BEIRUT, Lebanon – A Lebanese minister whose criticism of the Saudi-led war in Yemen sparked a diplomatic rift between Lebanon and powerful Persian Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia resigned from his post on Friday, saying he hopes it will be a solution to a crisis that further damaged his country’s struggling economy.
George Kordahi, the information minister and a flamboyant former host of the Arabic version of the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” told reporters he didn’t want to harm Lebanon or the many Lebanese working in the Gulf countries.
“Lebanon is more important than George Kordahi and the interests of the Lebanese are more important than my position,” he said.
The feud broke out in late October, when an Arab news channel broadcast an interview with Kordahi recorded before he joined the government.
Saudi Arabia responded by expelling the Lebanese ambassador from Riyadh and withdrawing the kingdom’s ambassador from Beirut. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, close allies of Saudi Arabia, took similar steps.
The incident shed light on the region’s power politics and the effort Saudi Arabia will make to blunt criticism by putting pressure on weaker states.
In his remarks, Mr Kordahi criticized the intervention in Yemen, which aimed to overthrow the Houthi rebels who have taken over much of the country’s northwest, calling it “useless.” He also said the Houthis were defending themselves against “external aggression.”
The crisis sent shockwaves through Lebanon, where many families depend on remittances from relatives working in the Gulf countries. The country was already suffering one of the worst economic contractions in modern history, with many Lebanese fearing anger from the Gulf States would make matters worse.
Saudi Arabia was once a major patron of Lebanon and played a major role in its politics by funding politicians who shared its views. But those ties have been severed as Saudi-backed figures have lost ground to Hezbollah, the militant group and political party backed by Iran, the Saudi’s regional nemesis.
Many Saudis also felt that the Lebanese had been happy to take Saudi money for too long, while returning little value in return.
As the crisis continued, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on Kordahi to resign. Mr Kordahi, a Christian who comes from a political party affiliated with Hezbollah, which supports the rebels in Yemen, initially refused.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron is working to restore ties between the two parties, and Mr Kordahi said on Friday he hoped his resignation before the French leader’s visit to the Gulf countries, which began Friday, could help resolve the crisis. unload.
Mr Macron has been at the forefront of international efforts to help Lebanon solve its financial problems, although the country’s leaders have made no progress on the reforms needed to unlock international aid. Many powerful figures have also worked to complicate an inquest into a massive explosion in the port of Beirut last year that killed more than 200 people and damaged much of the capital.
It was not immediately clear whether Mr Kordahi’s resignation was enough to convince the Gulf States to end the crisis.
For his part, after his arrival in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, Mr Macron said he was optimistic about bridging the gap.
“We will do everything we can to re-engage the Gulf regions in favor of Lebanon,” he said. “I hope the coming hours will allow us to make progress.”
During his visit, Mr Macron and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the de facto ruler of the Emirates, signed an agreement for the Emirates to purchase 80 Rafale fighter jets and 12 military helicopters.
Hwaida Saad reporting contributed.