Lebanon information minister angers UAE, Saudi Arabia with Houthi comments

Information Minister George Kordahi's statements on Yemen's Houthi have upset the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

 A man chants slogans as he and supporters of the Houthi movement attend a rally to celebrate following claims of military advances by the group near the borders with Saudi Arabia, in Sanaa, Yemen October 4, 2019. (photo credit: MOHAMED AL-SAYAGHI/REUTERS)
A man chants slogans as he and supporters of the Houthi movement attend a rally to celebrate following claims of military advances by the group near the borders with Saudi Arabia, in Sanaa, Yemen October 4, 2019.
(photo credit: MOHAMED AL-SAYAGHI/REUTERS)

Lebanon’s prime minister has rejected comments by Information Minister George Kordahi in an interview in which he had appeared to support the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. Kordahi's statements angered the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

“George Kordahi’s recent comments do not express the government's position on the Yemeni issue," Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said in statements released recently. "Lebanon is committed to its ties with Arab countries and my government is keen to have the best relations with Saudi Arabia.” 

Kordahi appeared on an Al Jazeera-affiliated youth show, according to reports. It was there that "he was asked the difference between the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group and the Yemeni Houthis,” reports say. Kordahi replied that the Houthis were acting in self-defense. They have attacked Saudi Arabia with missiles and drones. Riyadh intervened in Yemen alongside the UAE and others to prevent a Houthi takeover of the country. Hezbollah backs the Houthis.  

This is the second time a Lebanese official has made controversial comments toward Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations, Al-Arabiya says. “In May, then-foreign minister Charbel Wehbe stoked tensions with televised remarks that suggested Gulf states had supported the rise of ISIS and blamed them for the war in Syria. Wehbe quickly stepped down from his role.” 

Kordahi is known for having backed Hezbollah in the past. In 2018 he was asked who is his “man of the year.” He named Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin as the international personalities of 2018.

According to a profile in The National in the UAE the information minister was previously an important TV personality. “A Maronite Christian, Mr. Kordahi grew up in the mountains of Keserwan, north of Beirut. He began his career as a journalist in the 1970s at TeleLiban, Lebanon’s public TV station, before moving on to Radio Monte Carlo.”

But he is a backer of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime. Assad “proved he is a man cut from a different cloth”, Kordahi told Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV in an interview. “As an Arab man, as a Lebanese, I tell you this: had this man not resisted, Syria would no longer exist. Lebanon would no longer exist. Jordan and the Gulf neither.” 

Kordahi became famous for hosting an Arab version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Now he is in hot water again.

Iran, of course, is happy. Reports and rumors online say that Iran’s IRGC Quds Force head Email Ghaani is visiting Lebanon this week. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. But Kordahi is indeed in the hot seat.

Iran’s Tasnim news says that, “unfortunately, this position of the Lebanese Minister of Media in Beirut was not considered as freedom of expression, and some Lebanese groups immediately launched a political and media campaign against [Kordahi].” Some think this could harm relations with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. 

Leading businessman Najib Mikati gestures at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 26, 2021. (credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS)Leading businessman Najib Mikati gestures at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 26, 2021. (credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS)

But Lebanon already has many problems with Saudi Arabia, which has stepped back from its previous roles in Lebanon. “I did not intend to insult Saudi Arabia and the UAE in any way," Kordahi has reportedly said. “It is clear who launched these campaigns against me, and they have been accusing me of coming to suppress the media since the formation of the government,” he claimed.