Lebanon feels the spillover effects of the Syrian war and proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran like no other country in the region. Euronews sat down for an exclusive interview with the country’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil.
Lebanon feels the spillover effects of the Syrian war and proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran like no other country in the region.
Euronews sat down for an exclusive interview with the country’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil.
You can watch the full interview in the video player, above.
Lebanon and Syrian refugees
Q: Lebanon is home to more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Recently your government ordered the demolition of refugees’ homes in Arsal and about 5,000 families were left homeless.
Bassil said he wanted to facilitate the safe and dignified return of Syrians to their country where the international community should be responsible for them.
“Lebanon is hosting 200 refugees and displaced persons per square kilometre, it’s a record in the history of humanity and we have shown an incredible level of generosity and hospitality and we will never accept that any Syrian would be hurt or touched in terms of their dignity but no-one can accept to have illegal construction and to turn these places into a permanent residence when we have the experience of the Palestinian camps," he said.
Lebanon’s economic crisis
Q. Lebanon’s economy is not in good shape due to a huge national debt, regional tension, the decline in tourism revenue and the burden of refugees. How is the government coping and what is it doing to save the country from bankruptcy?
“I hope there won’t be a bankruptcy,” said Bassil. “We are in a severe economic situation. We started a process of reforms in the budget of 2019, where we lowered our deficit. On the other hand, we have a huge trade deficit that we will be reducing too by applying the McKinsey economic plan and by reducing our imports, increasing our exports and creating a cycle of growth.”
On Friday the Lebanese government vowed to make urgent progress on reforms to help overcome a worsening economic crisis that prompted Fitch Ratings to cut the country's credit rating on Friday.
Hezbollah and accusations of terrorism
Q. You are the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, the largest Christian party in Lebanon and a strong ally of Hezbollah, which has been classified by the US as a terror organisation, what is the cost of this alliance?
“The cost might be high on the popularity internally and on relations with the West," he said. "But it’s definitely this relation that is saving the country and its national unity. It’s avoiding that Lebanon slips into a conflict or civil war, something we all want to avoid. Hezbollah is part, a big part of our population. We cannot accept to accuse them of terrorism.
Lebanon and the tensions in the Gulf
Q. Where does Lebanon stand amid the escalation in the region between Iran and its Gulf neighbours? Is there any risk of war?
“Lebanon is not on any axis of confrontation," he said. "Lebanon is in a place where we can bridge the differences and where we have the interests not to have conflicts or wars. It’s in our interest to keep Lebanon away from any conflicts, to preserve and protect it. On top of this to make the effort to not have a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.”