BEIRUT: Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani called Monday for elections in April to choose members of the Higher Islamic Council in a step that would deepen the crisis in the country’s top Sunni religious authority.
In a statement, Qabbani called on “the electoral bodies set forth in legislative decree 18/1955 and its amendment to elect members of the Higher Islamic Council in the Lebanese Republic on Sunday April 14, 2013 at 10 a.m. as a date for the elections in Beirut, Tripoli, Mount Lebanon and at 12:30 in Bekaa, Akkar, Sidon, Hasbaya-Marjeoun in the presence of a third of the electoral bodies.”
In case of lack of quorum, the statement added, elections would be held an hour later in the same provinces in the presence of half of the electoral bodies as stipulated in Article 10 of the legislative the same decree.
Qabbani, who insists that the council’s term expired late last year, had called for elections for the council’s 32 positions last year but the move was suspended by the Shura Council after 21 members of the council who are close to the Future Movement challenged the call.
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.
The Islamic Council elects the mufti and organizes the affairs of Dar al-Fatwa.
Ties between Qabbani and the Future Movement have chilled in recent years partly due to mufti's meeting in 2011 with Hezbollah officials on the same day that the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted four party members in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Prime Minster Najib Mikati along with former Prime Ministers Fouad Siniora and Salim Hoss have attempted to end the conflict within the religious bodies.