Lebanon News

Dialogue ongoing between Hezbollah, Egypt

Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Hamdy speaks during an interview with The Daily Star in Beirut, Friday, April 11, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Hezbollah will appoint lawyers to defend members of the party in Egyptian courts who fled from prison during the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s envoy to Lebanon told The Daily Star.

“The party requested that they be allowed to appoint a lawyer to defend the accused, and it was confirmed that Egyptian law allows appointing lawyers for anyone before the Egyptian judiciary, so there are no hurdles,” Ashraf Hamdy said.

The request to appoint a lawyer to represent the Hezbollah members came during a meeting last month in Beirut between Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy and Hezbollah Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan.

Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are accused of conspiring to organize a series of jailbreaks that freed members of the three Islamist groups, including the later-deposed Brotherhood-backed President Mohammad Morsi.

Hezbollah officials confirmed at the time that cell leader Mohammad Youssef Ahmad Mansour, who went by the name Sami Shihab, was among those freed.

Shihab, who was tasked with smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip, had been sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of plotting attacks against Egyptian tourist sites frequented by Israelis, and of smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip. He was imprisoned along with some 22 other alleged Hezbollah members.

Hamdy said the meeting was intended “to gain an insight into Hezbollah’s view toward internal Lebanese politics and the party’s view toward regional issues and in particular the situation in Syria.”

He described the discussion as “enriching” despite the disagreement over Hezbollah’s decision to intervene in the Syrian war.

“We do not agree with the party’s position on Syria, but each side expressed their point of view so there can be an understanding of the thinking and the motives that led to such actions,” he said.

Hamdy said that Egypt stressed the importance of Hezbollah acting as a Lebanese political power during the meeting.

“Nobody can deny that the party has a major presence in Lebanon and a crucial and vital role in Lebanese politics,” he said.

“So for the party to play this role through the Lebanese political framework is something we appreciate and accept and encourage.”

“But for the party to be an arm for a foreign power within the Lebanese framework ... that is what we are unhappy with in terms of the party’s role in Lebanon,” he added.

On the upcoming presidential election in Lebanon, Hamdy said Egypt hoped Lebanon would hold its elections on time, and that Egypt did not favor one candidate over another.

“We hope that the Lebanese adhere to the constitutional deadlines, to agree on an election law that reflects the reality in Lebanon, and conduct the elections in time, whether presidential or parliamentary,” he said.

Hamdy praised the performance of Lebanon’s security forces in recently launched security plans in the Bekaa Valley and Tripoli, saying the Army and security services are “guarantors” for the country.

He also said Egypt would campaign on Lebanon’s behalf to encourage Arab states and the international community to reduce the burden of the refugee influx on Lebanon by providing aid to the Lebanese state and communities hosting refugees.

Egypt currently has 300,000 displaced Syrians, Hamdy said, compared to over a million in Lebanon.

“All Arab states and the international community as a whole must shoulder the responsibility, not just by assisting the refugees but also by assisting the Lebanese state,” he said.

Hamdy also discussed Egypt’s upcoming presidential election.

He said Egyptians in Lebanon, estimated at 30,000-35,000, could vote between May 15-18, ahead of the actual election on May 26-27.

Egypt’s military, led by Field Marshal Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, overthrew the Morsi government in a popularly backed coup last June. Sisi has since decided to run for the presidency, stoking fears of a return to the security state.

But Hamdy said Sisi’s candidacy was a natural consequence to the dearth of political life in Egypt.

“Many people would have preferred not to have a military candidate but the current situation is unfortunately that the civilian parties failed in the last three years to produce someone who has the base and popularity to run,” Hamdy said.

“The greater tragedy in Egypt in the last 30 years is that political life was uprooted,” he added. “You didn’t have political parties that could operate on the ground, campaign, recruit and train people to run for a position like this.”

But he said that fears of a return to a security state are unfounded.

“I keep saying that the fear barrier has been broken,” he said. “People will go out and demonstrate against any law that they see is a transgression against their rights, and in the end there will be compromises.”

Hamdy also said the Egyptian government would eventually seek dialogue with the Brotherhood, saying the near daily bloodshed and security situation in the country “does not allow this dialogue to begin properly.”

But Hamdy said such dialogue and integration could only occur if the Brotherhood accepts the state and its institutions, and operates within the confines of the constitution.

“You cannot eliminate the Brotherhood and the Islamist movement totally from the political scene in Egypt,” he said. “It is part and parcel of the political scene.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 15, 2014, on page 3.




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