Lebanon marks its "independence day" on 22 November annually, the day that it became independent of France in 1943. Or did it? Is Lebanon really independent? It has sovereignty over its land, and it can make decisions without external pressure from Paris, so why am I asking such questions?
France may have withdrawn its bureaucrats and soldiers, but it left behind characters moulded in their image to fill the void in Beirut. The colonial state left the land of the cedars physically, but it continues to pull the strings, moving such people like puppets and allowing it to govern Lebanon from the other end of the Mediterranean.
I believe that Information Minister George Kordahi's resignation, which came at the request of French President Emmanuel Macron, is the best evidence that France still rules Lebanon. Macron also freed Saad Hariri, remember, when the then prime minister of Lebanon was a "guest" of Mohammad Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, who detained him, insulted him and forced him to resign on air.
Furthermore, neo-colonialist Macron, who dreams of rebuilding the French Empire, was the first to arrive in Beirut immediately after the August 2020 port explosion and began threatening Lebanon's leaders. He gave them six months to deal with the the economic crises in the country and form a new government.
Although Lebanon is still in the grip of the French, the colonial state has been joined by others who were not part of the equation when it handed over the independence papers, namely Saudi Arabia, Syria and, more recently, Iran. The latter two seem to have managed their differences in order to protect their own interests in Lebanon.
The Najib Mikati government in Beirut was born at their hands, which angered Saudi Arabia greatly, as it sees itself as the main partner of the Lebanese government given that the Taif Agreement was brokered by the Saudis and Syria in 1989 and ended the civil war in Lebanon which had lasted for more than 15 years. That agreement marked the beginning of the Hariri era, starting with an obedient son of Saudi Arabia, the late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
Saudi Arabia's influence in Lebanon grew, although Syria also had a lot of influence due to the presence of its army and intelligence agents in its neighbour under the pretext of preventing the outbreak of a new civil war. This "Syrian mandate era" lasted for more than 15 years, until Rafic Hariri's assassination and the outbreak of the Cedar Revolution in 2005.
Interestingly, the demonstrators in the Cedar Revolution, called the March 14 group, were led by Walid Jumblatt, the Druze head of the Progressive Socialist Party; Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces Party; Amin Gemayel of the Kataeb Party; and Michel Aoun, of the Free Patriotic Movement, who came back from exile in Paris. Saad Hariri of the Future Movement made his first appearance on the political scene, alongside other traditional leaders with political lineage. They raised slogans of freedom, sovereignty and independence. And yet it was all of these individuals who were the first to call for the dismissal of George Kordahi in submission to Saudi demands and conditions. They forgot their words about sovereignty and independence and did not feel any humiliation on behalf of their free, independent and sovereign state by accepting the dismissal of a government minister at the behest of another country.
Saudi Arabia believes that Kordahi insulted the Kingdom, so it decided to punish the Lebanese people, expel the Lebanese ambassador, recall its own ambassador from Beirut, impose economic sanctions and threaten to expel thousands of Lebanese citizens working in the Kingdom; the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait followed suit. Meanwhile, Qatar and Oman were satisfied with issuing statements condemning Kordahi's remarks, in which he described the seven-year war in Yemen as absurd and said that it must stop. It is worth noting that the remarks were made during a television interview conducted two months before he was appointed Minister of Information.
Haven't most politicians and writers in the West, including myself, described the war in Yemen as absurd? It has caused the death and wounding of tens of thousands of Yemenis, and basically destroyed the country. Many people have demanded that it should end immediately, so what was Kordahi's crime for saying likewise? Would the Saudi government take such harsh steps against any Western country whose officials questioned the Kingdom's futile war in Yemen? I doubt it.
Why didn't the Saudis feel insulted when Donald Trump insulted King Salman and said he would milk the Kingdom because it needed to pay for US protection? And that if it wasn't for the US, then Saudi Arabia wouldn't be where it is today? Why did they remain silent in the face of frequent criticism by Western leaders and ministers? The path that Saudi Arabia took with Lebanon illustrates the immaturity of governance in these failed Arab states.
Although Kordahi's statements touched on Bin Salman's wounds that have been bleeding for seven years, they are not the essence of the crisis. Saudi Arabia simply took advantage of them to create a fabricated crisis, behind which the real issue between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen and Iran-backed Hezbollah's control of Lebanon was hidden.
Kordahi is affiliated with Suleiman Frangieh, the head of the Marada movement, an ally of Hezbollah and Syria, and the government was formed without its participation. Iran formed the Lebanese government with Syria, and together they shared ministerial allocations. Nabih Berri, Speaker of the House of Representatives in Beirut, said famously that with their agreement, the Lebanese crises will be resolved, and with their differences, the crises will become more complicated.
There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia felt frustrated at its inability to influence Lebanon, despite spending tens of billions of dollars there. It finally became clear to Riyadh that the political winner was the pro-Iran Hezbollah. This was more or less confirmed by the comment of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan to Reuters that the crisis was more than just a statement made by Kordahi. "I think it's important that the government in Lebanon or the Lebanese establishment forges a path forward that frees Lebanon from the current political construct, which reinforces the dominance of Hezbollah," he added.
Macron was keen to resolve the crisis before his visit to Saudi Arabia, to satisfy the Kingdom and fulfil its desire for Kordahi's removal. I believe that Hezbollah made a tactical concession and agreed to this in exchange for the removal of Judge Tariq Al-Bitar, the head of the Court of Cassation, who is investigating the Beirut explosion. Thus, both Tehran and Riyadh can be satisfied.
The tragedy of Lebanon is that too many other countries have their fingers in the pie, so the question remains whether or not the resignation of George Kordahi will solve the Saudi-Lebanese crisis. A presenter on Saudi Arabia's Alarabiya television channel, which is close to the regime in Riyadh, announced Kordahi's resignation as unimportant news. His resignation was not Saudi Arabia's main objective, even if it is a moral victory for the political teenagers running the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia's real objective in Lebanon is that it wants the authorities to curb Hezbollah and keep it away from the government; and disarmed if possible. This is an impossible demand that no government could promise, and Riyadh is well aware of this. Hezbollah's role is related to the reality of regional and international affairs, so the solution to its problematic presence, as the Saudis see it, must also come from outside the Lebanese state.
Hence, the political and economic problems in Lebanon are unlikely to be solved, and Saudi Arabia will not open its treasury to solve the financial crisis and deteriorating economic situation in the country. There will be no investments and no loans, which is what the Lebanese government is asking for and needs. The purpose of Macron's mediation is the return of the ambassadors.
There is no doubt that beautiful Lebanon, which was once the jewel of the Middle East, is in crisis because of the complexities of regional and international politics. As usual in such circumstances, it is the poor Lebanese citizens who have to pay the price.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.