SANAA (Dispatches) -- George Kordahi, the Lebanese information minister and former Who Wants to be a Millionaire host, sparked a diplomatic crisis last week when old comments criticizing the Saudi-led war in Yemen resurfaced.
In return, the Persian Gulf quartet have broken ties and even some economic links, with Riyadh banning all imports from Lebanon, which is struggling under a terrifying economic crisis.
Many Yemenis, however, welcomed Kordahi’s comments, believing it draws attention to the six-year-old conflict’s futility. Many of those Yemenis are not even supporters of the popular movement the coalition is battling.
In Sanaa, the Ansarullah-held capital, images of a sharp-suited Kordahi have been stuck up on billboards across the city. Riyadh Street has now been renamed Kordahi Street.
“Kordahi spoke in the tongue of Yemenis and was brave enough to say the truth that no other Arab official dared to do,” Qadri Abdullah, a Sanaa resident, told Middle East Eye.
“He knows that this statement may affect the relationship of his country with the aggression [Persian Gulf countries] but he preferred to support the victims of this war in Yemen. A big thank you to him.”
Kordahi’s criticism, Abdullah said, meant a lot for Yemenis who every day are dying under Saudi-led airstrikes and as a result of the kingdom’s blockade on their country. The United Nations estimates that the war has caused 233,000 deaths.
“I can see there is a campaign against Kordahi by the mercenaries of Saudi Arabia but also of his statement appeared from different areas, as Yemenis are fed up of the war.”
Naming a street after the embattled minister is the least Yemenis can do to express their gratitude, he said.
“Personally, I don’t want a street in my country named after Riyadh, because Saudi Arabia hasn’t done anything good for Yemen deserving of thanks. But Kordhai has.”
Manaf al-Sawdi lives in the southern city of Taiz, a place chewed up by all sides of the conflict. He doesn’t support anyone in the war, and has felt the fighting’s consequences every day for six years. He is one of the four million Yemenis displaced by war.
“Kordahi is right and those who don’t believe him can come to see the war’s impact
in Yemen and how war has forced us to leave our homes,” he told MEE.
“I’m happy with anyone who is against the war, as we need to see the end of the war and resume our regular lives inside our homes. We miss the good days.”
Like many others, Sawdi felt the conflict would be wrapped up quickly in its early years. But as the months dragged on, the Saudi bombing campaign failed to subdue the Yemenis and a feeling of futility crept in.
The coalition originally intervened to prop up a Saudi-backed former regime, which now struggles to control many of the areas under its control and operates primarily from Riyadh.
Despite the growing diplomatic crisis, which couldn’t come at a worse time for impoverished Lebanon, Kordahi has ruled out apologizing for his remarks. Last week, he insisted he’d “done no wrong”, noting the show had been taped in August, more than a month before he became minister.
“I have never attacked nor insulted Saudi Arabia or the Emirates,” Kordahi said, adding that his words “did not implicate at all the government, of which I was not yet a member”.
“When I say that the war in Yemen is absurd and must end, these are my convictions, and I say this not to defend Yemen, but also out of love for Saudi Arabia and the Emirates,” he said.