‘In­de­pen­dent’ Sun­nis head to Baabda

Fneish de­nies Hezbol­lah’s sup­port for six MPs about ‘break­ing’ Hariri

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ti­mour Azhari

BEIRUT: Six so-called “in­de­pen­dent” Sunni MPs will meet with Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun Fri­day, rais­ing hopes that a so­lu­tion to the lat­est ob­sta­cle in the long-stand­ing govern­ment for­ma­tion cri­sis is im­mi­nent, a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.

“We ex­pect them to say they are leav­ing the is­sue up to the pres­i­dent and the prime min­is­ter-des­ig­nate, and will go with what­ever they de­cide,” the source said, adding that they were hope­ful a govern­ment would be formed be­fore Nov. 22, Le­banon’s In­de­pen­dence Day.

Pre­mier-des­ig­nate Saad Hariri has re­fused to have one of the six take a min­istry from his share, while Aoun has pre­vi­ously said the MPs’ de­mands were not rea­son­able as that they do not com­prise a uni­fied po­lit­i­cal bloc.

Mean­while, Hezbol­lah-af­fil­i­ated care­taker Youth and Sports Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Fneish said he had no in­for­ma­tion on any im­pend­ing so­lu­tion to the is­sue. He in­sisted that his party’s staunch sup­port for the de­mands of the Sunni MPs was “not about break­ing” Hariri.

“This kind of talk at­tempts to de­stroy the pos­i­tive at­mos­phere” that ex­ists be­tween Hezbol­lah and Hariri, Fneish told The Daily Star. “There is no break­ing of heads.”

He said Hezbol­lah in­sists on the in­clu­sion of the “in­de­pen­dent” Sunni MPs in the new Cabi­net be­cause with­out them, the party claims there will not be a na­tional unity govern­ment com­pris­ing all the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal forces – the type of govern­ment Hariri has said he would form.

A na­tional unity govern­ment ap­peared ready to be an­nounced late last month af­ter the fall of what was thought to be the last ob­sta­cle: the Le­banese Forces’ rep­re­sen­ta­tion. But shortly af­ter, the six “in­de­pen­dent” MPs, of which three be­long to var­i­ous par­lia­men­tary blocs, in­sisted on their de­mands as Hezbol­lah, their ma­jor ally, stood be­side them.

The six MPs in­clude Walid Sukkarieh, a mem­ber of Hezbol­lah’s par­lia­men­tary bloc; Qassem Hashem, a mem­ber of the Amal Move­ment’s po­lit­i­cal bloc, and Ji­had al-Sa­mad, a mem­ber of the Azm bloc. The oth­ers, Faisal Karami, Ad­nan Traboulsi and Ab­del-Rahim Mrad, have not formed a co­her­ent bloc.

“This isn’t the is­sue,” Fneish said, in ref­er­ence to the fact that the six MPs aren’t part of a sin­gle bloc.

“To­gether with the other [four Sunni MPs out­side of Hariri’s Fu­ture bloc] they rep­re­sent 35 to 40 per­cent of the Sunni vote.” He added that nei­ther Chris­tians, Shi­ites, nor Druze were set to be rep­re­sented by a sin­gle party in the next govern­ment. “So why are we see­ing this in­sis­tence with the Sun­nis?”

He de­nied that Hezbol­lah was now ef­fec­tively the only party hold­ing up Cabi­net for­ma­tion. “This is not true. From the be­gin­ning we took the de­ci­sion, as al­lies, to sup­port th­ese MPs. It’s not us [seek­ing to give] them rep­re­sen­ta­tion, it’s the elec­tions that did – it’s the peo­ple.”

But with Aoun, Hariri and Hezbol­lah all as of yet re­fus­ing to budge on the is­sue, it is un­clear where a so­lu­tion could come from.

In a sign of the grave na­ture of the is­sue, there has ap­par­ently been lit­tle at­tempt at me­di­a­tion by the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights.

MP Ali Bazzi from Speaker Nabih Berri’s par­lia­men­tary bloc said the speaker has not been try­ing to me­di­ate, and Berri has said re­peat­edly that the is­sue re­quires “prayers.”

Deputy Speaker Elie Fer­zli called on Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment leader and care­taker For­eign Min­is­ter Ge­bran Bas­sil to turn his hand to the mat­ter.

“I am mak­ing a per­sonal ap­peal … to Min­is­ter Ge­bran Bas­sil to … di­rectly con­tribute to re­solv­ing the ob­sta­cles of govern­ment for­ma­tion,” Fer­zli was quoted as say­ing af­ter a meet­ing with Berri. Fer­zli is part of the Strong Le­banon par­lia­men­tary bloc that is headed by Bas­sil.

In a po­ten­tial for­eign in­ter­ven­tion on the Cabi­net front, Rus­sian Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Mikhail Bog­danov said his coun­try was pre­pared to un­der­take “all nec­es­sary con­tacts” in or­der to move to­ward the for­ma­tion of a govern­ment, the state-run Na­tional News Agency re­ported.

Bog­danov was quoted as mak­ing the com­ments dur­ing a meet­ing in Moscow with MP Tey­mour Joum­blatt, the head of the Pro­gres­sive So­cial­ist Party’s po­lit­i­cal bloc. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing Joum­blatt was Wael Abu Faour, a top aide to Tey­mour’s fa­ther Walid, who heads the PSP. Abu Faour told lo­cal news chan­nel LBCI Thurs­day evening that an ex­pected Rus­sian ini­tia­tive on the Cabi­net front “may move the stag­na­tion.”

But weak­en­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of a Cabi­net be­ing formed soon is the fact that Hariri him­self has been in France for nearly a week, and is not ex­pected to re­turn to Beirut be­fore at­tend­ing the Paris Peace Fo­rum, which will take place Nov. 11-13.

Care­taker In­te­rior Min­is­ter Nouhad Mach­nouk, a mem­ber of the Fu­ture Bloc, said the pre­mier-des­ig­nate had re­mained in France be­cause “there’s no need for daily talks at this stage, but he will be back within days.” Mach­nouk tried to down­play the pos­si­bil­ity of Hariri ac­cept­ing fail­ure in the for­ma­tion process. “He will not [step down],” Mach­nouk said Thurs­day af­ter a meet­ing with Grand Mufti Sheikh Ab­del-Latif De­rian at Dar al-Fatwa. Prior to the meet­ing, the re­li­gious leader re­ceived the Sunni MPs. Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from Dar al-Fatwa, its “doors are open to all Le­banese par­ties.” The top Sunni au­thor­ity in the coun­try called for so­lu­tions to be found to the re­main­ing govern­ment for­ma­tion ob­sta­cles and for “Le­banon’s in­ter­ests to be con­sid­ered above all else.”

Hezbol­lah Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Sayyed Hasan Nas­ral­lah is set to de­liver a speech Satur­day to mark Hezbol­lah’s “Mar­tyr Day.”

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