Lebanese MPs criticize delay of consultations to choose new prime minister

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 12, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 October 2020

Lebanese MPs criticize delay of consultations to choose new prime minister

  • A majority of Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs had announced that they would back Hariri as the new PM during the parliamentary consultations
  • FPM leader Gebran Bassil launched an attack on Hariri on Tuesday, widening the political divide

BEIRUT: The Lebanese pound had seen a significant improvement in its dollar exchange rate following an announcement last week by Saad Hariri, the leader of the Future Movement, that he is the “natural candidate” to head the next government.
However, the rate jumped to over LBP8,000 to the dollar on the Lebanese black market on Thursday — having dropped by LBP1,200 over the previous two days — after President Michel Aoun announced that the binding parliamentary consultations to designate Lebanon’s new prime minister, which were scheduled for Thursday, were to be postponed for a week.
Questions were raised about Aoun’s unilateral decision, and about the message he is sending to the international community and the Lebanese people, who are hopeful that the rapid installation of a new government might alleviate some of the economic and social ills that the country currently faces.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said he was against postponing the consultations “even for one day.”
The leader of the Marada Movement, Suleiman Frangieh, said, “Postponing the consultations is forbidden under the circumstances the Lebanese are experiencing.”
A majority of Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs had announced that they would back Hariri as the new prime minister during the parliamentary consultations. Aside from his own party, Hariri has the support of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), the Marada Movement, and Armenian MPs, giving him a total of at least 70 votes — a clear majority among the 120 currently serving MPs. The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Lebanese Forces will reportedly not support him.
FPM leader Gebran Bassil —  who is also the president’s son-in-law — launched an attack on Hariri on Tuesday, widening the political divide. However, presidential palace sources said there was “no personal reason” behind Aoun’s decision to postpone the consultations. In 2018, Aoun blocked the formation of a government led by Hariri, stipulating that Bassil had to be given a ministerial position.
The palace statement said that Aoun took his decision “at the request of some parliamentary blocs, after the emergence of difficulties that require … solutions.”
Former MP Fares Souadi said simply: “We are headed down to hell.”
A source close to Aoun told Arab News the president is “keen to provide the largest (possible amount) of parliamentary support for the PM who will form the Cabinet, given the importance … of the tasks required of the government in the next phase, which needs a broad national consensus and not division.”
Several politicians pointed out that governments had been formed without unanimous consensus in the past, including those of Hassan Diab and Najib Mikati.
There is concern among parliamentarians that Aoun has postponed the consultations in order to force Hariri not to nominate himself as PM. However, Hussein Al-Wajeh, Hariri’s adviser for media affairs, told Arab News: “Postponing the consultations will not change the position of Hariri, who is holding on to the French initiative and government of specialists. The French initiative was, and still is, the only — and last — chance to stop the collapse and to reconstruct Beirut. The postponement will not change that, and disruption was never a solution for Lebanon and the Lebanese.
“If the president abides by legitimacy, that should be reflected while forming a government, not while assigning the person who will form the government”, he added.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon two days after the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion that devastated the city, and returned three weeks later to check on the status of the reforms he specified as a condition for international support.
The ‘French initiative’ Macron laid out for debt-ridden Lebanon included a two-week deadline for the formation of an independent government of experts that would only stay in office a few months.
Also on Thursday, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker met with Berri and PSP President Walid Jumblatt on the second day of his visit to Lebanon, after attending the opening session of the Lebanon and Israel negotiations in Naqoura.
Schenker also met with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi, whose media office said: “Schenker showed particular interest in Al-Rahi’s talk about neutral Lebanon. He stressed the US’s (desire to see) an effective and transparent Lebanese government that provides basic services for the Lebanese people, regardless of (who its leader is), and reiterated America’s ongoing support for Lebanon.”


Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

Updated 31 October 2020

Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

  • Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms
  • Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces prevented the arrival of hundreds of protesters at the French ambassador’s residence and the French Embassy in Lebanon on Friday.

They feared the recurrence of riots similar to the ones that erupted in front of the Danish Embassy in Ashrafieh, Beirut, in 2006, and led to 28 people being injured, damage to storefronts, and the burning of the consulate building and terrorizing of people.

A few hundred worshippers left mosques after Friday prayers and marched to defend the Prophet Muhammad.

Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms.

Khaldoun Qawwas, Dar Al-Fatwa’s media spokesperson, told Arab News: “These groups have nothing to do with Dar Al-Fatwa, which has already announced its position regarding what happened in France in two separate statements.”

Sheikh Abdul Latif Deryan, the grand mufti of Lebanon, in a statement issued a week earlier, said that “freedom of opinion and expression does not entail insulting the beliefs and symbols of others, and this requires a reconsideration of the concept of absolute freedom.”

He stressed the “renunciation of violence and confrontation of radicalism and terrorism that has no religion or race.”

Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut, since the embassy and the French ambassador’s residence are located where roads leading to the city’s western and eastern neighborhoods intersect. This led to a huge traffic jam in the capital.

The protest’s starting point was the Gamal Abdel Nasser Mosque in Al-Mazraa, situated only a few kilometers from the Residence des Pins (Pine Residence).

Three major security checkpoints — one set up by the riot police — separated the Residence des Pins and protesters, some of whom were transported by buses from the north of Lebanon to Beirut.

Protesters held Islamic signs and chanted slogans denouncing France, its President Emmanuel Macron and its former colonization of the country. Some protesters tried to remove barbed wire and threw stones, water bottles and batons at the security forces. Another group burned the French flag. Security forces responded by throwing tear gas canisters, leading to the retreat of the protesters.

In a statement, Lebanon’s Supreme Council of the Roman Catholic condemned “the terrorist attack in the French city of Nice.”

The council considered that “this terrorist crime has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims. It is an individual act carried out by terrorists haunted by radicalism, obscurantism and the rejection of the French people’s historical civilizational values. Through their acts, they abuse the spirit of tolerance, coexistence, acceptance of the other and the freedom of thought and belief which all religions call for.”

The council called for “staying away from defaming religions and beliefs and inciting hate and resentment among people, raising the voice of moderation, wisdom and reason, working together in the spirit of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together announced by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb from the UAE last year.”

During the Friday sermon, Grand Jaafari Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Kabalan condemned “any criminal act against any people, including the French people.” He added: “We categorically reject what happened in Nice yesterday, strongly condemn it and consider it a blatant and insolent attack on Muslims before others.”

He simultaneously condemned “the official French position that affronted the Prophet, took lightly and made light of the feelings of millions of Muslims.”