TRIPOLI: After a “day of rage” by supporters of caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri was staged in Tripoli earlier this week, leading figures in the city are debating how to respond with a “day of joy.”
During President Michel Sleiman’s consultations with MPs at Baabda Palace, MPs Najib Mikati and Mohammad Safadi broke with their March 14 allies and sided with the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, which nominated Mikati to be the next prime minister.
The Mikati and Safadi camps are now preparing for a counter-rally to answer the show of strength by Future Movement supporters and prove that the majority of Tripoli supports them, and not their rivals. The event would be a message “to whom it concerns in Beirut that there is a clear desire in Tripoli to recover the city’s role, which has been marginalized in favor of Beirut and elsewhere,” as one observer put it.
The Mikati and Safadi camps are expected to discuss the timing of the “day of joy” over the weekend, after Mikati wrapped up talks with MPs at Parliament Friday. “We want to answer with popular support, to reduce the pressures that some are putting on us and show that we also have our supporters,” a source said. “People here are looking forward to seeing the [socio-economic] development of Tripoli, which we have been awaiting for a long time.”
Tripoli politicians are now evaluating the earlier alliance between the Future Movement and local figures, which was intact during parliamentary polls, municipal polls in Tripoli and Mina, and polls for civil associations and the Tripoli Chamber of Commerce.
These polls saw wins by “consensus” lists that were comprised of figures put forward by all sides. But with the exit by Mikati and Safadi from the broader alliance, one observer said the political map was open to all possibilities. “It’s not just about the leadership role of Saad Hariri and the serious challenges he now faces, but also seeing competition within the Sunni political community, beginning with Tripoli,” the observer said.
The observer said that while Mikati, Safadi and former Prime Minister Omar Karami enjoyed support within the city, the country still lacked a Sunni politician who could rival Hariri’s backing in his community elsewhere in Lebanon.
“I am someone who likes Rafik Hariri and Saad Hariri … but a series of flagrant mistakes were made in managing things,” the observer continued, blaming the Hariri camp’s advisers for being involved in some of the mis-steps.
The observer was particularly critical of the decision to exclude then-MPs Mosbah Ahdab and Mustafa Alloush from the Hariri-backed list in the 2009 parliamentary polls, in favor of Future’s alliance with Mikati and Safadi.
Meanwhile, Mikati’s selection as prime minister-designate has seen leading figures and organizations in the city declare their support for a favorite son: The Independent Gathering of Physicians of Tripoli and North Lebanon, the League of Mukhtars of Tripoli and North Lebanon, the Free Lebanese Movement, the Dinnieh Union of Municipalities, and the North Lebanon Workers and Employees Confederation, and Dr. Mohammad Nadim Jisr, from the prominent Jisr family, have all expressed their support for Mikati as he seeks to form a new government.
Tripoli’s nickname is Lebanon’s “second city,” but since the end of the 1975-90 Civil War it has had a frustrating experience when a local figure has been named prime minister: two cabinets headed by Karami were brought down by street protests, in 1992 over the devaluation of the Lebanese pound, and 2005, in the wake of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. Afterward, Mikati headed a transitional cabinet tasked with holding parliamentary polls, but one that remained in power for only several months.