The Sheikhs Get Down to Business

In what came as a rather unexpected move, member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) listed Hezballah on their never-heard-of-before list of terrorist organizations for its involvement in Syria alongside the Assad regime, while threatening to take action against its members/sympathizers and their assets in the Gulf. The sheikhs of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have finally gotten down to serious business to save Syria from the murderous Assad regime it seems. By intimidating Hezballah, which played a primary role in aiding the regime in overturning opposition victories, staring in Qusayr, the GCC hopes to force the former to retreat from Syria and go back to resisting Israel. In typical Hassan Nasrallah fashion however, Hezballah’s Sayyed was quick to throw any threats right back at the GCC. In his latest public statement, he simply said that Hezballah didn’t care what the GCC did because they would fight in Syria and would fight until the end.

Gulf Cooperation Council

But let’s be clear. I have previously argued that Hezballah’s involvement in Syria is a losing battle, contradicting much of what it purportedly stands for, though understandable if only for sectarian considerations and for protecting its loyal, albeit murderous, ally. Likewise, it isn’t that the GCC’s involvement has been any more noble, providing financial and military support to an eclectic opposition including murderous extremist elements, exacerbating the war and deepening the sectarian nature of the conflict and its aftermath. And if we factor in the West’s various degrees of involvement in the war, most recently the U.S.’s promise to start providing direct military aid to the rebels, all the elements of a protracted, bloody, war of attrition, war-of-others-on-our-soil scenario do not seem too far away. And this is so much more than sad, it is a tragedy.

Coming back the GCC’s measures, at the end of the day, they are free to do whatever they want against Hezballah, as many other countries in the world have done.  Yet, the GCC’s latest has also resulted in direct threats to hardworking, law-abiding Lebanese citizens that either happen to be Shia (which doesn’t equate to being a Hezballah member), Christians (affiliated or sympathetic to Hezballah allies) or simply Lebanese (regardless of confessional affiliation) in the Gulf.  Rumors abound of messages being sent to Lebanese in Saudi Arabia threatening them against dealing with Lebanese Shias in the kingdom. There are stories of Lebanese from various confessions being deported from the UAE.  And even before the latest GCC escalation, Lebanese Christians and Muslims entering Bahrain were being humiliated and interrogated until the very last detail of their political affiliations and sympathies. Using a tactic of collective punishment against Lebanese citizens, most whom have learned to leave their politics behind for the sake of better opportunities and a decent living, the GCC adopts a similar tactic to that of Israel during its war with Hezballah in July 2006. But will this scare Hezballah into retreating from Syria? Not really. Can the Lebanese government make it withdraw from Syria even if it wanted to? Not really. And who will care about highlighting this gross injustice and genuinely calling on the GCC to be fair to Lebanese instead? Nobody and not Hezballah either.

Lebanon has always had a highly interdependent relationship with the Gulf, and more so in recent years.  Around half a million Lebanese live and work in the Gulf, something that has eased our own local unemployment rates and been a source of remittances for our economy that is always in need of such funds.  I would hope that there is more that could be done to stop blanket discrimination of Lebanese in the Gulf, but except if the GCC eases its blackmail, then there isn’t much to be done.

At the same time, many sectors of the Lebanese economy have been almost tailored around thousands of Gulf visitors each year, hence the hysterical cries of many against whatever makes the GCC unhappy with Lebanon and its travel warnings to its citizens from coming here.  Here, however, is where Lebanon has some room to maneuver if only we have the will and the ability to sacrifice some time, effort and profit to rectify our economy and priorities. It may be time to revisit this distorted Hariri-era legacy of developing our core economy around the whims of the Gulf and its needs, while leaving the rest of local and rural economies to suffer and struggle with their bare hands. This isn’t blanket discrimination against citizens of the Gulf and their presence and good graces in Lebanon.  This is an attempt of Lebanese to think about ourselves for once and stop replicating the mistakes we make in our politics (currently defined by Syria) in our economics and livelihoods (revolving to a considerable extent around the Gulf). Overturning this takes time and joint effort, but it takes one person to start. It also means a willingness to think of the country’s long-term and sustainable well-being and not be slaves to easy money. Are we willing to, or rather, do we have the guts to try?

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