Lebanon News

Paralysis could spin out of control: Egypt ambassador

Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad Badreddine Zayed speaks to The Daily Star in an interview on Friday, Aug.14, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Cabinet paralysis is the last thing Lebanon needs, Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad Badreddine Zayed said Friday, warning that the government crisis could spin out of control.

“More crises at the expense of people serve the interest of nobody and could be difficult to control,” Zayed told The Daily Star in an interview at the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut.

Zayed said Egypt has been making efforts recently to support dialogue between all Lebanese groups to solve the Cabinet crisis.

“When signs of the latest crisis emerged, we had to take action and stress that Lebanon is already in a delicate situation and cannot endure more crises,” Zayed said.

“Out of Egypt’s eagerness to protect Lebanon ... we say the time has come for the country to come out of this vicious circle and to address the problems which are obstructing the government’s work,” Zayed said.

In the past weeks, Zayed met Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt and numerous ministers. “We hope that through dialogue, all Lebanese factions will be able to come up with solutions,” Zayed said.

The government has been deadlocked over security appointments for over two months. Backed by Hezbollah, the FPM has prevented the Cabinet from discussing any item on its agenda, arguing that it should make key security appointments first.

The crisis deepened further last week, when contrary to the FPM’s wish, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel postponed the retirement of Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, his Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Walid Salman and Maj. Gen. Mohammad Khair, the secretary-general of the Higher Defense Council, for over a year.

Moqbel argued that he could not allow vacuum in these sensitive posts when the government was unable to agree on successors.

The Cabinet paralysis adds to the country’s problems, manifested in a vacant presidency and a legislature that has not met since last November.

Zayed said that Cabinet paralysis would only add to the sufferings of the Lebanese. It would also hinder the state’s ability to address more urgent challenges, Zayed said.

“The region is already facing huge challenges posed by terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. Is it acceptable that we jeopardize the entire Arab Levant this way? The survival of the Cabinet and Lebanon’s stability is a regional necessity in this period,” Zayed said.

He explained that the Arab world believes that protecting Lebanon and its diverse social fabric was necessary to help Arab states battle extremist Islamist groups.

Commenting on the presidential vacuum, now in its second year, Zayed said Egypt did not back any specific presidential candidate. “Egypt supports any candidate the Lebanese people choose.”

“Since the start of the presidential vacuum, we have been closely monitoring the situation in Lebanon ... and during all his meetings, [Egyptian] President [Abdel-Fattah] al-Sisi stressed Egypt’s call for ending the vacancy as soon as possible,” he said.

He added that Egypt hoped the ongoing dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement would help in easing sectarian tensions and solve the presidential crisis.

“From the start of this dialogue, Egypt expressed its support for it.”

Zayed, 59, holds a Ph.D. in political science. He assumed his post in Beirut last November, replacing Ambassador Ashraf Hamdi.

On his relations with Hezbollah, Zayed said: “We have contacts with Hezbollah’s Cabinet ministers just like we have with representatives of all other political parties.”

Asked about the party’s controversial military role in Syria, Zayed said his country does not interfere in internal Lebanese affairs.

“We hope that all sides will stop giving arms to any [warring] party in Syria. There should be a political solution to salvage the Syrian people,” Zayed said.

The diplomat said that his country was interested in two things in Syria: protecting the Syrian people and the geographical unity of the country.

“Our stances are based on these two constants,” Zayed said. “There will be no regional stability if Syria is partitioned.”

Zayed, whose country has recently been the scene of numerous terrorist operations claimed by ISIS, stressed that combatting terrorism was not possible without regional and international cooperation, including sharing intelligence and tracking the movement of terrorists.

“This concept governs our relations with all Arab countries,” Zayed said.

Separately, Zayed promised that the Suez Canal and all Egyptian ports would be open for the Lebanese exports.

Exporting products by sea is the only option Lebanon was left with after the closure of the Nassib border crossing between Jordan and Syria in April when it fell in the hands of Syrian rebels.

“There are steps that have been already made to facilitate this issue,” Zayed said.

He explained that some Lebanese products have already been transferred to the Egyptian ports, but in small quantities.

“We will cooperate as much as we can,” he said.

Zayed said that Lebanon would reap major benefits from the exclusive economic zone which will be established in the new Suez Canal, inaugurated earlier this month.

“The Lebanese are always the fastest in seizing economic opportunities and always sense a hospitable atmosphere in Egypt,” he said.

Zayed revealed that Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb and Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan would sponsor a forum in Beirut in September to discuss what sectors could benefit the most from trade exchange.

“This will be followed by increasing the number of exhibitions in both countries. Later, delegations of businessmen from both countries will exchange visits to discuss how to boost commercial ties and investment,” Zayed said.

The ambassador said that Lebanon might be the only country whose investments in Egypt have increased following the uprising of January 2011.

“According to the latest statistics, these investments have reached $4 billion, which is a promising,” Zayed added.

Zayed attributed the decline in Egyptian exports to Lebanon to domestic circumstances in Egypt, hoping that his current efforts would revive economic ties between the two countries.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 15, 2015, on page 3.

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