Lebanon’s national dialogue fails, tensions escalate in parliament

Published September 7th, 2016 - 06:00 GMT
A meeting of the Lebanese Parliament. (AFP/File)
A meeting of the Lebanese Parliament. (AFP/File)

Officials warned Tuesday of dire consequences that would further exacerbate the country’s fragile stability and struggling economy after the collapse of national dialogue, as the Free Patriotic Movement again threatened to stage anti-government street protests if “injustice” against Christians persisted.

MP Walid Jumblatt, a staunch supporter of inter-Lebanese dialogue, warned that the worst was yet to come following Speaker Nabih Berri’s decision to suspend all-party talks after rival political leaders sparred over the National Charter’s power-sharing formula.

“After the dialogue committee has reached a dead end despite the efforts made by Speaker Nabih Berri to reach a settlement, there is no longer any logic for interpretation or persuasion,” the Progressive Socialist Party leader tweeted. “We will now face grave socio-economic damage. The worst is yet to come,” Jumblatt said, without elaborating.

Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb, a key dialogue participant, implicitly lashed out at the FPM for exploiting the rights of Christians to further its own ends and for obstructing the election of a president for more than two years.

“The problem of Christians is caused by those who claim to be concerned about the Christians and who trade in their [Christian] interests,” Harb tweeted. “Do those who are obstructing the election of a president realize that obstruction might become a norm that will recur with every presidential election?”

Harb was referring to lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah’s bloc and some of its March 8 allies who have been boycotting Parliament sessions to elect a president since the six-year term of former President Michel Sleiman ended in May 2014.

Meanwhile, the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc reiterated its commitment to national dialogue and expressed regret at the indefinite suspension of all-party talks. It accused the FPM and its ally, Hezbollah, of forfeiting an opportunity for Lebanon to solve its problems through an internal dialogue.

The bloc called for abiding by the Constitution to resolve the challenges facing the country.

“Amid the ongoing debate over the charter, commitment to the implementation of the Constitution in a sound manner and adherence to its rules and regulations are the only means to preserve the National Charter ... which fortifies coexistence and partnership,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by former premier Fouad Siniora.

Criticizing the FPM ministers’ boycott of Cabinet sessions over the extension of senior military officials’ terms, the bloc said: “The implementation of the charter in deeds, not in words, is by participating in the work and decisions of the Cabinet. Anything contrary to this will undermine and destroy the charter.” It stressed that priority is still for the election of a president without any further delay.

“The election step is the key to the door of good and partnership for Lebanon and its suffocating economy due to the policy of continued obstruction and destruction of state institutions exercised by Hezbollah and its partner, the Free Patriotic Movement,” the statement added.

A Parliament session Wednesday to elect a president is doomed to fail like the previous 43 sessions over a lack of quorum, further prolonging the presidential vacuum, which has cast Parliament and Cabinet into disarray.

Berri indefinitely suspended all-party talks Monday after political rivals squabbled over the National Charter’s power-sharing formula.

Berri’s dramatic move came in response to Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the FPM leader, who said his party would no longer attend dialogue sessions because he did not get answers from the interlocutors to the FPM’s growing concerns over the implementation of the National Charter on equal power sharing between Muslims and Christians.

The national dialogue, sponsored by Berri last September, was intended to bring rival leaders together to tackle thorny but vital issues such as the election of a president and a new electoral law. The suspension of all-party talks is bound to throw the country into further political malaise, amid a vacant presidency seat, a paralyzed Parliament and a crippled government.

Bassil warned Tuesday that the alleged “injustice” inflicted on Christians in past years would make everything taken by the FPM permissible, threatening that his party would resort to street protests to ensure the implementation of the charter’s power-sharing formula.

“The charter is part of our daily life and part of the country’s composition. We find in the Constitution’s preamble the most important idea, which is equality between Christians and Muslims,” Bassil told reporters following the weekly meeting of the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc chaired by Aoun at his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.

“This equality is at the root of the crisis we are facing. When we lose equality, injustice prevails and we again live with injustice. This injustice renders everything permissible,” he said.

Bassil said he awaited answers from dialogue participants to decide on the FPM’s participation in all-party talks and in Cabinet sessions “because some reject the idea of equality with each other as Lebanese.”

“We did not get answers at the dialogue table and we cannot continue in this manner in dealing with each other. We cannot coexist with this kind of marginalization,” Bassil said. He added that there was no answer to the FPM’s repeated pleas for the election of a president and endorsement of an electoral law as stipulated by the National Charter. Bassil said the country was going through “a crisis of a [political] system and a difficult stage.”

“Our goal is to implement the charter and means of implementing it are numerous and are in our hands and in the hands of our supporters. We will not accept in any form this abnormal situation and we will rectify it by all political and popular means,” Bassil said, in a clear reference to the FPM’s threat to stage anti-government street protests.

“We will not accept a government similar to the governments [formed] under Syrian tutelage. We will not keep silent on it,” he added. “We will not allow Syrian tutelage to be turned into an internal tutelage.”

Meanwhile, MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament, called for Lebanon to be governed by national partnership. “We want Lebanon to be governed by balance and partnership among all its components with regard to the political decision-making and administration,”Raad said at a Hezbollah ceremony in the southern town of Jarjou.

By Hussein Dakroub


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