BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s subtle expression of support for the re-appointment of caretaker Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud in the next government was answered promptly Monday by Free Patriotic Movement officials.
FPM official and Jezzine MP Ziyad Aswad described Rai’s remarks as “an emotional position,” saying that though Baroud was a patriotic man, he had failed in his role as interior minister.
FPM official and former Social Affairs Minister Mario Aoun also expressed annoyance with the praise Rai expressed for Baroud Sunday.
“He is a patriotic man who represents hope to all Lebanese and is a figure that cannot be sidelined,” Rai said of Baroud Sunday as deliberations to form the new cabinet by Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati intensified.
Among the major hurdles reportedly hindering the cabinet’s formation is FPM leader MP Michel Aoun’s insistence that the Interior Ministry fall under his parliamentary bloc’s share of ministerial portfolios.
Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman insists on retaining the portfolio, which he assigned to Baroud in the previous government.
Also, in a message of support to Baroud, Kataeb Party MP Elie Marouni said he supported the re-appointment of Baroud as interior minister in the new cabinet. “Minister Baroud is an independent figure and we agree with the patriarch regarding Baroud,” he said.
The patriarch warned Monday against undermining Lebanon’s multiculturalism and underscored the importance of “social and spiritual cooperation to rebuild Lebanon’s make up.”
Rai said Lebanon’s diverse make up and multiculturalism remain the main reasons behind the country’s existence.
FPM leader Michel Aoun had tense ties with Rai’s predecessor, Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, who Aoun had accused of showing bias toward Christian parties in the March 14 coalition. Aoun had hoped the election of Rai would lay the foundation for new cooperation with Bkirki.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 29, 2011, on page 2.