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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

George Kordahi: Maker of Lebanon’s Isolation

George Kordahi
Lebanon’s Minister of Information George Kordahi speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on September 13, 2021. Lebanon’s newly-formed government held its first meeting to discuss ways of rescuing the country from one of its worst ever economic crises. ANWAR AMRO / AFP

In the field of politics and the dissonance of the Lebanese parties, it does not seem that the experiences of the Lebanese journalist George Kordahi, who was recently appointed as the Minister of Information in Lebanon, were of any use.

Not even those related to the diplomatic treatment of the opposing parties, which he supposedly gained from his program “Al Mousameh Karim,” which aired for several seasons on Abu Dhabi TV a few years ago.

Its theme was based on reconciling adversaries, reuniting families or fixing ruined relationships. In Lebanon today, Kordahi has caused a diplomatic crisis which Lebanon may pay a hefty price for, among the grand sum it has been paying for years, that it plunged the country into political and economic crises, the last of which seemed to be the most severe.

The economic collapse that the country has been experiencing since the explosion of the Beirut Port on Aug. 4, 2020, was classified as one of the most severe economic crises in history, according to the World Bank, whose statement indicated that this incident is likely to be the third-worst economic crisis in the world since the mid-1800s.

Naming Kordahi Minister of Information in Najib Mikati’s Cabinet that was formed on Sept. 10, 2021, after an arduous journey, was an untraditional step in the Lebanese political sphere because Kordahi came from the heart of show business, and he is a TV star, backed and pushed by major Arab television networks as a model of a godfather for TV game shows and entertainment, most famous of which was “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” which remained the most popular show of the Saudi MBC network for several years.

Kordahi was far from direct political action, and his presence in this context does not go beyond short statements and stances shared on websites from time to time, but they are ineffective, timid and governed by his work with GCC-based TV channels, which must have formed the main obstacle between Kordahi and public and direct expression of his political stance, especially since Kordahi’s political tendency is not in line with the orientations of the countries that own and fund the institutions in which he worked, and achieved great fame through their screens.

It was not expected that Lebanon’s first crisis after forming the new government would be a diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia, caused by an interview with Kordahi on the “Barlaman Sha’ab” program produced by the Al-Jazeera network.

It was recorded before he was named a minister and aired after that. During the interview, Qordahi defended the Houthi movement and criticised the Saudi and Emirati interference in Yemen, calling it external aggression, which led to Saudi, Bahraini and Kuwaiti discontent, and prompted these countries to demand the Lebanese ambassadors to leave their countries and summon their ambassadors from Lebanon while the UAE also summoned its diplomats from Lebanon, in a sign of objection to what Kordahi said.

The Gulf reaction included sanctions on the economic trade with Lebanon.  Saudi Arabia blocked the Lebanese imports, totalling more than $250 million annually. According to Fawzi Kabbara, the Lebanese ambassador to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is Lebanon’s second-largest export destination after the UAE.

The signs of the Gulf-Lebanese dispute came before Kordahi’s statements, and before forming the Lebanese government. The escalation is due to the clear Lebanese tendency to resolve the escalating internal crises in the miserable country with the help of Iran, especially after the explosion of the port and the consequent increase in Hezbollah’s monopoly overpower. Such a thing led to forming a government-controlled by the Shiite duo, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, and their ally the Free Patriotic Movement (President Michel Aoun’s movement). Meanwhile, the Kataeb and the Lebanese Forces abstained from participating. The Marada movement – a close ally to Hezbollah – got two ministries, including the Ministry of Information that Kordahi assumed.

A Step Back

George Kordahi
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati arrives for the first cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut, on September 13, 2021. Anwar AMRO / AFP

There is no doubt that Kordahi’s resignation will fix at least part of the problem, meaning that it would prevent a complete diplomatic break off at the very least. That prompted Lebanese and Arab MPs and politicians to demand his resignation, while other politicians suggested that the whole government should resign, not just Kordahi.

