Lebanese ex-PM looks to revive French rescue plan

Former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 12, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 12 October 2020

Lebanese ex-PM looks to revive French rescue plan

  • Saad Hariri’s intervention comes as crucial Israel maritime talks begin
  • Crisis-hit chemists set to strike amid rampant medicine smuggling

BEIRUT: Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri has put himself forward as a potential leader in a bid to break the country’s growing political deadlock.

He also began political consultations with other parties in order to revive the possibility of a successful French rescue plan on Monday.

After a meeting with President Michel Aoun in the Presidential Palace, Hariri said: “We have no time to waste on political polemics. If someone wants to change the concept of the French initiative, let them bear the responsibility.”

The French plan, launched by President Emmanuel Macron on Sept. 1 to help Lebanon cope with its crises, failed after Hezbollah and the Amal Movement demanded ownership of the finance portfolio and the presence of Shiite ministers in a new government.

Hariri said that the government should be “formed of specialists who do not belong to parties and who will undertake specific reforms within a specific timetable, which does not exceed a few months.”

Lebanon is scheduled to begin negotiations with Israel on Wednesday to demarcate maritime borders amid an absence of government in the country, which is enduring one of its worst economic and financial crises to date.

President Aoun said he “wants to form a new government as soon as possible, because the situation no longer tolerates further deterioration.”

Aoun also urged “the necessity of adhering to the French initiative.”

In a statement, Hariri said the consultations, which also included meetings with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and other former prime ministers, were designed to “float Macron’s initiative.”

He added that the French plan “is the only and last opportunity to stop the collapse and rebuild what was destroyed by the Beirut Port explosion.”

Hariri said he would “send a delegation to communicate with all the main political blocs to ensure that they are still fully committed to the terms of the paper that they previously agreed upon during the meeting with President Macron at the Pine Palace.”

“The government’s goal is to implement only economic, financial and administrative reforms. Governments formed on the traditional basis of party representation failed to implement reforms and brought the country to the great collapse in which we are living.

“The great collapse threatens our country with more tragedies and threatens the state with complete demise.

“Macron has pledged to all of us to mobilize the international community to invest in Lebanon and to provide external financing. Do you understand what that means? It means that he will hold a conference to save Lebanon from collapse.”

“If any political party wants to change the concept of the initiative, especially concerning its economic aspect and the clause of specialized ministers, knowing in advance that this leads to its failure, then let them assume their responsibility before the Lebanese people and inform them of this matter,” he added.

President Michel Aoun will begin consultations with parliamentary blocs on Oct. 15 to assign a Sunni figure to form the next government and succeed Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s caretaker administration.

Diab’s government resigned on Aug. 10 following the Beirut explosion, while Mustapha Adib, who was assigned prime minister-designate on Aug. 31, stepped down a month later after he failed to form a Cabinet based on the French plan.

Following Adib’s downfall, Macron condemned Lebanon’s political dysfunction, with a particular focus on Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.

He singled out the former as a “terrorist militia that terrorizes political forces with weapons,” adding, “some of the leadership preferred to be hostages with Hezbollah.”

On Monday, Lebanon listed the members of its delegation being sent to discuss maritime borders with Israel. The meeting, which begins on Oct. 14 at the Naqoura UNIFIL headquarters, will be overseen by US officials.

The leader of the delegation is Brig. Gen. Pilot Bassam Yassin, while members include Marine Col. Mazen Basbous, Petroleum Administration official Wissam Chbat and maritime expert Najib Masihi.

The Presidency of the Republic said the negotiations are “purely technical,” downplaying rumors that the talks are part of a normalization process with Israel.

Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said last week that the negotiations “have nothing to do with making peace with Israel and do not come in the context of reconciliation with the enemy, nor with normalization policies.”

The economic stranglehold on the Lebanese public is tightening, with citizens voicing complaints about lack of medicine available in pharmacies.

The country’s chemists are preparing to stage their first-ever strike on Tuesday, in a bid to prevent “the smuggling of subsidized medicines out of Lebanon, and steps to remove subsidies on medicines.”

President of the Pharmacists Syndicate Dr. Ghassan Al-Amin said medicine smuggling is affecting Lebanon’s ability to provide vital medicine to the public. He added: “There are 17 pharmacies in Iraq that sell drugs smuggled from Lebanon, and there are pharmacies in Syria that sell smuggled Lebanese medicine.”

Amin also warned of “importers storing subsidized drugs in Lebanon.”

Minister of Health Hamad Hassan revealed during a meeting with the Pharmacists Syndicate that “a truck covered with shades was seized containing a large number of vaccines being transported abroad.”

The minister also warned of “large quantities of medicines arriving at pharmacies and being smuggled at night across the border with Syria.”


Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

Updated 31 min 28 sec ago

Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

  • Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France

ANKARA: The prospect of granting asylum to Idriss Sihamedi, the founder of a Muslim charity that has been shut down in France over his alleged ties to the “radical Islamist movement,” stirred debate about the potential repercussions amid the already escalating French-Turkish spat.

The Turkish interior ministry announced on Oct. 29 that Ankara will assess Sihamedi’s request for himself and his team after receiving his official application.

Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France. His NGO was closed officially on Oct. 28 on the grounds that it “incites hate, has relations with the radical Islamist movement and justifies terrorist acts.”

He posted his asylum request on his official Twitter account in both French and Turkish, tagging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He also alleged he had received death threats.

His post received a quick reply from the Turkish interior ministry’s migration management department: “Hello Sihamedi. If you and your colleagues were to personally apply to our institution with your surname, first name, identity information, petition for an asylum request and your passport number, your request will be assessed.”

However, experts think that proceeding with the asylum request of such radicals means playing with fire.

“I think Erdogan is continuing to play a dangerous game by courting relationships with radical figures and in some cases jihadists,” Colin Clarke, senior research fellow on terror-financing networks at the Soufan Center, told Arab News. “Turkey is already viewed as a hot spot for jihadists given its proximity to Iraq and Syria.”

Sihamedi is accused of inciting hatred, encouraging people to violent acts, maintaining relations within the radical Islamist movement, money laundering in the name of Salafi organisations and expressing support for Hitler and the Nazis. He is also blamed for organizing suicide attacks and supporting Daesh.

According to Clarke, if Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi and his team, it may create trouble, both domestically but also with NATO allies.

“Moving forward with actions like this could easily backfire on Turkey and cause considerable blowback. I find these overt flirtations with radical Islamists counterproductive and short-sighted,” he said.

Sihamedi was deported from Turkey last year in May at France’s request and his passport was confiscated at Istanbul airport.

BarakaCity was founded in 2010 in Evry-Courcouronnes (Essonne). The Islamic humanitarian NGO has been closely monitored by French intelligence since 2014. Its buildings were raided several times in 2015 and 2017, and it was investigating for “terrorist financing” and “terrorist criminal association” for three years.

The NGO has said it wants to move its headquarters to another country. At a time when relations between Paris and Ankara are more strained than ever, the Turkish branch of the NGO is headed by a Franco-Turkish national known for his Salafi credentials.

“The French government dissolved BarakaCity also because in the past the NGO received money from Samy Amimour, a member of the Bataclan terrorist commando group in  2015, and from Larossi Abballa, who in 2016 killed a policeman and his wife in Magnanville,” said Matteo Pugliese, associate research fellow at Milan-based think tank ISPI.

“According to the French government, BarakaCity provides a sort of ideological justification for violent radicals, especially when it calls for the punishment of those who publish cartoons or criticize Islam. I think that we are talking about a grey zone, where non-violent extremism meets violent radicalization.”

Sihamedi was released under judicial supervision and is due to face trial in December.

French government also announced plans to dissolve other associations suspected of supporting extremist ideologies.

“If Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi, France will use this to accuse the country of sheltering Islamists who radicalize people with online propaganda,” Pugliese said. “This is part of the verbal escalation between Macron and Erdogan and will be used by both for political internal goals.”