BEIRUT: Calm characterized the first day of Parliament’s session to debate the government’s policy statement Wednesday, with restless MPs resorting to side chats, breaks and jokes to kill time during the long discussions.
At 10 a.m., MPs began to flock to Parliament, 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled time for the session. Some walked from their nearby offices, while others came in convoys.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam drove himself and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk to the session.
Saeb, Salam’s son, arrived in his four-wheel drive vehicle, with many reporters initially questioning who the skinny young man was. He headed to Parliament’s hall where he joined reporters in the upper floor designated for them.
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, the former head of the Internal Security Forces, saluted one of Parliament’s guards upon entering, showing that old habits die hard.
Some rival ministers exchanged jokes prior to the session. “You are a minister and you can’t make a statement before the government wins a vote of confidence,” Future Movement MP and Minister of State for Administrative Development Nabil de Freige told Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan, a Hezbollah MP.
Hajj Hasan was on his way to make a statement to reporters regarding the security situation in northeastern Bekaa.
At the beginning of the session, Zahle MP Nicholas Fattoush interrupted Salam while he was reading the policy statement, complaining about the addition of a clause on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon not mentioned in the copies distributed to MPs.
“We got busy reading the policy statement ... and suddenly now there is a new clause on the Special tribunal for Lebanon,” Fattoush said.
Speaker Nabih Berri intervened to say the clause had been mistakenly dropped in the initial copy of the political blueprint.
“You are not allowed to interrupt the premier, this is the first warning I give you!” he told Fattoush.
Future Movement MP Serge Torsarkissian also got into an argument with former Prime Minister Najib Mikati after he accused the Tripoli MP of failing to be the centrist politician he had claimed to be.
Berri stepped in again, giving a warning to Torsarkissian and threatening to remove him from the session.
Lebanese Forces MP Strida Geagea’s usual elegance was overshadowed by a number of grammar mistakes during her speech, despite the absence of errors on paper copies distributed to reporters.
Bucking the formal Arabic trend, Tripoli MP Robert Fadel made his speech in the more colloquial Lebanese dialect.
Boredom was evident on the faces of many MPs and ministers as the session went on.
Sidon MP Bahia Hariri left shortly after Salam finished his speech. MP Ahmad Karami was spotted tapping away on his phone, Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk took a photo on his mobile and Minister of the Displaced Alice Shabtini appeared to be napping at one point. Other MPs were busy putting the final touches on their speeches.
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil had side chats with MP Sami Gemayel and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, while Nouhad Machnouk went to a nearby cafe with MP Hadi Hobeish.
Shortly after noon, MP Nabil Nicholas, from Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc, told Berri jokingly that it was time for Christian MPs to break their fast.
“They can go and break their fast, it is not a big deal,” Berri replied.
Education Minister Elias Bou Saab decided to leave and do something he considered much more constructive.
“I am going to inaugurate a school right now. Isn’t this much more useful than these sessions?” Bou Saab told reporters.
The MPs’ torture was over shortly before 3 p.m., when Berri adjourned the session until 6 p.m.
In the afternoon session, Hezbollah MPs responded to verbal attacks on the party by March 14 lawmakers.
Hezbollah lawmaker Ali Ammar said the decision of party MPs to remain silent during the day despite fierce criticism did not mean that Hezbollah was weak.
“You have to know that national interest requires our silence. But we are not weak playing the game of the strong, we are strong and we brought down the strong,” he said. – Additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis