Baabda meeting fails to address issue of Hezbollah’s weapons

“The only solution is for the ruling band to leave and step aside to let others save the country,” said Samir Geagea.
Friday 26/06/2020
A Lebanese anti-government protester holds a placard reading “No Trust” in front of army soldiers as she takes part in a demonstration near the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, on June 25, 2020. (AFP)
A Lebanese anti-government protester holds a placard reading “No Trust” in front of army soldiers as she takes part in a demonstration near the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, on June 25, 2020. (AFP)

BEIRUT – 

Lebanese political experts considered the meeting called for by President Michel Aoun that was held Thursday at the Presidential Palace in Baabda to be a half-success for Hezbollah's attempt to preempt any discussion related to the issue of its weapons.

These experts indicated that if the meeting succeeded in anything, it was in perpetuating the divisions within Lebanese society over the future of Hezbollah's weapons, which many, especially Sunni Lebanese, see as the source of all the calamities that have befallen the country as it suffers an unprecedented economic crisis.

Political circles considered that the fact that there was no mention of Hezbollah’s weapons or of its role in implicating Lebanon in the war in Syria in the final statement of the meeting at Baabda Palace to be a relative victory for the party.

They also noted that the final statement ignored the role Hezbollah played in making the Lebanese crisis a part of the Syrian crisis, in the sense that the country is now facing the consequences of the US Caesar Act that imposes sanctions on anyone dealing with the Syrian regime.

However, these political circles saw in return that, despite Aoun’s efforts to keep the lid on the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons, the party still failed to garner a national consensus regarding its weapons, especially in light of the almost complete Sunni boycott of the Baabda meeting and in the context of an obvious and profound cleavage in the Christian camp.

They noted that former President Amine Gemayel and his son Sami, the head of the Kataeb Party, plus Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces party, which has a bloc of 15 Christian deputies in the Lebanese Parliament, boycotted the meeting.

They also thought that Aoun’s attempt to brandish and exaggerate the spectre of a “civil war” in Lebanon was insulting to the intelligence of the Lebanese people.

In this regard, a Lebanese lawmaker wondered how the president could allow talk of the country coming close to a civil war when he knows very well which side launched sectarian slogans of the type “Shia, Shia, Shia” and insulted the Prophet’s wife Sayida Aisha.

This member of parliament added that the president’s talk of the risk of a civil war revealed his desire to cover up for Hezbollah’s practices and actions, which include ransacking part of downtown Beirut at a time when the country is dealing with a multifaceted crises that will be difficult to overcome as long as Aoun remains president.

Aoun's allusion to a “civil war” was in part a reference to confrontations that took place in Beirut this month that reignited old sectarian wounds between Shias and Christians, and Shias and Sunnis.

As the Baabda meeting was taking place, dozens of demonstrators gathered amid tight security on the road to the presidential palace, denouncing the agenda of the meeting and security forces' passive response to acts of violence perpetrated against peaceful demonstrators in different regions of the country.

Social media users criticised the meeting’s theme and title. One Twitter user, for example, wrote, "An economic collapse, a collapse of the banking system, a soaring dollar ... severe poverty and Corona. What is the solution? A meeting in Baabda to emphasise civil peace and stave off sedition!”

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun delivers a speech at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, June 25, 2020. REUTERS
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun delivers a speech at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, June 25, 2020. (REUTERS)

But Aoun declared that “we have sensed a disturbing atmosphere of civil war, and witnessed suspicious moves rife with sectarian provocations.”

He also warned against those who take advantage of people's anger and legitimate demands to generate violence and chaos, in order to achieve “suspicious foreign agendas” that intersect with political gains by local parties which he omitted to name.

The call for the meeting at Baabda Palace came against the backdrop of angry popular movements a couple of weeks ago that lasted for four days and were interspersed with acts of vandalism and confrontations with the security forces, especially in Beirut and Tripoli, in reaction to the free fall of the Lebanese lira against the US dollar on the black market. Two weeks ago, the dollar had crossed the threshold of five thousand liras causing widespread unrest, and then rose again this week to exceed six thousand liras.

President Aoun opened the meeting at the presidential palace saying, “today’s national meeting has only one item, and that is the protection of stability and civil peace, in light of recent developments.”

For his part, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said: “The country is not fine, and how can it be fine when citizens are going hungry? (...) The treatment is a national responsibility and not just the responsibility of a government that came to be on the ruins of the crisis.”

The Diab government took office on February 11, after protesters forced the government of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign on October 29.

“We are going through a crucial stage in the history of Lebanon, which requires us to join efforts and put forth the country’s interests, so that we can reduce the damages, which might be disastrous ... Our words have no value if we do not translate them into action,” Diab added.

Former Prime Ministers Saad Hariri and Najib Mikati said that the real threat to stability may come from the deteriorating economic and financial situation, “and this cannot be faced with loose meetings without a clear agenda.”

In a statement released on Monday, they said that Aoun's invitation to meet “constitutes a waste of the time of the inviter and of the invitees at a time when the country needs (...) different approaches to extract it from its acute crisis.”

In recent days, sharp criticisms have been directed at the performance of Aoun and of the government in the face of the economic crisis and their failure to introduce practical measures.

Geagea, who was a partner in the political settlement that brought Aoun into office, told a press conference on Wednesday that “the only solution is for the ruling band to leave and step aside to let others save the country.”