BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called Sunday for the election of a new president who can achieve inter-Lebanese reconciliation and who is not biased toward regional or international powers, in what appeared to be an implicit rejection of MP Michel Aoun’s bid for the presidency.
Addressing a gathering of March 14 Christian and Muslim lawmakers and other independent figures and political activists at a hotel in Ashrafieh, Siniora also lashed out at Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants, who he said are committing “ugly crimes” against humanity in Iraq and Syria under the banner of Islam. He said the Future Movement considered itself closer to Lebanon’s Christians than to Islamist extremists.
The meeting was held by “Saydet al-Jabal Gathering,” which comprises leading Christian parties and politicians, and was established to struggle against the Syrian military occupation in Lebanon.
Referring to the political deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president for more than three months, Siniora said: “We believe that the required president is the one who symbolizes the country’s unity, a wise and just president who can bring the Lebanese together and who believes in the Taif Accord and respects the Constitution. A president who has the vision and leadership and dialogue qualities.
“We do not believe in a president who is biased toward regional or international axes, but rather in a president who believes in the Baabda Declaration and abides by it.”
The declaration, signed in 2012 by rival political leaders who met at Baabda Palace, called for distancing Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the war in Syria.
However, Hezbollah’s military involvement in the war in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces was viewed by March 14 parties as a violation of the declaration.
“We do not believe in a president who carries vengeful or retaliatory plans. Rather, we want a president who closes the ranks of the Lebanese and brings about reconciliation among them under the banner of respecting the Constitution, the law, human rights and freedoms,” said Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc.
“We are ready to discuss and agree [with March 8 parties] on the new president who can win the support of the majority of the Lebanese,” he added.
A number of March 14 lawmakers and politicians have accused Aoun, a key Christian ally of Hezbollah, of siding with the regimes in Iran and Syria in regional conflicts.
In his speech, Siniora slammed autocratic regimes in Syria and Iraq as well as militants from ISIS and the Nusra Front, who he said committed crimes in these two countries under the banner of Islam.
“Being a Lebanese and Arab Muslim, I cannot find any common ground with those authoritarian tyrants, nor with terrorists or those who use Islam as a slogan to commit their ugly crimes against humanity under the allegation of monopolizing the knowledge about Islam and the faith in Iraq and Syria,” he said.
“I consider that you people who are gathered here are much closer to me than those who raise the banner of wilayat al-fakih in Tehran or the caliphate banner in Mosul and Raqqa because you are like Lebanon and its people.
“It is with people like you that we want to build Lebanon on the basis of patriotism and coexistence, so that our nation can conform with the ambitions of its people and its Arab and world environment.”
Siniora stressed the importance of the support of the Lebanese Army, the rule of law and the legitimate authorities, refusing “any weapon outside the state’s authority.”
“[We reject] any form of terrorism, be it in the name of religion, a party or a sect,” he said. “Extremism and terrorism are not confronted through repugnant sectarianism, but through the democratic state and working on implementing the rule of law without discrimination.”
He expressed fear that the Syrian war could expand to Lebanon, and stressed that electing a new president was the “first and central task to reconstruct the authority in Lebanon and confront threats and challenges.”
Siniora implicitly criticized Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria. “Do we want Lebanon to be a model of the culture of life and tolerance, or do we want it to be a model of the culture of death and exporting revolutions?” he asked.
“Do we want Lebanon’s youth to be progressive pioneers in their country and Arab and international environment, or armed members carrying out assassinations and guerrilla wars in Qusair, Qalamoun and neighborhoods in Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad and Mosul, and bringing the forces of evil and terrorism to Lebanon?”
Participants in Sunday’s meeting agreed to form a committee tasked with making preparations for the launching of a Lebanese bloc comprising all sects to protect Lebanon and its peace.
A statement issued after the meeting said there should be no discrimination between “ISIS’s crimes,” “Assad’s crimes” against his people and Israel’s “terrorism against civilians” in the Gaza Strip.
The participants stressed that Christians in the region could not be protected by aligning with “minority and tyrannical regimes.”
“There is no special solution for the problems of Christians, but rather a comprehensive solution for all the region’s problems,” the statement said.
“The Christians have an effective role in it. A solution for the Christians is to work side-by-side with the Muslims to reach a democratic and pluralistic Arab world.”
The statement went on to say that the Lebanese model of sectarian coexistence could serve as an example to be followed by pluralistic Arab societies.