BEIRUT, Lebanon – The Lebanese minister whose criticism of the Saudi-led war in Yemen caused a diplomatic rift between Lebanon and the powerful Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia, stepped down from office on Friday, saying he hoped it would resolve the crisis. which resulted in further damage to his country’s stranded economy.
George Kordahi, minister of information and flamboyant former host of the Arab version of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, told reporters that he did not want to harm Lebanon or the many Lebanese working in the Gulf.
“Lebanon is more important than George Kordahi, and the interests of the Lebanese are more important than my position,” he said.
The squabble broke out in late October when an Arab news channel broadcast an interview with Mr Kordahi, recorded before he joined the government.
Saudi Arabia responded by expelling the Lebanese ambassador from Riyadh and recalled the kingdom’s ambassador from Beirut. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, close allies of Saudi Arabia, have taken similar measures.
The incident shed light on the region’s power politics and on what Saudi Arabia will sharply criticize, putting pressure on weaker states.
In his comments, Mr. Kordahi sharply criticized the intervention in Yemen aimed at overthrowing the Houthi rebels that had taken over much of the country’s northwest, calling it “useless.” He also said that the Houthis are defending themselves against “external aggression.”
The crisis has sent shockwaves through Lebanon, where many families rely on remittances from relatives working in the Gulf. The country was already experiencing one of the worst economic downturns in modern history, and many Lebanese feared that anger from the Gulf countries would exacerbate the situation.
Saudi Arabia was once a major patron of Lebanon and played a large role in its politics, funding politicians who share its views. But those ties have been shaken as Saudi-backed figures have given way to Hezbollah, a militant group and political party backed by Iran, the regional enemy of the Saudis.
Many Saudis have also concluded that the Lebanese have been too happy to accept Saudi money for too long, offering little value in return.
As the crisis dragged on, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on Mr. Kordahi to step down. Mr. Kordahi, a Christian from a Hezbollah-affiliated political party that supports rebels in Yemen, initially refused.
French President Emmanuel Macron is working to mend relations between the two sides, and Mr Kordahi said on Friday that he hoped resigning ahead of the French leader’s visit to the Gulf states, which began on Friday, could help resolve the crisis.
Mr. Macron has been at the forefront of international efforts to help Lebanon solve its financial problems, although the country’s leaders have failed to make any progress on the reforms needed to receive international assistance. Many influential figures also obstructed a judicial investigation into the huge explosion in the port of Beirut last year, which killed more than 200 people and damaged much of the capital.
It was not immediately clear whether the resignation of Mr. Kordahi was enough to convince the Gulf states to end the crisis.
For his part, Mr Macron said after arriving in the United Arab Emirates on Friday that he is optimistic about closing the gap.
“We will do our best to re-engage the Gulf regions for the benefit of Lebanon,” he said. “I hope that the coming hours will allow us to make progress.”
During their visit, Mr. Macron and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the Emirates, signed an agreement for the Emirates to purchase 80 Rafale fighters and 12 military helicopters.
Hwaida saad made reporting.