Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Hopes Hariri Will Resume Cabinet Mediation Bid

Published January 6th, 2021 - 08:07 GMT
A photo taken on January 5, 2021 shows a Lebanese flag hanging on a building under construction behind the newly unveiled statue of Iran's most revered military commander, Qasem Soleimani, in the predominantly-Shiite Muslim Beirut southern suburb of Ghobeiry. Soleimani -- whom the US blamed for attacks on its interests in Iraq and elsewhere -- was killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport on January 3 last year, ratcheting up tensions between decades-old arch foes the United States and Iran. JOSEPH EID
A photo taken on January 5, 2021 shows a Lebanese flag hanging on a building under construction behind the newly unveiled statue of Iran's most revered military commander, Qasem Soleimani, in the predominantly-Shiite Muslim Beirut southern suburb of Ghobeiry. Soleimani -- whom the US blamed for attacks on its interests in Iraq and elsewhere -- was killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport on January 3 last year, ratcheting up tensions between decades-old arch foes the United States and Iran. JOSEPH EID / AFP

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai is waiting for Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s return to Beirut from a family holiday abroad to resume his mediation efforts aimed at facilitating the formation of a new government urgently needed to deliver reforms, an official source said Tuesday.

“The Cabinet formation process remains at a standstill with the start of the New Year. But Hariri’s return to Beirut is expected to set the Cabinet formation efforts into motion, especially since Patriarch Rai is waiting for the premier-designate’s return so that he can resume his initiative aimed at accelerating the government formation,” the official source told The Daily Star.

General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim Tuesday confirmed that Rai would resume his mediation bid in the next few days to narrow differences between President Michel Aoun and Hariri over the makeup and shape of the new government.

Ibrahim, who met with the patriarch last week to congratulate him on the Christmas and New Year holidays, dismissed the theory of the collapse of Rai’s earlier attempts aimed at clearing the way for a new government eagerly awaited by the Lebanese to rescue them from multiple crises, including a crippling economic and financial crisis.

“I don’t say that the patriarch’s efforts had been thwarted at all. He continues to do what he is doing in all directions. Probably, the [New Year] holidays and the absence of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri from Lebanon have brought [Rai’s] moves to a halt. I am sure he will resume his moves in the next few days in the appropriate directions to help achieve a breakthrough [in the Cabinet deadlock],” Ibrahim said in an interview with the Free Lebanon radio station.


Referring to lingering rifts between Aoun and Hariri over the shape of the next government, Ibrahim said: “What I want to say regarding the talk about differences between President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri over the government formation; is that we have not yet exceeded the general time average for the government formation in Lebanon. And the blocking or guaranteeing third [veto power] is not a problem at all. There remain some details, especially since work is underway to form a government of specialists in a country that rarely adopts specialization away from politics.”

A political source familiar with the matter said Hariri would not budge from his endeavor to form an 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to enact reforms in line with the French initiative designed to lift Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crisis since the 1975-90 Civil War.

“Likewise, Hariri will not accept granting veto power to any party in the new government, or assigning two key ministries, the Interior and Justice ministries, to Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement,” the source told The Daily Star Monday.

Despite his repeated denial, FPM leader MP Gebran Bassil is demanding veto power in the next government and he wants political parties to be represented in the government, the source said. “Bassil also wants to control the Energy, Interior and Justice ministries,” the source added.

Ibrahim said the French initiative designed to rescue Lebanon was still intact despite claims by some Lebanese politicians that it had unraveled.

“The French initiative, with its major objectives, is still in place. It is expected after the formation of the government that this initiative and its objectives will be the basis of the policy statement, as well as the government’s work. This will be the approach to rescuing Lebanon from the current situation,” Ibrahim said in his remarks, which were carried by the state-run National News Agency.


On the eve of the New Year, MP Loic Kervran, head of the Lebanese-French Friendship Committee in the French National Assembly, said after a meeting with Aoun at Baabda Palace that the French initiative was still in place and France would not leave the crises-ridden country alone.

French President Emmanuel Macron presented a French blueprint that contains a series of key reforms to Lebanon’s political leaders during his second visit to Beirut on Sept. 1. He was the first foreign leader to visit Beirut two days after the port blast.

Hopes for breaking the Cabinet deadlock were pinned on Macron’s third visit to Lebanon, originally scheduled for Dec. 22-23, but the trip was canceled after the French president tested positive for COVID-19.

The Cabinet crisis comes as Lebanon is facing an economic meltdown, caused by decades of corruption and mismanagement, and a crashing currency that has lost more than 80 percent of its value since last year, putting half of the 6 million Lebanese population below the poverty line. Lebanon is also grappling with the grave consequences of the port blast that killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands, left 300,000 people homeless and caused losses worth billions of dollars, as well as an alarming surge in coronavirus infections.

The caretaker government Monday imposed a new lockdown that is set to last from Jan. 7 until Feb. 1, in a bid to curb the dangerous spread of coronavirus as the holiday season came to a close.

This article has been adapted from its original source.


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