TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The confrontation between Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani and the Future Movement has reached Akkar, as Sunni MPs from the area lashed out Wednesday against Qabbani’s recent appointment of a new mufti who is seen as opposed to the group.
Earlier this week, Qabbani selected Sheikh Mohammad Zayd Bakkar Zakaria as mufti of Akkar. He also appointed new muftis to Tyre and Baalbek-Hermel: Sheikh Midrar Habbal and Sheikh Ayman Rifai.
Sheikh Osama Rifai served as the mufti of Akkar until December 2011, when Qabbani – whose ties with the Future Movement are strained – decided not to renew Rifai’s term. Rifai is close to the Future Movement, which is the most popular political group in Akkar. Akkar has been without a mufti since Qabbani’s decision.
Qabbani’s relationship with the Future Movement has been deteriorating for two years. Last November, he called for elections to the Higher Islamic Council the following month, a move opposed by 21 members of the 32-person body.
The 21 members, who are close to the Future Movement, believe that the mufti should have consulted the council before calling for polls. Convening under former Minister Omar Miskawi, they met in December and extended their own term for one year. It is Qabbani’s view that the council is now acting as a caretaker.
The grand mufti originally backed off of his decision, but then called for elections in February. The Higher Islamic Council is the highest Sunni administrative body and organizes the affairs of Dar al-Fatwa.
While the appointment of Zakaria was welcomed by opponents of Rifai and the Future Movement, a group of Sunni Future Movement MPs from Akkar criticized Qabbani’s decision in a Wednesday statement.
MPs Khaled Daher, Mouin Merhebi and Khaled Zahraman said that they had been awaiting a positive outcome from a meeting of former prime ministers meant to defuse tension in the Sunni community earlier in the week, “particularly given the bickering and problems that resulted from the grand mufti’s unilateral decision to call for elections to the Higher Islamic Council.”
Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the former prime ministers have not yet responded to amendments Qabbani made to a plan they suggested to end the electoral dispute.
“At a time when people are revolting and tens of thousands of martyrs are falling for the sake of freedom, the grand mufti has hijacked a decision that should be made by the sect and played the role of a dictator in the first democratic country in the Arab world,” they said.
The lawmakers called for electors to vote for Sunni posts, saying Qabbani’s appointments were aimed at “inciting strife in Islamic society.”