TUE 26 - 3 - 2019
Date: Nov 3, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Mediators scramble to untangle ‘Sunni knot’
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Mediators, including Speaker Nabih Berri, are scrambling to a find a solution to the problem over the representation of Sunni lawmakers from outside the Future Movement that has put the Cabinet formation process at a standstill, official sources said Friday. The problem has also threatened to cause ripples in the strategic relationship between President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah.

With Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri out of the country on a private visit to France, no public meetings were held Friday to narrow differences between Hezbollah, which strongly backs the so-called six “independent” Sunni lawmakers not affiliated with the Future Movement in their demand for being represented in the new government, on the one hand, and Aoun and Hariri who reject this demand, on the other.

“The Cabinet formation has been stymied over the problem of representing the independent Sunni MPs. Hezbollah insists that these Sunni MPs be represented in the new government, while Hariri has vowed not to present to Aoun a Cabinet lineup that includes any of the six MPs,” a political source close to the formation process said.

With Aoun, Hariri and Hezbollah refusing to budge on their positions on this issue, this risks plunging the country into an open-ended crisis, with all the dire consequences it entails for the country’s stability and ailing economy.

However, mediators, including Berri and Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, head of General Security, are making efforts to find a solution to the problem, a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star Friday.

“A host of ideas and proposals are being pondered with the parties concerned to reach a solution to this problem. All the parties have announced they want a quick formation of the government,” the source said. He sounded optimistic that the problem would be resolved in the coming days, paving the way for the Cabinet formation.

The source did not rule out the chance of a meeting over the weekend between Aoun and a senior Hezbollah official probably MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc to explore a solution that would satisfy all parties.

Aoun has backed Hariri’s position on refusing to cede a seat from the Future Movement’s share to independent Sunni MPs.

He said in a televised interview Wednesday that they did not have a right to representation because they were not part of a single parliamentary bloc.

Berri and Hezbollah have voiced support for the representation of the independent Sunni MPs. Hezbollah has toughened its position on the issue by linking its participation in the government to the representation of those Sunni MPs. It has even refused to hand Hariri the names of its candidates for the new Cabinet.

In response, Hariri stood firm on his refusal to cede a seat from his own share in Cabinet to those Sunni MPs who are demanding to be represented in the government.

“The prime minister-designate’s stance has not changed. The Cabinet [lineup] is ready [to be announced], lacking the names of two ministers,” OTV, which is affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement founded by Aoun, quoted sources close to Hariri as saying. Hariri was apparently referring to the names of Hezbollah’s other two candidates for the new Cabinet that have not been sent to him after it has been confirmed that caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Mohammed Fneish would again be named a minister.

OTV also quoted sources close Hezbollah as saying: “We continue to support our allies. If they [six Sunni MPs] opted to name an independent candidate from outside their gathering, this is up to them.”

The Central News Agency quoted sources close to Hezbollah as saying that attempts did not stop to untangle the “Sunni knot.”

“The ball is in the court of President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri,” it said.

Hariri is set to return to Beirut Saturday after a “private visit” to Paris Thursday, but he will travel again to France in order to participate in the Paris Peace Forum, which will run from Nov. 11-13, a source close to the premier-designate said.

MP Mario Aoun from the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc criticized Hezbollah’s stance on the representation of the independent Sunni MPs.

He described those MPs an “artificial Sunni opposition bloc.”

“Hezbollah has always been concerned about Lebanon’s interest. This has been proved by its practices and sacrifices. But we did not expect from it a step that hinders the march of [Aoun’s] mandate that protects all the parties, particularly Hezbollah,” Mario Aoun said in an interview with Elnashra website.

Meanwhile, French Ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher reiterated his country’s support for Lebanon during a meeting with Aoun, and discussed the French president’s upcoming trip to Lebanon, according to a statement from Aoun’s media office.

During the meeting at Baabda Palace, the two touched on President Emmanuel Macron’s planned visit in February, and also discussed the “ongoing preparations to implement the decisions and recommendations that resulted from the CEDRE conference to bolster the Lebanese economy,” the statement said.

The CEDRE conference was held in Paris in April and raised capital to be used for investment and infrastructure projects in Lebanon.

Over $11 billion was pledged in grants and soft loans by countries and international organizations.

Lebanon pledged at the conference to carry out structural reforms to shore up its battered economy.

However, the implementation of the reforms remains dependent on the formation of a new government.

Aoun and Foucher also spoke about local and regional developments, including the formation of the new Cabinet, the statement said.

Foucher said France continued to “support Lebanon in overcoming the difficulties and challenges that the country is facing on all levels.”

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