Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri Urges Hizbollah-Future Rival Factions to Stay Calm

Published April 24th, 2018 - 09:03 GMT
Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri urges war of words between the Future Movement and Hizbollah to stay within the realm of electoral politics. (AFP/ File Photo)
Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri urges war of words between the Future Movement and Hizbollah to stay within the realm of electoral politics. (AFP/ File Photo)

Apparently alarmed by the latest political escalation between the Future Movement and Hizbollah, Speaker Nabih Berri Monday urged rival factions to remain calm ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections, warning of the dire consequences of undermining the country’s national unity and civil peace. Berri’s stern warning comes as the electoral battle is heating up with opposing parties and blocs trading harsh rhetoric 12 days before Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, the first in nine years.

It also came two days after Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah lashed out at the Future Movement, blaming it for the country’s deteriorating economy, and Prime Minister Saad Hariri hitting back, accusing the Hezbollah leader of using sectarian incitement to garner votes.

“All the forces that are contesting the parliamentary elections must use calm and rational political electoral speeches that reassure the voters, and not the other way around,” Berri said during a meeting with visitors at his summer residence in the southern coastal town of Mseileh.

“It is a crime against Lebanon and the Lebanese to reach May 6 and a new Parliament under the rubble of national unity, coexistence and civil peace,” he said, according to a statement released by his media office.

Berri’s Amal Movement has forged an electoral coalition with Hezbollah, and the two main Shiite parties are fielding candidates in Beirut, the Bekaa region, the south and the Jbeil-Kesrouan district.

The speaker asked what the value of gaining a new parliamentary seat for any party was “if the Lebanese people lose the grace of their unity in favor of the curse of fragmentation.”

“The elections are a national event par excellence that should be approached and carried out by national means, rather than by targeting national taboos,” Berri said, clearly referring to the use of sectarian rhetoric to woo voters.

During a two-day electoral campaign tour of the Bekaa region over the weekend where he called on his supporters to vote in high numbers, Hariri blasted Hezbollah, accusing the Iranian-backed party of resorting to sectarian mobilization against the Future Movement in a bid to gain votes.

Hariri’s fiery remarks came hours after Nasrallah criticized the Future Movement, accusing it of failing to stimulate the battered economy.

In a series of electoral rallies during the past few weeks, Hariri has labeled the May 6 elections “crucial,” warning of attempts by his opponents – Hezbollah and its allies – to control Beirut’s political decisions and its representatives. Hariri renewed the warning Monday by again calling on Future Movement supporters to vote in high numbers.

“I call for massive voting on May 6 in order to block the way to all plans that [seek] to target Beirut and our political presence,” Hariri said during a visit to the “Guidance and Reform Society,” a Muslim charity in Beirut’s Talet al-Khayyat neighborhood.

“We are being targeted and the assault on us is taking place everywhere. During the days of the [late] martyr Rafik Hariri in 2000, they divided Beirut into three districts and he entirely won the elections. In 2009, they changed the [vote] law and we won,” Hariri said.

“In my belief, what counts is the people. If they go down to ballot boxes as they should [in high numbers], they can thwart all plans [targeting the Future Movement]. There is a political battle par excellence on May 6 and we are destined to preserve our rights,” he added.

Hariri said that since President Michel Aoun was elected president and a national unity government was formed at the end of 2016, “we have achieved political stability and security, political life has returned to normal and dialogue has returned among all the parties.”

“The stronger the state and its security institutions are, this will help restore the state’s prestige and its effectiveness,” he said.

Concerning a bill for a general amnesty for Islamist militants held in prison, Hariri said: “We are working to finalize the amnesty bill. But this matter needs political consensus that will cover those who really deserve this amnesty.”

Last week, Berri said he would postpone discussion of the proposed amnesty for those incarcerated for or suspected of various crimes until after the elections.

The amnesty is widely expected to rescind tens of thousands of outstanding arrest warrants for alleged Islamists, as well as those accused of petty and drug-related crimes, and those suspected of collaborating with Israel during its occupation of southern Lebanon. The decree is also expected to release scores of people currently held for these crimes.

Asked about the thorny and contentious issue of Hezbollah’s arms, Hariri said, “Discussing this issue is linked to the issue of a defense strategy.”

Aoun has proposed a national dialogue after the elections to discuss a national defense strategy to address the issue.

Later, speaking during an economic dialogue with members of the Economic Committees, the country’s private sector, Hariri highlighted the importance of maintaining political stability. The dialogue, held at the Seaside Pavilion (formerly BIEL), was attended by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and a number of candidates of the Future Movement’s electoral list for the Beirut II district.

“For me, political stability is one of the most important pillars that we must maintain. If we don’t have political stability, we cannot reach stable security, nor economic stability,” Hariri said. Acknowledging that political differences would remain between various parties, he added, “What matters in politics is to be in agreement and to work to resolve political differences so that they will not affect economic stability.”

Referring to the CEDRE conference held in Paris on April 6 that saw over $11 billion in soft loans and grants pledged to finance vital infrastructure projects in Lebanon, Hariri said: “We have been able during one year and eight months to achieve this [political] consensus and through it we reached the CEDRE conference, which is important for the Lebanese and the Lebanese economy.”

“The CEDRE conference is the most important project to revitalize the economy and create new job opportunities that might reach 90,000 job opportunities per year,” the prime minister added, according to a statement released by his media office.

Meanwhile, Nasrallah sought Monday to allay fears over his party’s arsenal. “The resistance’s arms, alongside the Lebanese Army and the people, are essential for maintaining security and stability in Lebanon in the midst of an inflammable region,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech addressing an electoral ally for the Jbeil-Kesrouan district held at a Hezbollah complex in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

He recalled that Hezbollah’s armed resistance was instrumental in liberating south Lebanon from Israeli occupation and alongside the Lebanese Army protected the country. “Hezbollah’s arms created a balance of deterrence with the [Israeli] enemy,” Nasrallah said. “This resistance has protected the country in the face of takfiri groups.”

“This resistance is one of the reasons for the country’s recovery and is complementary to the Army. In the first place, the state should bear responsibility for defending the country. ... But the state has left us since 1948,” Nasrallah said, referring to the year when the state of Israel was established in Palestine. “The Army does not need anything to defend Lebanon except arms and resources,” he added.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

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