THU 19 - 9 - 2019
Jun 4, 2019
The Daily Star
Ex-PMs urge Aoun to rein in ‘provocative’ Bassil actions
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: In a show of solidarity with Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s constitutional powers, three former premiers called Monday on President Michel Aoun to intervene to put an end to what they termed “provocative practices” that are undermining the presidency’s prestige and position. Former Prime Ministers Fouad Siniora, Najib Mikati and Tammam Salam were clearly referring to Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s latest diatribe against the “Sunni political establishment,” a reference to Hariri’s political leadership, which Bassil had accused of seizing the Christians’ rights to key state posts.
The call by the three former premiers following their meeting at Salam’s residence in Beirut reflected the escalating tensions between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Future Movement and was the latest chapter in an off-and-on row over the constitutional powers of the president and the prime minister that is threatening to further deepen political divisions in the country.
In a development indicating that the FPM-Future tensions remained high, a senior Future source said Monday that Hariri did not call Bassil, the FPM head, Sunday to defuse tensions and that the two have not been in contact since May 27, when the Cabinet wrapped up its discussions on the draft 2019 state budget and endorsed the document before sending it to Parliament for further study and final ratification.
A political source told The Daily Star that a new batch of anticipated key appointments in the public administration was behind Bassil’s sudden escalatory tone against the Future Movement.
In a statement issued after their meeting, Siniora, Mikati and Salam voiced concerns over reviving “divisive issues,” a reference to the topic of constitutional powers of the president and the prime minister, that had been resolved in the Taif Accord.
The three former premiers discussed “some surprising political stances and practices launched by some ministers and politicians, which aim to open debate and divisive issues that are not useful to open them, especially since they had been settled in the Taif Accord and in the Lebanese Constitution,” the statement said. They warned of “grave consequences” on national accord and civil peace from raising these issues. “Therefore, the participants appealed to the president, who was honored by the Constitution and vested him with the responsibility to respect and safeguard the Constitution, to put a final end to these provocative and relentless stances and practices that are undermining the presidency’s prestige and position,” the statement said.
While underlining the importance of adherence to the Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Civil War and the Lebanese Constitution, the three leaders “stressed the importance of upholding the Muslim-Christian coexistence formula which is considered as the main cornerstone on which Lebanon is founded and its civil peace, progress and stability are boosted.”
Referring to the raging row between the FPM and the Future Movement over the Military Tribunal’s verdict acquitting ISF official Suzan Hajj Hobeiche, who was on trial for framing actor Ziad Itani as an Israeli spy, the three former premiers underscored the importance of stopping “political interference in judicial and security institutions that are supposed to be the protector of all citizens.”
“They stressed that the Lebanese state, with its military, security and judicial institutions, should be keen on its neutrality, professionalism and justice so as to inspire confidence in institutions that remain the real guarantee for all the Lebanese,” the statement added.
Senior Future Movement officials and Future TV Sunday lashed out at Bassil, accusing him of putting in peril the 2016 political settlement that led to Aoun’s election as president and brought Hariri back to the premiership.
Interior Minister Raya El Hassan, one of the Future ministers in the Cabinet, called on Bassil to stop interfering in the affairs of other ministries that do not fall under his prerogatives.
But a defiant Bassil appeared Monday to be unruffled by the Future responses, instead accusing others of seeking to torpedo the 2016 presidential deal reached by Aoun and Hariri.
“There are those who are seeking to sabotage the presidential understanding. They have expressed their madness at this sabotage but they will not succeed,” Bassil told a news conference attended by the ministers of the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc to assess their performance in their ministries in the first 100 days since they took office.
Bassil renewed his criticism of Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Imad Othman for allegedly issuing licenses for buildings, sand mines or quarries. “There is no cover for anyone. And no for putting hands on the judiciary by security [agencies],” he said.
Hassan denied Sunday that Othman had issued licenses for sand mines or quarries, saying that former Environment Minister Tarek Khatib, who belongs to the FPM, had issued a number of licenses for quarries and sand mines.
Asked if he had been in contact with Hariri over the tensions with the Future Movement, Bassil told MTV: “There is a normal situation with Prime Minister Hariri.”
Hariri, who visited Saudi Arabia last week to represent Lebanon at Arab and Islamic summits held in the holy city of Mecca, congratulated the Lebanese, Arabs and Muslims on Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which begins Tuesday. In a statement issued by his media office, Hariri apologized for not being able to receive well-wishers on the Eid holiday because he will be out of Lebanon.
Speaker Nabih Berri also left Beirut Monday on a private vacation lasting several days, the state-run National News Agency reported.
The latest FPM-Future crisis broke out last Friday when former Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, an MP and a key figure of the Future Movement, slammed Bassil for accusing the country’s Sunni political leaders of grabbing the Christians’ rights to key state posts.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, Machnouk warned that the continued infringement on Hariri’s powers would undermine the country’s sectarian-based power sharing formula.
Machnouk’s remarks came after Bassil, during a dialogue with Sunni figures in the Western Bekaa region last week, was quoted as saying: “The Sunni political establishment came [to power] on the corpse of the Maronite political establishment, taking all the Christians’ rights [to public posts]. It is normal for me to try to regain them.”
Bassil’s office had already distanced him from the comments Thursday night, without denying that he made them.
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