With efforts to form a new government being set to move up a gear this week following Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s return from visits to Moscow and Riyadh, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party have reached a truce ending a fierce war of words over the Eid al-Fitr holiday that threatened to negatively affect the Cabinet formation process.
“Prime Minister Hariri is set to return to Beirut from Saudi Arabia in the next few hours to resume his attempts to form a new national unity government representing all the parties,” a source close to the premier-designate told The Daily Star Sunday night.
Hariri, who traveled to Saudi Arabia last week to spend the Eid al-Fitr holiday with his family, performed the Eid prayers Friday at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca in the presence of King Salman, Saudi princes and other officials.
Ahead of the trip, Hariri visited Moscow to attend the opening of the FIFA World Cup, along with other leaders.
While in Moscow, he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin focusing on developments in Lebanon and the region, the Syrian refugee crisis and bilateral relations, including trade.
In a bid to accelerate the Cabinet formation, Hariri had already presented President Michel Aoun with a preliminary proposal to form a 30-member government representing all of the main political parties.
A political source linked the PSP officials’ harsh diatribe against Aoun to attempts by FPM leader and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to name MP Talal Arslan, PSP leader Walid Joumblatt’s Druze rival, as a minister in the new government.
MP Alain Aoun, from the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc headed by Bassil, acknowledged that “hell was about to break loose” in street violence between supporters of the FPM and the PSP, had it not been for “contacts” to contain the situation.
“We made contacts to defuse tension in the street. Walid Beik’s sudden attack on the [Aoun] regime amounted to a clear coup against his previous stances,” Alain Aoun told MTV Sunday night, referring to Joumblatt’s previous statements that had supported the president.
Alain Aoun said Joumblatt’s tirade against the president’s term had raised questions around whether the PSP leader’s motives were linked to the Cabinet formation efforts or to his visit to Saudi Arabia.
Heading a PSP delegation on an official visit to Saudi Arabia last week, Joumblatt met with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Joumblatt, whose ties with Saudi Arabia have gone through ups and downs, described the meeting with Prince Mohammad as “positive” and “cordial.”
The FPM’s branch in Baabda said in a statement that following the political developments that happened as a result of the rhetoric between the FPM and the PSP and reactions on social media from supporters of the two sides, some of which were “unfamiliar,” meetings were held between MPs Alain Aoun and Hadi Aboul Hosn, from the parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc headed by newly elected MP Teymour Joumblatt, and PSP official Issam al-Masri, during which they agreed on “a truce and to turn the page on the sharp rhetoric.”
Rejecting any offensive remarks made by any of its members or officials, the FPM statement said: “The FPM hopes that the other parties would follow suit in cooling off [agitated] people, condemning all kinds of smear and keeping political differences within a civilized democratic framework.”
In another TV interview, Alain Aoun called for the new government to be formed quickly, saying Hariri must negotiate with various blocs to overcome two or three remaining hurdles delaying the Cabinet formation. He did not elaborate.
Among major obstacles facing Hariri in his attempts to form the new government are the ongoing struggle over Christian representation between the FPM and the Lebanese Forces, and the problem of Druze representation amid insistence
by Joumblatt that the Democratic Gathering bloc obtain the three ministerial posts reserved for the Druze in a 30-member Cabinet.Joumblatt’s demand was seen as an attempt to prevent Arslan from being named minister in the new government.
Arslan has insisted on being represented with one Druze minister.
Having boosted its parliamentary representation from eight to 15 MPs in the May 6 elections, the LF is seeking key ministerial posts commensurate with this representation.
LF chief Samir Geagea said last week his party wanted the same number of ministerial portfolios as the FPM in the new government.
The FPM also made gains in the elections, increasing its 21 MPs to 29, including allies.
The FPM-PSP war of words erupted Friday, on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, when Joumblatt, currently on a vacation with his family in Europe, criticized in a post on his Twitter account Aoun’s presidential term as having “failed since its first moment.”
This prompted MP and adviser to Aoun Elias Bou Saab to strike back by posting a picture of an article dating back to 1989 when Joumblatt spoke of his preference for a Syrian presence in Lebanon over that of Maronites.
“Anyone who speaks using racist words toward his compatriots loses credibility when he claims to defend the rights of [Syrian] refugees,” Bou Saab commented.
Caretaker Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf, who is loyal to Aoun, hit back at Joumblatt. “The president is a symbol of Lebanon’s unity. Any words from any leader that contradict the principle of national unity are rejected and are considered close to treason,” Sarraf said in a statement.
Caretaker Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh, a member of Joumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, also criticized Aoun.
“I can describe, my first experience with this term, as the biggest failure since [Lebanon’s] independence [in 1943] and this government with its scandalous achievements as the worst in the history of governments,” Hamadeh, who did not vote for Aoun’s election in 2016, said in a statement posted on the PSP’s online newspaper Al-Anbaa.
MP Akram Chehayeb from Joumblatt’s bloc said: “We wanted to save the state, so we elected Gen. Michel Aoun as president, yet we are now under the rule of Minister Gebran who forges alliances, makes deals, appoints ambassadors and consuls and grants citizenship.”
Caretaker Justice Minister Salim Jreissati from the FPM questioned the timing behind the verbal attack on Aoun having come days after Joumblatt’s visit to Saudi Arabia. “Your attack on [Aoun’s] term is suspicious Walid, soon after you returned from the Kingdom,” Jreissati tweeted.
He accused Joumblatt of carrying out “a failed operation with green ammunition,” referring to the green color of the U.S. dollar.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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