Lebanese FM faces flak over ‘racist’ comments against foreign workers

 Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 11 June 2019
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Lebanese FM faces flak over ‘racist’ comments against foreign workers

BEIRUT: Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has responded to criticisms of a message that he posted on Twitter at the weekend about workers in his country. It sparked an angry response on social media, with many people describing his comment as racist and calling for his resignation.

On Saturday, he tweeted: “It is normal to defend Lebanese workers against any other foreign worker, whether Syrian, Palestinian, French, Saudi, Iranian or American. The Lebanese come first. Unfortunately, some people do not understand that the Lebanese interests come first, nor do they understand the meaning of the bond of blood.”

It came on the same day that Bassil’s Free Patriotic Movement released a promotional video for a campaign encouraging businesses to hire Lebanese workers rather than foreigners. It shows campaigners visiting shops and telling Syrian workers to “go back to their country.”

On Monday, during a conference on “Active Diplomacy” in Beirut, Bassil addressed the controversy, saying his words had been “twisted.”

“My words have been misinterpreted and taken out of context,” he said. “When this happens, a correction is a must. I actually talked about Lebanese workers. Each state should give priority to its people for job opportunities and protect itself from illegal workers, and this what all of the states are doing.

“Lebanese people abroad are working according to the states’ needs and not against them, respecting the laws there. We call on any state to take necessary measures against any Lebanese expatriate who violates its laws, especially in Saudi Arabia, where we have a Lebanese community whose interests we should preserve.

“Our duty is to respect the state where we work and its laws. Countries, including Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, prioritize their own people in their laws. This is not racism. Defending the right of our people is not racist but patriotic. This is all I meant.”

His tweet sparked debate online, and while many were critical of Bassil’s comments, some supported him.

“Someone should remind him of Saudi Arabia’s efforts in reaching the Taif Agreement, back when the Lebanese were fighting, and he was hiding with his father-in-law 20 meters below the ground,” wrote Saudi activist Nouf Al-Doussari, who called on Bassil to resign.

Naif bin Arwil wrote: “You have a Lebanese labor force that you stole, a Syrian labor force begging you that you cut off, a Palestinian work force that turned to you and that you humiliated while you kissed the French hands, humiliated, and finally an Iranian force trying to destroy you that you obeyed. However, the Saudi generous hand was extended to you and you bit it. Shame on you. And I am only talking here about Lebanon’s traitors.”

Lebanese MP Paula Yaacoubian called on Bassil to “apologize to the Lebanese as it is impossible for one to be responsible and say anything just to increase their cheap popularity.”

Lebanese State Minister for Presidential Affairs Salim Jreissati visited Dar Al-Fatwa on Monday, following Bassil’s tweet and speeches by others criticizing the political Sunnah last week, which provoked the anger of both Grand Mufti of Lebanon Sheikh Abdul Latif Deryan and the Future Movement.

After the meeting, Jreissati expressed surprise at “the extent reached by the latest political speeches.”

He added: “Lebanese President Michel Aoun considers that political speech is determined by the laws in force, including the Charter of National Reconciliation and Constitution, i.e. the Taif Agreement and the constitution, and so we insisted on the need not to attribute statements to anyone other than those who voice them, and not to build up escalatory stances based on such statements.”

He stressed that “President Aoun considers that Prime Minister Saad Hariri is the most powerful...in terms of representation and he speaks in the name of the Lebanese government, according to our constitution, after drafting the policies, including foreign policy, and taking decisions in unanimity and majority of votes in the Cabinet. This is the Taif Agreement and the constitution that we make sure to respect.”

The Lebanese-Saudi Business Council called on Lebanese officials “to avoid dragging Lebanon into intense regional conflicts and pushing it to take positions that contravene its principles and the natural and historical partnerships with its Arab neighbors, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

The council said it relied on “the Saudi authorities to understand the sensitive situation in Lebanon and to deal with Lebanon based on the historical ties between the two brotherly countries.”


‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

Updated 19 June 2019
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‘Hypocrite’ Rouhani rejects war as Iran’s drones target Saudi civilians

  • Tehran regime has fanned sectarian flames in region for four decades, analyst tells Arab News
  • IRGC chief says Iranian missiles capable of hitting "carriers in the sea" with great precision

JEDDAH: Iran “will not wage war against any nation,” President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday — hours after two drones launched by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen targeted civilians in southern Saudi Arabia.

Rouhani's statement sounded a note of restraint after the United States announced more troop deployments to the Middle East.

“Iran will not wage war against any nation,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state TV. “Despite all of the Americans’ efforts in the region and their desire to cut off our ties with all of the world and their desire to keep Iran secluded, they have been unsuccessful.”

But he was also contradicted by the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Gen. Hossein Salami, who said Iran’s ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

“These missiles can hit, with great precision, carriers in the sea ... they are domestically produced and are difficult to intercept and hit with other missiles,” Salami said.

He said Iran's ballistic missile technology had changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

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Before both men spoke, Saudi air defenses intercepted and shot down two Houthi drones packed with explosives. One targeted a civilian area in the southern city of Abha, and the second was shot down in Yemeni air space. There were no casualties, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said.

Rouhani’s offer to avoid war was “the height of hypocrisy,” the Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“Rouhani is the biggest hypocrite in the world,” he said. “On the one hand, he is saying that Iran does not seek a conflict with anybody, and on the other it is launching attacks through its militias on oil tankers, oil pipelines, civilian airports and holy cities.

“This is nothing but the height of hypocrisy. Who does he think he is fooling with those words? Why are they enriching uranium? Why are they seeking nuclear bombs? What have they done over the past four decades? They have only caused trouble. They have only fanned sectarian flames in the region.”

The Saudi Cabinet, meeting in Jeddah, also condemned the Houthi attacks on Saudi civilians, and last week’s terrorist attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, widely blamed on Iran. 

 

Confrontation fears

Fears of a confrontation between Iran and its long-time foe the United States have mounted since Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, which Washington blamed on Tehran.

Iran denied involvement in the attacks and said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a 2015 nuclear deal, which had sought to limit its nuclear capabilities.

Exceeding the uranium cap at the heart of the accord would prompt a diplomatic crisis, forcing the other signatories, which include China, Russia and European powers, to confront Iran.

The standoff drew a call for caution from China. Its top diplomat warned that the world should not open a “Pandora’s Box” in the Middle East, as he denounced US pressure on Iran and called on it not to drop out of the landmark nuclear deal.

Russia urged restraint on all sides.

On Monday, Iranian officials made several assertive comments about security, including the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged US forces to leave the region.

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran.

The new US deployment is in addition to a 1,500-troop increase announced last month in response to tanker attacks in May. Washington previously tightened sanctions, ordering all countries and companies to halt imports of Iranian oil or be banished from the global financial system.


'Nuclear blackmail'

Iran’s announcement on Monday that it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under the deal was denounced by a White House National Security Council spokesman as “nuclear blackmail.”

The move further undermines the nuclear pact, but Rouhani said on Monday the collapse of the deal would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

The nuclear deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi said the United States should not use “extreme pressure” to resolve issues with Iran.

Wang told reporters China, a close energy partner of Iran, was “of course, very concerned” about the situation in the Gulf and with Iran, and called on all sides to ease tension.

“We call on all sides to remain rational and exercise restraint, and not take any escalatory actions that irritate regional tensions, and not open a Pandora’s box,” Wang said.

“In particular, the US side should alter its extreme pressure methods,” Wang said. “Any unilateral behavior has no basis in international law. Not only will it not resolve the problem, it will only create an even greater crisis.”

Wang also said the Iran nuclear deal was the only feasible way to resolve its nuclear issue, and urged Iran to be prudent.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU would only react to any breach if the International Atomic Energy Agency formally identified one.

The Trump administration says the deal, negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, was flawed as it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish it for waging proxy wars in other Middle East countries.