BEIRUT: A deeply divided Cabinet opened Thursday with a heated argument between Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil who were filmed shouting at each other before reporters were scurried out of the room.
Photographers were kicked out of the session because of the argument that erupted over differing interpretations of the Constitution.
But tensions eventually eased and the meeting ended about four and a half hours later, culminating in an agreement to postpone discussions to a session scheduled for July 23.
Ministers also managed to suppress tensions and pass one agenda item relating to supplying funds to Lebanese public hospitals.
Hezbollah's Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said after the meeting that issues “were resolved.”
Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said that the constitutional infrastructure of the country cannot accomodate the Free Patriotic Movement's demands.
After the session, Bassil and Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, the FPM’s two ministers in government, joined a mass protest outside the Grand Serail sparked by the spat between Salam and Bassil.
“Today we got what we wanted,” Bassil said from the protest site. “We have a long battle... and we will not accept anything less than our rights.”
The foreign minister added that the battle “is not tied to an agenda item, a Cabinet session, a time or a place.”
“The battle just started and it won’t end now.”
Bou Saab said: "The meeting started tensely but after over three hours of discussions we agreed on a solution that will see ministers taking two weeks to carry out talks before the next session."
Speaking from the FPM protest site, the education minister said that Thursday’s agreement ensured that not a single agenda item will be imposed on ministers.
The next session, according to Bou Saab, will discuss presidential prerogatives. As for the agenda item that was passed on the basis of consensus, Bou Saab said that an agreement was reached because the bill was backed by the FPM.
The official statement released after the session said that ministers discussed the president’s prerogatives in light of the presidential vacuum and how these prerogatives should be exercised by the Cabinet in the absence of a head of state.
The “exhaustive talks” among ministers were followed by Salam announcing his keenness on resolving political issues. As such, Salam vowed to discuss the issue of presidential prerogatives and the authority of ministers in a session scheduled for later this month.
Ministers then discussed the first item on the agenda, and allocated funds to public and private hospitals at the cost of the Health Ministry.
During the session, Salam expressed dismay at the words that were exchanged with Bassil before the session and urged mutual respect between members of Cabinet and an abidance by protocol.
The premier said that Lebanon’s democratic system allows for political disputes but not clashes that serve to disrupt the country.
He added that the Cabinet is not tasked with solving contentious political issues but rather facilitating vital domestic affairs that pertain to people’s livelihoods.
In reference to FPM protests, Salam said that the critical situation in the country does not allow for popular mobilization and attempts to put the country in the face of danger.
The argument in Cabinet began when Bassil accused the prime minister of “violating the Constitution and encroaching on the prerogatives of the president.
The premier responded by saying: “I did not give you the right to speak.”
“This form of disturbance is unacceptable, when I speak you remain silent.”
A Daily Star photographer who was in the meeting said Salam was discussing an issue with Health Minister Wael Abu Faour before the argument began.
As soon as photographers entered the hall, Bassil clicked on his microphone and voiced concerns that are usually reserved for a closed session.
Salam denounced Bassil’s comments and urged him to abide by protocol by saving his remarks until after photographers exited the premises.
“You are provoking us in front of the media,” Salam told Bassil.
The argument quickly escalated into a shouting match between the two.
The usually unflappable premier then blasted at Bassil, as ministers allied with the March 14 camp broke into applause.
The Grand Serail banned any live coverage of Thursday's meeting following the dispute. Journalists were also escorted outside and were prevented from reporting ministers' statements.
Bassil entered Thursday’s session carrying the Lebanese Constitution, saying “today I am protesting with the Constitution.”
Telecoms Minister Boutros Harb fired back at Bassil by saying that the latter should “read the Constitution before demonstrating for it.”