Saudi generosity to Lebanon repaid with insults

Now I really do despair of Lebanon’s golden era ever returning; at least not during my lifetime. In the early 1970s, my frequent visits to a place where people were friendly and always welcoming were always special, which is one of the reasons I was driven to invest in Beirut, so beautiful and so blessed. Sadly, whereas Gulf nationals appreciate everything Lebanon has to offer, a Lebanese minority is willing to sacrifice the country’s future on the altar of sectarianism and hatred.

Gulf states have always stood by Lebanon in good times and bad. Saudi Arabia, in particular has been a good friend to the Lebanese people; last year alone, Riyadh pledged to provide the Lebanese government with a $3 billion grant to upgrade its military that was followed-up with a further $ 1billion in military aid to assist the army to fend off ISIS fighters.

Lebanon has traditionally been the go-to holiday destination for Saudis and Gulf Arabs and by some estimates there are hundreds of thousands of Lebanese expatriates in Saudi, the UAE and Qatar alone, many of which send regular remittances to their families at home. So when the Lebanese economy is depressed - weighed down by the needs of 1.5 million Syrian refugees - and its tourism industry has taken a severe knock due to Lebanon’s unstable security environment, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah decides this is the time to be as offensive as he possibly can to the Saudi leadership and its coalition partners.

Not only are Saudis upset over his vicious diatribe, rebroadcast on Lebanon’s State TV, so are their Gulf neighbours. I don’t want to repeat Nasrallah’s exact words. I’ll paraphrase. In essence, he behaved like the obedient Iranian puppet he is by announcing his hope that the Saudi-led Arab coalition battling Houthi militias in Yemen would be defeated which, he said, would impact the Kingdom’s internal stability and its ruling monarchy. He’s no savvy politician. If he thinks insulting Saudi Arabia will resurrect Hezbollah’s dwindling popularity, he’s mistaken.

Erasing the hurt

Lebanon’s Minister of Information subsequently apologized to the Saudi ambassador for the broadcast and even politicians from the March 14 bloc have issued statements criticising Nasrallah – who in my opinion is Lebanon’s actual leader – for over-stepping the mark. But no amount of apologizing can erase the hurt, and I would imagine that many Saudis will think twice about investing or vacationing there for the foreseeable future. Few countries in the world allow state television to provide a platform for militias to spew their propaganda, let alone those under the wing of foreign governments!

I stopped being shocked at anything Hezbollah does years ago, especially since its triggering of a war with Israel in 2006

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

However, Nasrallah isn’t the only Lebanese going after the Kingdom’s jugular. There are frequent attacks on GCC states, especially targeting Saudi, by certain Lebanese politicians and so-called analysts on television and in newspapers. This trend is self-defeating and dismaying and if it continues, the consequences will backfire on the Lebanese people.

I stopped being shocked at anything Hezbollah does years ago, especially since its triggering of a war with Israel in 2006 and its decision to join hands with the Assad regime, one of the most ruthless our planet has ever known. Those are brands of shame it can never shake-off. But I do admit feeling disappointment with prominent politicians allied to March 14 who have neglected to take strong measures to ensure respect and appreciation for Saudi Arabia and the other GCC member states, March 14’s biggest allies and material backers.

Accountability

How would they feel if Saudi channels had championed an Israeli victory in 2006? March 14 is duty-bound to hold accountable any politician or anyone else who trashes Lebanon’s closest regional friends. I’m sure they would love to hide behind the arguments that Hezbollah is too powerful to cross or Lebanon believes in the democratic principle of free speech.

Firstly, the country is just a sham democracy as long as Hezbollah’s hand rocks the cradle and those proponents of free speech merely use that argument to cover their own cowardice. In any case, anything that threatens Lebanon’s economic health or national security should trump the free expression of traitors with Persian loyalties.

March 14 has the resources to act but lacks the courage or the will; the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice and the media are all under its control – or that’s what its leaders would have us believe. It’s about time they stopped burying their heads and stood up for what is right. If their positions are nothing more than honorary to keep up a façade, then they should let us know, so that our heads of state don’t waste their time discussing with them.

Lebanese ministers and politicians must stop playing Hezbollah’s game. They were elected and funded to defend the people’s interests and those of the Lebanese diaspora in the Gulf, which should include deterring agenda-led thugs to hurl insults at Saudi Arabia or any other GCC country. Instead, they stand and watch while those thugs throw boulders in the well that they drink from. If they’re not very careful, they’ll end up having to find jobs for returning Lebanese expatriates because if hostile sentiments keep coming our way, leaders might find that many Lebanese nationals doing business or working in their countries pose a risk to national security.

How long is this sad state of affairs going to continue? How long will it be until the Lebanese people - whether Muslim Christian, Druze or Armenian - refuse to allow their strings to be pulled by ayatollahs threatening not only their safety and livelihoods but their very Lebanese identity. I can only hope they’ll find their voices to speak up against this dark cloak stifling any chance of a new Lebanese dawn. And in the meantime, I’m watching intently for signs that they reject absolutely any insult to brotherly nations that have always sheltered them with open arms.


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Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.
 

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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