In­de­pen­dent de­feats po­lit­i­cal class in Beirut Bar elec­tions

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ghada Al­sharif and Sahar Houri

BEIRUT: Mel­hem Kha­laf was voted the new pres­i­dent of the Beirut Bar As­so­ci­a­tion Sunday, claim­ing vic­tory over a can­di­date en­dorsed by Le­banon’s rul­ing class.

Kha­laf, an in­de­pen­dent and law pro­fes­sor at Saint Joseph Univer­sity, won with 2,341 votes against Nader Gas­pard. While also an in­de­pen­dent, Gas­pard was backed by the Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment, the Le­banese Forces, the Pro­gres­sive So­cial­ist Party and the Fu­ture Move­ment fol­low­ing the with­drawal of their can­di­dates. Gas­pard scored 1,532 votes. As an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date with no clear back­ing from a po­lit­i­cal party, Kha­laf’s vic­tory was poignant as na­tion­wide protests de­mand the re­moval of the en­tire po­lit­i­cal class.

Hun­dreds of lawyers gath­ered in the Jus­tice Palace elec­tions day.

When the re­sults were an­nounced, the scene of lawyers pump­ing their fists in the air cheer­ing and chant­ing, “Rev­o­lu­tion,” was rem­i­nis­cent of protesters who have gath­ered in squares across Le­banon since Oct. 17. “We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity … and we have to pro­tect this re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Kha­laf told The Daily Star after winning.

When asked what would change un­der his lead­er­ship, Kha­laf said that the as­so­ci­a­tion “was not try­ing to change … we are try­ing to progress.”

“The main role of a lawyer is to de­fend any in­di­vid­ual who might be vul­ner­a­ble or im­pris­oned,” he said.

“In any cir­cum­stance where some­one feels they are in need of a lawyer, we will be there.”

Kha­laf thanked Speaker Nabih Berri in a phonecall for the Amal Move­ment af­fil­i­ated lawyers’ sup­port, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal TV LBCI.

The elec­tion of Kha­laf marks a sig­nif­i­cant de­par­ture from the out­go­ing head of the as­so­ci­a­tion, An­dre Chidiac, whose lead­er­ship has been crit­i­cized by many lawyers es­pe­cially for not tak­ing a clear stand dur­ing re­cent events.

Chidiac was elected in 2017 and is re­port­edly close to the Free Pa­tri­otic

Move­ment and was backed by sev­eral po­lit­i­cal par­ties dur­ing the pre­vi­ous elec­tions.

Dur­ing the protests, Chidiac had en­forced a rule barring lawyers from wear­ing their robes dur­ing protests with­out per­mis­sion. “I didn’t ban them … I just en­forced the rules,” he told The Daily Star.

The Beirut Bar As­so­ci­a­tion said that lawyers can­not par­tic­i­pate in any move­ment wear­ing their robes un­less it is some­thing re­lated to or ap­proved by the as­so­ci­a­tion.

“The job of the Beirut Bar As­so­ci­a­tion should be to lead, guide and pro­tect lawyers. This has not been the case,” Dina Abou Zour, a lawyer, said dur­ing the elec­tions.

Abou Zour ex­plained that only one state­ment, on Oct. 23, had been re­leased by the as­so­ci­a­tion dur­ing the month­long up­ris­ing in which dozens of protesters have been de­tained with­out ex­pla­na­tion. She said the state­ment made no real men­tion of the as­so­ci­a­tion’s stance on the demon­stra­tions and whether they would sup­port protesters.

“It is our job to de­fend those who are vul­ner­a­ble and don’t have ac­cess to a de­fense. It is ter­ri­ble for such an as­so­ci­a­tion to stay silent and do noth­ing about it,” she said, ref­er­enc­ing cases where protesters had been il­le­gally beaten while de­tained by se­cu­rity forces.

Be­cause of this, lawyers have taken per­sonal ini­tia­tive to de­fend protesters. For ex­am­ple, groups of lawyers have set up tents in Riad alSolh Square and Mar­tyrs’ Square to en­sure that Le­banese have ac­ces­seto le­gal con­sul­ta­tion. Abou Zour is cau­tiously op­ti­mistic. “Maybe [Kha­laf] can’t do ev­ery­thing, but this is the first step, to get rid of the sec­tar­ian in­flu­ence, we hope.” In the first round to elect coun­cil mem­bers, Kha­laf won with 2,062 votes. Seven­teen can­di­dates com­peted for five po­si­tions.

Pierre Hanna, who was backed by the LF, the PSP and the Fu­ture Move­ment for the pres­i­dency, won 1,703 votes, se­cur­ing his spot on the coun­cil. But Hanna then with­drew from the pres­i­den­tial race and sup­ported Gas­pard in­stead. Gas­pard won 1,681 votes in the coun­cil mem­ber vote, also se­cur­ing a seat.

Saaded­dine al-Khatib, backed by the Fu­ture Move­ment, won a coun­cil seat with 1,699.

Ex­cep­tion­ally, a vote was held to fill a seat left va­cant by the res­ig­na­tion of a coun­cil mem­ber. Ibrahim Mousallem, who won with 1,480 votes, will fill the va­cant seat for one year only. The FPM’s can­di­date, Ge­orge Nakhleh, with­drew from the race Satur­day night.

Nak­leh threw his sup­port behind Ali Abdallah, who was re­port­edly backed by the Amal Move­ment, for a coun­cil mem­ber po­si­tion. Abdallah won 1,036 votes, fail­ing to se­cure a seat on the coun­cil.

Kha­laf, an in­de­pen­dent and law pro­fes­sor at Saint Joseph Univer­sity, won with 2,341 votes against Nader Gas­pard.

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