Lebanon faces Gulf crisis over MP comments

·2-min read

Lebanon's president has insisted critical comments made by the foreign minister about Gulf states did not reflect official policy, seeking to avoid further strain on ties with countries that have been Lebanon's allies and donors.

Mired in its worst economic crisis since a 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has lost the financial backing of wealthy Sunni Muslim Gulf states, which resent the rising influence of Hezbollah, a Lebanese group backed by regional rival Iran.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe stoked tensions in a television interview on Monday, when he appeared to blame Gulf nations for the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

"Those countries of love, friendship and fraternity, they brought us Islamic State," he told Al Hurra without naming them.

Wehbe said on Tuesday his comments had been misrepresented and President Michel Aoun, like Wehbe a Maronite Christian and also an ally of Hezbollah, said the minister's comments were his "personal opinion" and praised "brotherly" ties with the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain summoned Lebanon's envoys to their countries over the remarks.

Riyadh delivered a memorandum of what were described as Wehbe's "offences" and the UAE foreign ministry called his comments "derogatory and racist".

Kuwait denounced Wehbe's remarks calling them "gravely abusive", while Bahrain called them "offensive", both adding that the remarks contradict the fraternal relations that ties the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states with Lebanon.

The six-nation GCC asked Wehbe to make a formal apology to Gulf states.

Lebanese politicians also criticised Wehbe.

Saad al-Hariri, the Sunni prime minister-designate now trying to form a Cabinet and whose family's wealth was built up in Saudi Arabia, said Arab support was vital.

"As if the crises that the country is drowning in and the boycott it is suffering from are not enough," he said.

Crushed by debt, Lebanon's economy has imploded, sending its currency into a tailspin.

A massive blast at Beirut port last August added to its woes, prompting the last government to resign. It is now acting in a caretaker role.