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Grand Mufti Qabbani stays, for now: Mikati

BEIRUT: The issue of unseating Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani is not on the cards for the time being, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Friday.

Speaking after meeting former Prime Ministers Fouad Siniora and Salim Hoss at the Grand Serail to discuss the crisis over electing new members of the Higher Islamic Council at Dar al-Fatwa, Mikati said that if Qabbani did not agree to a solution to the problem, “we will act accordingly.”

Describing Siniora’s stance during the meeting as “positive,” Mikati said, “The issue of the council’s elections is still under discussion in order to reach a solution.”

“The issue of unseating the Mufti, Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, is not on the table for now,” Mikati said.

Qabbani insists that the council’s term expired at the end of last year, making all meetings since this date illegal, and in late December called for elections for the council’s 32 positions within the next three months.

Contrary to the mufti’s wishes, 21 members of the council, including its deputy head, former minister Omar Miskawi, extended its term by one year last December.

Mikati added that he did not rule out the possibility of postponing the council’s elections, apparently to avoid a clash between the mufti and the Future Movement. Mikati said he hoped that matters at Dar al-Fatwa would not reach a dead end.

Former Prime Ministers Omar Karami and Rashid Solh did not attend the meeting, which came as the Higher Islamic Council, which is close to Future, was scheduled to meet Saturday in a new attempt to discuss the elections in defiance of the mufti’s wishes.

A source at Dar al-Fatwa said Qabbani considered Saturday’s meeting “illegal,” adding that Dar al-Fatwa’s doors would be closed, raising the possibility that the meeting be held outside.

The council’s meeting was called by Miskawi, who said he issued the call after Qabbani turned down his request to convene the council in January.

Miskawi said that according to Decree 18, which regulates the administration of Dar al-Fatwa, the deputy head of the council takes the place of the grand mufti in chairing the council when the latter is not able to assume his responsibilities.

Separately, a group of Muslim religious scholars met at Dar al-Fatwa and voiced their support for holding the council’s elections in order to enhance the council’s role in Lebanon and the Arab and Muslim worlds.

They warned that any delay in the elections would negatively affect its religious institutions.

The Islamic Council elects the mufti and organizes the affairs of Dar al-Fatwa, the country’s top Sunni religious authority.

Ties between Qabbani and the Future Movement have been chilly in recent months after the mufti met with Hezbollah officials on the same day that a U.N.-backed court indicted four party members in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

On the divisive issue of telecoms data demanded by security agencies, Mikati reiterated that he had signed all requests he received from the Interior and Defense ministries for data access. However, he did not say whether the requests dealt with normal telecoms data or “all data.”

Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui said before entering Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting that his ministry has not stopped providing data to security agencies, and that he has not yet received requests for “all data.”

Security bodies need access to telecoms data to investigate the assassination of police intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, who was killed in a car blast in the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh on Oct. 19.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 16, 2013, on page 2.

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