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

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora