SAT 16 - 2 - 2019
Date: Jul 5, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Gebran-Geagea meeting to seal reconciliation
Recent signs of reconciliation between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces are expected to culminate in a meeting between FPM head Gebran Bassil and LF chief Samir Geagea, sources from both party’s told The Daily Star Wednesday.

Such a meet has come at the request of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who has asked the two Christian parties to resolve their feud over what share each will take of ministerial portfolios in the new Cabinet.

This is a significant hurdle for Hariri before he can then move on to other issues hindering Cabinet formation. These include opposition Sunni MPs’ requests to take ministerial portfolios from Hariri’s bloc, which has sought to exercise a monopoly over traditionally Sunni-allocated ministries, as well as the Progressive Socialist Party’s request of monopoly on Druze representation.

It was clear from Geagea’s words during his trip to the presidential palace in Baabda earlier this week that Aoun had invited him there, in a meet preceded by a trip by Geagea adviser and caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi to meet Aoun.

According to FPM sources, the pair had discussed relations between the two parties from the time of Maarab agreement in early 2016 until the present day.

The Maarab agreement was reached between FPM-founder Aoun and LF chief Samir Geagea, who bowed out of the race for president and endorsed Aoun’s ultimately successful bid.

Aoun was elected on Oct. 31 of that year, ending two and a half years of deadlock over the presidential election.

FPM sources said that, since the LF signed the agreement, they had taken every opportunity to betray it. In the 2016 municipal elections, they had tried to topple FPM candidates, sources said.

In Cabinet, LF ministers had showed intentions to sabotage Aoun and FPM ministers by standing by those who accused FPM ministers of theft and corruption, the sources added. They had even taken part in hampering the FPM’s electricity plan.

In recent parliamentary elections, the LF had tried to beat Bassil in his hometown of Batroun by nominating Fadi Saad to run for one of the districts two Maronite seats, the sources said, only failing because political titan Boutros Harb lost a seat he had occupied since the early 70s.

This comes in addition to their lack of electoral cooperation with the FPM across Lebanon, a point that was explicitly part of the agreement, the sources said.

LF sources, on the other hand, accused Bassil of marginalizing the LF and not giving them their portion of the Christian quota in state security, judicial and civilian appointments. The sources also said the FPM was now violating the Maarab agreement by refusing parity between the two parties in ministerial portfolios, a point that has been reiterated by LF MP George Adwan several times.

In waiting for Bassil’s return from a summer vacation to meet with Geagea, FPM sources said they believed that all that had been achieved so far was an end to the out-in-the-open media conflict between the two parties, preventing the dispute from reaching the point of no return.

FPM sources said the party would not change its stance on the size of its representation in government, thought to be claimed around nine of a 30-member Cabinet, including the president’s share – though they have not vetoed LF control of any ministry.

However, they would push back against those who sought to give the LF a ministerial share larger than their parliamentary weight. The LF nearly doubled its parliamentary bloc from 8 to 15 MPs in May’s elections, while the FPM also increased their size to 29, including allies.

FPM sources said Bassil would be frank in his planned talk with Geagea, though other sources from the party were unsure the meeting would take place.

In the case it does, Bassil would put forward all the efforts the FPM had made to maintain the Maarab agreement, while showing all the LF’s violations of that same agreement.

Sources also claimed that the positive diplomacy by Geagea masked an underlying LF plan to blame the FPM if the talks fail.

The FPM sources said a best-case scenario would see the meeting establish a truce between the LF and the FPM and preserve the unity of the Christian bloc.

LF sources have expressed optimism at the outcome of the meeting in the interest of strengthening Christian unity and support for Aoun’s presidential term – even though he had tried to accommodate anti-LF positions.

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