BEIRUT: Beirut-based employees of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya channel said the station has decided to shut down its Lebanon operation amid tensions between Riyadh and Beirut. The channels’ Beirut correspondent Adnan Ghamloush said the decision to shut down “for security reasons” was communicated to the staff yesterday through a lawyer, and effectively puts 27 employees out of work.
He declined to give other details and the nature of the security threat remained unclear. Also yesterday, a group of activists briefly raided the Beirut office of a Saudi-owned newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, protesting a cartoon published in its yesterday’s edition. The cartoon depicted the Lebanese state as an April Fool joke, printing the Lebanese flag with the words “April’s Fool” over it.
The insulting cartoon provoked a storm over social media, with many, including politicians, demanding an apology. The Beirut offices of Al-Arabiya and its sister channel Al- Hadath, which offers extensive coverage of political news, have been closed and they no longer have any correspondents in Lebanon, a spokesman told AFP.
In a statement, the Dubai-based channel said it has “restructured” its operations in Lebanon “due to the difficult circumstances and challenges on ground, and out of Al-Arabiya’s concern for the safety of its own employees and those employed by its providers”. It said it would nonetheless “continue to closely cover Lebanese affairs.” Lebanon’s Minister of Information Ramzi Greige dismissed the suggestion of security concerns, however. “Of course there are no security grounds for closing the Al-Arabiya office in Beirut.
There may be political reasons for taking this step, but I don’t know until I seek clarification from them,” Greige told Reuters. In the lobby of the Al-Arabiya offices in downtown Beirut, half a dozen security guards stood watching as employees left the building for the last time. One security guard was changing the lock on the office door. After exiting the building, several employees stood around smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. One of them said they had learned of the decision to shut the Beirut offices only yesterday morning. — Agencies