The government repudiated Kordahi’s statements and declared that it is a personal opinion, not a general government orientation. The prime minister confirmed that his government adheres to its relations with Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf states, and it is not this government’s concern to interfere in other countries internal affairs. He also asked Kordahi to “take the appropriate decision to mend Lebanon’s Arab relations,” a statement that could be interpreted as hinting to Kordahi that his resignation is one of the options.

On the other hand, Kordahi insisted on his stance and refused the demands to resign. According to him, he is only part of a government, and he cannot make decisions on his own. He also relied on the support of several movements in Lebanon, especially Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, as they, like Kordahi, deduced that the whole issue is a conspiracy.

Meanwhile, Kordahi explained that his statement – which caused the whole crisis – cannot be considered an interference in Saudi Arabia’s or other countries internal affairs. He said that he respects Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and that all those attempts seem to be futile.

Kordahi and the Lebanese government know that this crisis could exacerbate the economic crisis at the very least. However, the situation somehow is in favour and in line with Hezbollah’s orientations because every link severed with the Gulf states is replaced with Iran. Hezbollah deployed this policy frequently and previously used it to pressure successive Lebanese governments. For any crisis that might befall the weak country, Hezbollah will come forward and assert that it can recover from the crisis through its Iranian ally, and the fuel crisis was the perfect example.

In this situation, Kordahi finds himself today isolated from the Gulf media in general, and yesterday’s friend has become today’s foe. Days before taking office, he devoted a special episode of his show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the MBC network, which is shutting down its offices and studios today in Lebanon because of Kordahi.

On the other hand, Kordahi’s holding on to his current position may pose a personal challenge for him, that he came from challenges and game shows, where the possibilities of winning and losing are based on personal courage and love of adventure, not a politician that studies issues in a completely different way.

Perhaps this is the first flaw of appointing someone like Kordahi as a minister. His obstinacy against resigning may also go with the flow of that party that is undoubtedly the most powerful in Lebanon today, namely Hezbollah, which completely rejects Kordahi’s resignation. Therefore, although his resignation may be more beneficial to the new Lebanese government today, it is not an easy decision that this government will take or impose on one of its ministers.

The New Old Face

The biography of Kordahi of the Keserwan district, who is over 70-years-old, could have continued as a professional presenter, from Radio Monte Carlo to Lebanon TV, and from MBC to Abu Dhabi TV and LBC, channels chase him to present various programs, in which enormous production potentials are usually harnessed, and the one who will host them is the winner of the Murex d’Or award in 2007 as the best journalist in the Arab world. Regardless of his evaluations as a presenter, what was flawed in this biography is that he expresses, from time to time, a political position that suggests that he is an ally of dictatorships.

He admires the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from time to time and finds that Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, is the most prominent figure in Lebanon. These stains would have been neglected or forgotten, had they remained mere opinions of a famous presenter, but when he becomes a minister, the equation will change from two sides.

The first is that his views will take on a radical form, as they come from a politician in a divided country where each party expresses itself with the utmost radicalism to impose itself as a stronger party. The second is that his opinion is viewed as an entire government’s opinion, not just a person, which is what the Lebanese government is paying for now.

The Lebanese government is facing a dire situation as if a mysterious and unseen fate befell it. The same government that was supposed to prepare to solve old pending problems, and save the country from the hell of inflation and poverty, found itself facing new obstacles because of the new faces it holds. Those are the same faces that were supposed to be the renewal symbol to prevent repeating the same faces and problems.

But these new faces to political actions slapped Lebanon, to add to the wounds caused by politicians of the past, who each have a deputy in the “consensual billionaire” government, as some like to call Mikati today, the prime minister who professionally formed a government after two previous experiences in 2005 and 2011, in which political blocs share ministerial portfolios, to produce today’s Lebanon, that is like nothing but itself.

 

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written by
Dima Elayache
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