon's Shia workers, who may fall under suspicion due to Hezbollah's mainly Shia support base.

    He downplayed the likelihood of widespread expulsions.

    Repairing the damage

    With reports indicating that Thursday's regular League of Arab States meeting in Cairo may bring fresh developments, unpredictability is one thing many commentators agree on.

    For now, the markets have proved resilient to the recriminations, Byblos Bank's Ghobril said. But he warned that "there are concerns [about the need] to restore this relationship, to repair what has been damaged."

    How the Lebanese government and business community can placate Saudi wrath, however, remains to be seen.

    Aurélie Daher, Middle East specialist and author of an upcoming book on Hezbollah, expects to see more expulsions "as just another way to put pressure on the Lebanese government for them to take firm moves against Hezbollah."

    But Daher warns that government efforts to minimize the power of Hezbollah — which has a major role and support base in Lebanon — carry risks far greater than a damaged economy.

    "Change is not achievable," she said, "unless the Beirut government is ready to put the Lebanese politician scene as well as society on fire."

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: AHMED from: INDIA
    March 16, 2016 9:55 PM
    Arab League is Puppet of Saudi Arabia. SA is main Financial Backer of Arab League.
    What is the performance of AL is Nil. AL cannot solve any problem in Arab countries. AL cannot provide food and drinking water to helpless peoples in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
    SA in Main sponsor of Terrorist Groups in Muslim countries. Few Examples are Daesh/Taliban/Nusrat Front/IS/ Al Qaida/ Booko Haram and so many other groups. SA is responsible for Mess in Syria and Iraq.
    So it will be better to assess our self and then declare who is supporting Terrorism in Muslim countries. Syria,Iraq, Yemen,Bahrain,Libya,Afghanistan and Pakistan are victims of SA Sponsored Terrorist Groups.
    In Response

    by: Ali
    March 16, 2016 10:53 PM
    What else? Shouldn't you keep going and tell us how is SA is secretly backing Hezbollah to bring chaos into Lebanon?

    Lebanon should have been the first to label Hezbollah as a terrorist group, since they are the only ones behind killing their former president Tawfiq Harriri.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora