Former Lebanese FM Gebran Bassil comes under fire in Davos panel

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Gebran Bassil, a hate figure for Lebanese protesters, was grilled by Hadley Gamble during a Davos panel. (WEF)
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Gebran Bassil, a hate figure for Lebanese protesters, was grilled by Hadley Gamble during a Davos panel. (WEF)
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Updated 23 January 2020

Former Lebanese FM Gebran Bassil comes under fire in Davos panel

  • Bassil, who has been the target of protesters' anger, was speaking on a panel named “The return of Arab Unrest”
  • CNBC's Hadley Gamble, who moderated the discussion, put pressure on Bassil over his comments on governance

DAVOS: Lebanon’s new government needs to win the confidence of the parliament, the confidence of the people, and the confidence of the international community, former Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil said at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday.

In a much-anticipated panel discussion plagued by controversy and uncertainty since its announcement, Bassil appeared despite a social media campaign and petition calling for his invitation to be rescinded. 

He said the country was in its current position because of 30 years of “wrong policies.”

 

 

“The responsibility of the Lebanese government is to take the challenge of changing and reforming the system,” he said. “What is happening now in the streets is very positive because it is creating a dynamic for change.”

Joining Bassil for the discussion — “The return of Arab Unrest” — were Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag and Damac Properties chairman Hussein Sajwani. 

Kaag spoke of the importance of Lebanon as a “regional public good in a volatile region” saying the country has “so much to offer.” However, she added, “It is so painful to see a model of consensual democracy turn away to provide a disservice.

“One should not need wasta,” she continued, referring to the Arabic word for influence and/or bribery. “Wasta is a total sign of poverty, whereby only if you have means, access, and influence, you are someone.”




Gebran Bassil, a hate figure for Lebanese protesters, was grilled by Hadley Gamble during a Davos panel. (WEF)

Panel moderator, CNBC anchor Hadley Gamble, did not hold back when questioning the former foreign minister, repeatedly reminding him of his infamous quote at Davos last year, when he said, “Washington and London should maybe learn from Lebanon how to run a country without a budget.”

Bassil’s spokesperson May Khreish had earlier accused Gamble of being part of “a Zionist campaign against Bassil's participation in the conference.”

“We have a malfunctioning system because of confessionalism. What the young people are calling for in the streets is a secular system whereby citizens are equal,” Bassil said.

He also expressed his hope that Lebanon’s current crisis could be resolved in-house. “Let the people of the region decide what they want,” he said. “Don’t dictate to them foreign recipes. Let the international community help not dictate.

“Lebanon is still a democracy — we have a high level of freedom and they are encouraged to keep this force of change, and when they decide we don’t represent them anymore, we step aside,” he continued, referring to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government resigning a few weeks after the start of the protests in October 2019.

Damac boss Sajwani suggested that the general public in the region did not treat democracy with appropriate gravitas. “The challenge we have in the Middle East is that people are not being professional when it comes to elections,” he said. “They are going by emotions and religion, which is totally unacceptable.”

Kaag praised the determination and persistence of Lebanon's youth. “The specter of possible civil war will not work anymore (as a deterrent for protests),” she said.

Lebanon’s new coalition government was formed on Tuesday after almost 100 days of widespread public protests about the state of the economy, corruption, high unemployment and a lack of basic services. The majority of its 20 ministers are aligned with Hezbollah and its allies.

 


Turkey’s Erdogan says no agreement yet on four-way Syria summit

Updated 25 February 2020

Turkey’s Erdogan says no agreement yet on four-way Syria summit

  • Turkey has sent thousands of troops and equipment to Idlib to head off the campaign driven by Russian air raid

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that there was not yet full agreement on holding a proposed March 5 summit with Russia, France and Germany on the conflict in Syria’s Idlib, but he may meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin on that date.
Syrian government forces are pushing to retake the last large rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war and nearly a million Syrians, mostly women and children, have been displaced by the fighting since early December.
At a news conference in Ankara before departing on a trip to Azerbaijan, Erdogan said that a Russian delegation was set to come to Turkey on Wednesday to discuss the Idlib situation.
“There is no full agreement yet between (French President Emmanuel) Macron ... (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel, and Putin,” he said. Macron and Merkel have both urged Putin to end the conflict, concerned about the humanitarian situation.
On Saturday, Erdogan said that Turkey had set out a “road map” for Syria after calls with the three leaders, while the Kremlin has said it was discussing the possibility of holding a four-way summit.
Turkey has sent thousands of troops and equipment to Idlib to head off the campaign driven by Russian air raids and 17 members of the Turkish forces have been killed. Turkey already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot handle another wave and has closed its borders.