Damascus: Lebanon’s Acting Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe on Wednesday asked to be relieved of his post, less than 48 hours after stoking a diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia and other members of the Cooperation Council of Gulf (CCG).
Appearing on Al Hurra TV on Monday, Wehbe accused the Gulf countries, without naming them, of being behind the rise of Daesh. During the heated debate, his Saudi interlocutor Salman Al Ansari declared that Michel Aoun was responsible for handing over Lebanon to Hezbollah, which prompted Wehbe to slam: “His name is His Excellency President Michel Aoun. He then abruptly ripped the microphone from his jacket and left the studio, accusing Al Ansar of being a “Bedouin”.
The remarks sparked an uproar both in Lebanon and beyond. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain have all summoned Lebanese ambassadors to their countries, opposing the minister’s remarks. The Kingdom described them as “offenses” while the United Arab Emirates called them “derogatory and racist”.
President Aoun intimately tried to downplay the crisis, saying the minister’s words were his “personal opinion”, praising what he called “brotherly ties” with the Gulf. He then asked Wehbe for a formal apology, which he finally did on Tuesday – but that apparently wasn’t enough to end the crisis. Prime Minister Saad Hariri also criticized Wehbe, coming to defend Saudi Arabia, a country that has supported him for years, and without which neither he nor his father would have made a fortune.
The popular Lebanese daily Annahar responded by publishing a positive article on the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the United Arab Emirates.
Wehbe, 67, has been foreign minister since August 3, 2020. A day after his appointment, the infamous Beirut port explosion occurred, killing nearly 200 people and destroying half of the city. Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet has since resigned and is acting as an interim. The Minister of Foreign Affairs too.
After studying mathematics at the Lebanese University, he began a career in the foreign service, as Lebanese Consul in Montreal (1995-2000), Los Angeles (2002-2007), then as Ambassador to Venezuela (2007 -2012). He is a Maronite Christian like President Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah.
Comparison with Charles Malik
On social media, many compare him to Charles Malik, an AUB-trained statesman who served as head of the Lebanese Foreign Ministry in the 1950s, managing to distinguish between rival camps during the cold War.
“Charbel Wehbe’s unfortunate statement illustrates the deterioration of the Lebanese political system,” AUB professor Hilal Khashan said. Speaking to Gulf News, he said Malik “wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” when Wehbe was just a “well-dressed gangster”.
Allegiance to Hezbollah
“Wehbe’s allegiance is first to Hezbollah and then to Lebanon,” said Joseph Kéchichian, senior researcher at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.
With its allies of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) led by Gibran Basil, Aoun’s son-in-law, Hezbollah handpicked all the ministers in the Hassan Diab cabinet. Despite ideological differences, Hezbollah and the FPM have worked together since 2006. The crux of their agreement was: Hezbollah would support Aoun’s candidacy for the presidency in exchange for Aoun’s support for Hezbollah’s right to bear arms. .
He fulfilled his part of the deal by supporting Hezbollah during the 2006 war with Israel, and Hezbollah upheld theirs by appointing him president in 2016. Charbel Wehbe is only a footnote in this agreement, parachuted after the sudden resignation of Nassif Hitti. last august. He was appointed minister by Aoun’s son-in-law Gibran Basil.
In recent weeks, Prime Minister Diab has tried to reach out to Arab states for much needed financial assistance for the collapsing Lebanese economy. In April, he visited Qatar and was due to visit Iraq before the end of the month.
But as Lebanese statesmen are in dire need of money, most are unwilling to walk away from the corrupt system that has brought them to power – and kept them in their seats – despite protests from the government. audience against their performance.
An eye-catching slogan conceived during the October 2017 revolution was “All means all.” This did not prompt anyone to leave the scene, nor did the criminal negligence that led to the explosion of the Port of Beirut.
Kéchichian added: “This is a very sad episode but very much in the perspective of the level to which the Lebanese ruling establishment has fallen. Nothing will change in their heinous behavior, which harms Lebanese interests even more than many have hitherto assumed, until the whole group is replaced by genuine patriots. Will that day come?
Hezbollah has often taken blows against the Gulf states, often through its leader Hassan Nasrallah. But they have been silent in recent weeks, as talks unfold between Iran and the United States on one front, and between Iran and Saudi Arabia on another. This explains why, contrary to what many expected, Hezbollah did not release a statement defending Charbel Wehbe.