Lebanon News

Fattoush proposal sparks uproar in Parliament

Bassil walks alone outside the Parliament after talks were concluded. (Photo by Mahmoud Kheir, The Daily Star.)

BEIRUT: The calm atmosphere that accompanied the endorsement of the electricity bill at the outset of Parliament’s session Thursday turned unruly as MPs discussed a proposal forwarded by Minister of State Nicolas Fattoush.

The proposal called for amending Article 93 of the Shura Council’s bylaws to require the establishment of a mechanism to implement decisions made by the council.

The council has issued a decision obliging the state to pay Fattoush and his brothers $250 million in compensation for suspending activity at their stone quarries and the minister has been accused of using the bill to profit personally, but Fattoush denied Thursday that he owned stone quarries.

“You’re a partner in these stone quarries,” MP Farid Habib interrupted.

“This is not true and you are a liar,” Fattoush hit back, prompting Berri to order that the statements be stricken from the session’s minutes.

Half an hour later, Habib came back at Fattoush, accusing him of being a “liar,” forcing Berri to intervene again.

Metn MP Sami Gemayel proposed that the $250 million be transferred to the Environment Ministry for reforestation efforts in mountains damaged by stone quarries, while Fattoush argued that many Lebanese stood to benefit from the amendment.

“Even if my brothers withdrew their lawsuits, there are 5,500 lawsuits for Lebanese people [filed before the council]. There are people who have rights … and we refuse to debate these rights,” he said.

Former Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar, the Accounting Department and all relevant parties have agreed on the law proposal, continued Fattoush.

Minnieh MP Ahmad Fatfat expressed doubt over the reasoning behind Fattoush’s remarks. “It is clear that a private matter dominates the issue,” said Fatfat.

“This is very similar to Marjayoun’s tea party,” Fattoush hit back, referring to the serving of tea to Israeli soldiers by Internal Security Forces at their barracks in the southern town of Marjayoun during Israel’s 2006 war against Lebanon. Fatfat was acting interior minister at that time. In return, the Future Movement MP accused Fattoush of collaborating with Israel.

Fattoush then accused Siniora of trying to “abolish the Lebanese judiciary and to desperately seek the help of international judiciary,” in reference to Siniora’s support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon established by the U.N. to try the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and other figures.

A similar standoff took place between Fattoush and MP Elie Marouni, both lawmakers for Zahle. Marouni questioned the validity of many of the 5,500 lawsuits and decisions made by the Shura Council, arguing that they were made under pressure and during Syria’s tutelage of Lebanon.

Marouni then said that Fattoush couldn’t have won the 2009 parliamentary elections in Zahle without the support of the Kataeb party, of which Marouni is member.

“Shut up! I am a doctor,” Fattoush hit back, after which the two accused each of being thieves. Speaker Nabih Berri intervened several times to calm the mood, relying at times on his well-known sense of humor.

The atmosphere was much more jovial outside the hall. MPs Ali Bazzi and Ibrahim Kanaan exchanged jokes and were later joined by MP Ali Khreis. The three posed for a photograph.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 23, 2011, on page 2.

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