BEIRUT/ BNESHAAI: MP Sleiman Frangieh, a key ally of MP Michel Aoun, criticized Friday the Free Patriotic Movement’s anti-government street protests as inappropriate at this time, while reiterating his support for the FPM leader’s presidential bid.
But Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, said the FPM would continue its campaign to regain Christian rights in the public administration.
Meanwhile, the French Foreign Ministry said it was concerned over the yearlong presidential vacuum in Lebanon. The ministry said in a statement it was contacting influential leaders who are capable of facilitating a consensus that would lead to the election of a president.
Separately, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri will address from his residence in the Saudi city of Jeddah Sunday iftar banquets that will be held by the Future Movement in Beirut and other areas during which he will touch on the latest developments in Lebanon.
Hariri met in Jeddah Thursday with Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora as part of his consultations with senior Future officials on the political crisis in Lebanon.
Speaking at a news conference at his residence in Bneshaai, north Lebanon, Frangieh lamented that the FPM’s street demonstrations had not been coordinated with his Marada Movement.
“Our goals with the FPM are the same and our policy is the same. We stand on the FPM’s side and support it to the maximum,” Frangieh said. “But what happened in the past few days had led to different viewpoints. This did not mean a disagreement on contents and goals. When we are consulted about a political plan and we agree on it, we stand before the FPM.”
“What is required is that the [FPM’s] decisions be coordinated and agreed upon. But to be informed of the [street protest] decision a few hours in advance, we did not see that the protests were appropriate in this manner,” he said.
“We tell Gen. Aoun we are with you. But we have not been notified of the stances. You have to coordinate stances with us ... We only disagree with the FPM on the manner, not the stances,” Frangieh added.
Hundreds of FPM supporters poured onto the streets of Downtown Beirut Thursday as part of Aoun’s campaign to restore Christian rights and pressure the Cabinet into discussing the contentious issue of security and military appointments, a key FPM demand that has cast the government into disarray. The FPM supporters scuffled with Lebanese troops who prevented them from marching toward the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut while the Cabinet convened.
Frangieh renewed his support for Aoun’s presidential bid but criticized the FPM chief’s call for a federal system to govern Lebanon.
“We are with the general [Aoun] in his presidency [bid] to the utmost. But I hope that his proposal for federalism is a slip of the tongue,” he said. He added that a federal system would create more disputes in the country. “Christians will not have any guarantees to preserve their rights.”
Aoun had said in a recent interview that federalism might be the solution to Lebanon’s woes, but his statement drew the ire of several officials.
Frangieh said that he backed Aoun’s demands to regain Christian rights in the public administration and the presidency’s powers, but without undercutting the premiership’s powers.
MP Walid Jumblatt praised Frangieh’s stance. The Progressive Socialist Party leader spoke by telephone with Frangieh “to thank him for his stance, which serves the interest of protecting Lebanon’s stability and unity,” according to a statement issued by the PSP media office.
Jumblatt stressed the need for “intensifying contacts among various parties in this difficult stage through which Lebanon and the region are passing,” the statement said.
Machnouk meanwhile criticized the FPM for describing the Future Movement as “political ISIS.”
“What remains of moderation ... when recklessnessprompts some groups to describe the environment of moderation as ‘political ISIS?’” Machnouk said during an iftar he hosted at the Interior Ministry.
“I call on Gen. Aoun to come to a middle-ground logic with which we protect the country with the true forces of moderation. We and you have no other choice but Lebanon first.”
But Bassil repeated that Christians in Lebanon were facing “a political genocide” by the FPM’s political rivals, saying the FPM would continue its protests until Christian rights were restored.
“The pope spoke today [Thursday] about a genocide of Christians in the Levant. In what they tried to impose, they exercised a political genocide toward us,” Bassil said. “We will confront this.”
Praising the FPM’s supporters who demonstrated outside the Grand Serail Thursday, Bassil said: “The street is a permanent choice. The youths yesterday gave us hope for Lebanon and for us that there will be no isolation [of Christians] from now on ... We are in a permanent movement to regain equality to rights, duties and taxes. Everything is permissible for us to regain our rights.”
Bassil revealed that he had intentionally provoked a spat with Prime Minister Tammam Salam during Thursday’s Cabinet meeting to make a point that he was more entitled than the premier was to fill in as president.
“The fault of the FPM is that it objects to the violations [of its political rivals], and they accuse us of obstruction under the pretext of consensus,” he said.
Bassil, who engaged in a shouting match with Salam over what the foreign minister said was infringement on the Maronite president’s powers, said the system adopted by the Cabinet for passing decrees qualifies ministers to act as the representatives of the president during the yearlong presidential vacuum.
The government agreed in light of the presidential vacuum that the endorsement of decrees requires consensus among all 24 ministers.
“They don’t want to elect a president and insist on taking control of his prerogatives,” Bassil said, rejecting claims that the dispute is only over the appointment of high-ranking security and military officials.
“We agreed on consensus to govern the country ... but now they want to exclude us from making decisions,” he added.
A compromise reached during the stormy Cabinet session allowed Salam to pass one agenda item relating to funds to public hospitals, while the FPM’s ministers won a pledge to discuss the government’s decision-making system on July 23 following the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which begins on July 17.
Former President Michel Sleiman, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel, Sports and Youth Minister Abdel Mutaleb al-Hinawi, Minister for the Displaced Alice Shabtini and Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb visited Salam at the Grand Serail to show solidarity with the premier following his shouting match with Bassil.