Before any more Lebanese politicians are tempted to throw around their opinions on Syria, veering from the government’s stated disassociation policy, it might be worth remembering the roughly half a million Lebanese living and working in the Gulf.
Those expatriates, working in everything from construction to media and banking, are estimated to send remittances worth some $6 billion per year to Lebanon. Their long-standing relationships with Gulf countries have been a boon to this country.
Their contributions to developing the modern Gulf states have granted Lebanese living in the region a special status among other foreigners, and in turn, their reputations as hard workers have helped encourage Gulf developers to invest in Lebanon itself.
Whether in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese living and working in the Gulf have been the real ambassadors for this country, not the ones to attend international conferences every now and again.
An already testy relationship between Iran and the Gulf has undeniably become more inflamed since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis. A special case due to its geographical, political and historical ties to Syria, Lebanon has, until now, been excused by the Gulf for taking a neutral policy toward the Syrian regime.
But the Lebanese government’s inability to abide by its own disassociation policy may be testing the patience of Gulf states. The comments last week from Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour calling for Syria to be readmitted to the Arab League were galling to say the least. Also, Hezbollah’s involvement on the ground in Syria and aid to rebels pouring in from other sources renders the definition of “disassociation” a rather loose one.
None of this bodes well for the Gulf region’s Lebanese, who are already forced to live on tenterhooks, awaiting the latest fiery rhetoric from various Lebanese politicians, lest it jeopardize their right to continue to live and work there.
Members of this government, a body which has already proven it is incapable of addressing the Syrian situation with one unified voice, now appear to be set on destabilizing the situation for the hundreds of thousands living in the Gulf, apparently a necessary side effect of pushing Syrian or Iranian agendas.
A fretting President Michel Sleiman has sought to play down last week’s farce, indirectly scolding Mansour for his remarks, and Saudi Arabia has, for its part, stressed that it will not pull investments from Lebanon.
But if Lebanese politicians continue to prioritize their Syrian or Iranian patrons over the citizens of their own country, it will only be a matter of time before those expats – so vital to this economy – are the ones to suffer, and subsequently, the national security of Lebanon.