BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai voiced support Sunday for the new Cabinet formed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in sharp contrast with the attitudes of March 14 Christian leaders, namely Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who have dismissed the government as one dominated by Syria and Hezbollah.
Rai said the government should be given a chance, calling on the Mikati team to restore unity between the Lebanese sharply divided into two rival camps: The March 8 and March 14 camps.
“We congratulate all the Lebanese with the new government which we wish it success and that it be up to the expectations of all the Lebanese people,” Rai told reporters at Beirut airport before heading on a one-week visit to the Vatican to attend the annual conference of non-governmental international social organizations. “I hope that the new government is given a chance to do its job,” he said.
Asked if his congratulation amounted to blessing the Cabinet’s formation, Rai said, “The blessing had already been given when the president and the prime minister signed [the Cabinet decrees]. This is a sign of confidence. When the president and the prime minister-designate sign, this means that the Cabinet’s blessing stems from it. We add to [the blessing] the prayers and supplications that the Cabinet would really be up to the expectations of the Lebanese.”
Recalling his plea for partnership and love after his election as head of the influential Maronite Catholic Church in April, Rai said, “Lebanon is in dire need for partnership, love and unity. We need confidence and the building of the Lebanese social fabric. I think that the first of the new government’s priorities should be to work to rebuild this Lebanese fabric because we cannot live without confidence, nor without love and partnership. Otherwise, we will remain in constant differences.”
It was Rai’s first public comment on the government since Mikati unveiled a 30-member Cabinet last Monday dominated by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies. The Cabinet was deemed one-sided because it did not include representatives from March 14 parties who had decided to boycott any Cabinet formed by Mikati. The Cabinet’s formation ended a political deadlock that had left the country in a power vacuum for five months.
Rai had criticized the delay in the Cabinet’s formation and even called for a government of technocrats as a means of breaking the deadlock.
Asked to comment on March 14 parties’ accusations that the government had been formed under Syrian pressure, Rai said, “The government has been formed. Lebanon, by virtue of its distinctive position among all states in the East and West, is known that all its public affairs are linked regionally and internationally. This is not something new. What I want to say is that the government is made up of Lebanese who must bear responsibility for anything we need at the humanitarian, developmental and economic levels and also with regard to the activation of public institutions, the people’s expectations and the economic crisis.”
“The [Cabinet’s] responsibilities are very big. The government needs to put its confidence in itself and we have to grant it confidence. We will hold it accountable and ask it about its responsibilities,” he added.
For his part, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt warned of attempts to plunge Lebanon in renewed sectarian strife.
“Two days after the government was formed, signs emerged of an attempt to plunge Lebanon into strife. Our mission is to ward off strife from Lebanon whatever the price is,” Jumblatt told reporters after visiting Minister for the Displaced Alaaeddine Terro at his home in Barja in Iqlim al-Kharroub Saturday. Terro is a member of Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc.
Jumblatt was referring to Friday’s clashes between gunmen of rival factions in Mikati’s home city of Tripoli which left at least six people dead and more than 20 wounded. The fighting pitted gunmen from the mainly Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh district against those from the predominantly Alawite Jabal Mohsen neighborhood after supporters of anti-regime protests in Syria staged a demonstration in Bab al-Tabbaneh.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s Agriculture Minister Hussein Haj Hasan, who has retained his post in the new Cabinet, said the government has inherited “a heavy legacy” from the March 14-led governments.
“The current government faces colossal difficulties and responsibilities because it has inherited a heavy burden and legacy from the previous governments of the March 14 team,” Haj Hasan told a rally commemorating the birthday of Shiite Imam Ali in the Bekaa town of Sareen al-Fawqa. He stressed that the formation of the government was “100 percent Lebanese.”