BEIRUT: Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri said Sunday Dar al-Fatwa should remain neutral and represent the voice of moderation in Lebanon in order to confront the rise of extremist groups in the country, accusing foreign groups of meddling in the Sunni council's affairs.
“Religious rhetoric is important and deviant thinking can only be confronted with enlightened thinking ... Dar al-Fatwa should be the voice of Sunni moderation,” Assiri told a local radio station.
He also said "the [current] mufti is good and qualified but Dar al-Fatwa should not be labeled.”
“Dar al-Fatwa’s performance should be similar to that of Bkirki [the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate] and should adopt a Sunni and civilized behavior because we know that Dar al-Fatwa today is not what it used to be,” he said.
“We call for a moderate voice to confront extremism,” he added.
Dar al-Fatwa under Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani has been at odds with the Future Movement, Riyadh’s ally in Lebanon, after the preacher met with Hezbollah officials on the same day that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted four of members of the party in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The two sides have also engaged in disputes over reforms in the Sunni religious body.
“[I] hold foreign parties responsible for what is going in Dar al-Fatwa,” Assiri said.
“We know who is conspiring against Dar al-Fatwa and seeking to affect its religious and spiritual role,” he said, adding that weakening the Higher Sunni Council was not in Lebanon’s interest due to the rise of extremism.
Assiri also spoke about the growing number of radical groups in the region and Lebanon, saying Saudi Arabia had itself tackled and successfully overcome a similar phenomenon through a “civilized strategy to combat terrorism and extremism.”
“Extremism is imported from known organizations and we were affected by this in Saudi Arabia,” the ambassador said.
He also commented on a recent audio recording by a militant figure in Lebanon who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
“Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari’s announcement from Tripoli that Lebanon is a land of Jihad against Hezbollah is a very negative development,” Assiri said.
He also said Lebanon was in need of a government as soon as possible and that Riyadh supported “any Lebanese consensus to form a Lebanese government.”
“We had been optimistic over the [possibility] of forming a new government last week ... unfortunately, we see a set-back and we hope that it is not a strong one. We think Lebanon is need of a government and ongoing developments should be a point of transformation for Lebanon’s sake,” he said.
“Neither Saudi Arabia, nor Iran or any other country have any business in forming a government. It is a Lebanese affair par excellence,” he added, urging rival leaders to unite their ranks to protect Lebanon from radical voices.