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

    South Sudan Sends First Ever Official Olympic Team to Rio

    VOA caught up with Santino Kenyi, 16, one of three athletes who will compete in this year's summer games in Brazil

    Arrest of Malawi's 'Hyena' Man Highlights Clash of Ritual, Health and Women's Rights

    Ritual practice of deflowering young girls is blamed for spreading deadly AIDS virus

    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    VOA finds things Americans take for granted are special to foreigners

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora