Senseless criticism

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, right, receives President Michel Sleiman, center, and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh, Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

Even before President Michel Sleiman had landed in Saudi Arabia Monday, before the purpose or outcome of his talks with King Abdullah were apparent, he had faced a torrent of abuse from the March 8 coalition, an orchestrated campaign that also accused the kingdom of blocking the formation of a new Cabinet.

It was a direct and aggressive assault on the visit, and seemed to represent a new level of criticism from the bloc. It is one thing to slam talks after they have taken place, but to do so before they have even opened smacks of blind opposition, of taking a contrarian stance just for the sake of it.

This is not a position that is guided by Lebanese principles or interests, but rather by those of external powers. This dangerous stance, which threatens ties between the two countries and the position of Shiites in the kingdom, comes from a position of obedience to Iran and a differing stance on the Syrian regime.

Since the 1950s, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have enjoyed consistently close ties, on levels ranging from the economy to tourism and industry. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have made their fortunes in Saudi Arabia: Indeed, around 80 percent of Lebanese millionaires achieved such success thanks to such a warm reception in the country.

And in Lebanon’s greatest times of need, Saudi Arabia has always stood by to support the country, both politically and financially. After so much essential infrastructure was destroyed by Israel in the 2006 war, the kingdom was there to hold up the country and to inject gravely needed reserves into the Central Bank, steps that helped the entire country, regardless of political affiliation or religious sect.

The outcome of Sleiman’s talks with Abdullah were as supportive as to be expected. Saudi Arabia promised strengthened support for the country and stressed the need for political stability. It committed itself to increased aid for Syrian refugees in Lebanon and to a political solution to end the civil war across the border.

In the region, and certainly among the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia is an essential leader. The decisions that the kingdom makes, others follow. As such it is clearly not in Lebanon’s interests to attack Saudi Arabia, even were it not such a close friend.

The petty, but deep-seated and bitter, political squabbling and bickering between Lebanese groups must be kept out of the country’s regional partnerships. The security and stability of Lebanon – governmentless and fragile – depends upon these relationships. The Lebanese people, battered daily by the corrupt and directionless workings of local politicians, must be allowed to be spared the further damages of a weakened position in the region.

Let the country keep these windows wide open. For we need the fresh air these partnerships can bring. Until Lebanon is a self-sustaining island unto itself, attacks on our neighbors will do nothing to help the country.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 13, 2013, on page 7.




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