Fears for Le­banese econ­omy if Saudi Ara­bia im­poses Qatar-style block­ade

Hariri de­liv­ers blunt mes­sage from Saudis to Le­banon

Kuwait Times - - International -

BEIRUT: Le­banese politi­cians and bankers be­lieve Saudi Ara­bia in­tends to do to their coun­try what it did to Qatar - cor­ral Arab al­lies into en­forc­ing an eco­nomic block­ade un­less its de­mands are met. Un­like Qatar, the world’s big­gest sup­plier of liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas with a pop­u­la­tion of just 300,000, Le­banon has nei­ther the nat­u­ral nor fi­nan­cial re­sources to ride it out, and peo­ple there are wor­ried.

Up to 400,000 Le­banese work in the Gulf re­gion, and re­mit­tances flow­ing back into the coun­try, es­ti­mated at be­tween $7-8 bil­lion a year, are a vi­tal source of cash to keep the econ­omy afloat and the heav­ily-in­debted gov­ern­ment func­tion­ing. “These are se­ri­ous threats to the Le­banese econ­omy which is al­ready dire. If they cut the trans­fer of re­mit­tances, that will be a dis­as­ter,” a se­nior Le­banese of­fi­cial said. Those threats came from Le­banon’s former prime min­is­ter, Saad Al-Hariri, who re­signed on Nov 4 in a shock broad­cast from Riyadh that Le­banese po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have as­cribed to pres­sure from the Saudis.

Hariri, an ally of Saudi Ara­bia, on Sun­day warned of pos­si­ble Arab sanc­tions and a dan­ger to the liveli­hoods of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Le­banese liv­ing in the Gulf. And he spelled out Saudi con­di­tions for Le­banon to avoid sanc­tions: Hezbol­lah, the Iran-backed group that is Le­banon’s main po­lit­i­cal power and part of the rul­ing coali­tion, must stop med­dling in re­gional con­flicts, par­tic­u­larly Ye­men. Ac­cord­ing to a Le­banese source fa­mil­iar with Saudi think­ing, Hariri’s interview “gave an in­di­ca­tion of what might be wait­ing for us if a real com­pro­mise is not reached. The play­book is there in Qatar.”

Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion has thrust Le­banon to the cen­tre of an es­ca­lat­ing ri­valry be­tween Sunni Saudi Ara­bia and Shi­ite Iran. The non-con­fronta­tional Saudi pol­icy of the past to­wards Le­banon has gone, an­a­lysts say, un­der the new lead­er­ship of Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, 32-year-old son of King Sal­man. He is now the de facto ruler of the king­dom, run­ning its mil­i­tary, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic af­fairs. Whether Iran and Hezbol­lah are will­ing to make sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sions to Riyadh is doubt­ful, sources said. “They (Hezbol­lah) might make some cos­metic con­ces­sions, but they won’t sub­mit to the Saudi con­di­tions,” a source fa­mil­iar with Hezbol­lah think­ing said.

Sanc­tions may in­clude ban on flights, ex­ports, money trans­fers

‘Ball in Hezbol­lah’s court’

Le­banese an­a­lyst Sarkis Naoum said Riyadh wanted Hariri to re­turn to Le­banon and press Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun to open di­a­logue and address their con­di­tions on Hezbol­lah’s re­gional in­ter­ven­tions. “They need to come up with a po­si­tion that will be sat­is­fac­tory to the Saudis ... If the Saudis de­cide on sanc­tions they will do it,” Naoum said. A source close to Hariri said he had “put the ball in the court of Aoun, Hezbol­lah and its al­lies, by say­ing ‘busi­ness can­not con­tinue as usual.’ “There was no su­gar-coat­ing. The sanc­tions were spelled out clearly. They want Le­banon to be dis­as­so­ci­ated from Hezbol­lah”. Aoun has wel­comed com­ments that the former premier planned to re­turn home soon, palace sources said on Mon­day.

Hezbol­lah, a move­ment with a heav­ily armed fight­ing force in ad­di­tion to seats in par­lia­ment and gov­ern­ment, is Iran’s spear­head in the re­gion. Tehran’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard looks to be try­ing to repli­cate it by build­ing coali­tions of mili­tia groups in Iraq and Syria, ac­cord­ing to some an­a­lysts. The list of po­ten­tial sanc­tions against Le­banon, po­lit­i­cal sources there say, could in­clude a ban on flights, visas, ex­ports and trans­fer of re­mit­tances. Some of those have been im­posed on Qatar, but that block­ade, ini­ti­ated in June, has had lim­ited ef­fect on the emi­rate so far, be­yond driv­ing it closer to Iran. — Reuters

ZOUK MOSBEH, Le­banon: A poster of Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri is seen on a gi­ant bill­board that reads in Ara­bic ‘All of Le­banon is Saad Hariri’ on the high­way of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut yes­ter­day. — AFP

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