Bassil behaves as de facto president, tells Hariri to form a government ‘without us’

The president’s son-in-law was keen to praise Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as “the protector of Christians” in Lebanon and to laud Hezbollah and its practices in Lebanon.
Monday 22/02/2021
A file picture shows Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil talking in Sin-el-fil, Lebanon. (REUTERS)
A file picture shows Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil talking in Sin-el-fil, Lebanon. (REUTERS)

BEIRUT - Lebanese president’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil hardly tried in his Sunday speech to facilitate the task of Saad Hariri in forming a cabinet, Lebanese analysts said.

The analysts pointed out that despite trying to give the impression that the Free Patriotic Movement is taking a positive stance on the matter by not objecting to the formation of the new government, Bassil wanted above anything else to present himself as the de facto president of the republic.

The analysts expressed their belief the campaign waged by Bassil against Saad Hariri is personal in nature and is aimed at obstructing the formation of the government. They said they could not miss Bassil’s mention that Hariri could form a government “but without us.”

Bassil added, “We believed that the October 17, 2019 crisis would push then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri to assume his responsibility (in coordination) with his constitutional partner, the president of the republic, not to turn against the latter and stab him in the back, then resign without telling him.”

He exclaimed, “They want us to participate in the government against our will and under unacceptable conditions and without a blocking provision. We are not interested in participating”.

Bassil went on to say, “We want a government headed by Hariri, despite our conviction that he is not able to be an icon for reform.”

He stressed, “There are those who want to make sure more time is wasted during the presidential term without a government being formed, even if the country collapses”. Bu did not blame any party specifically.

Michel Aoun’s presidential term will finish at the end of 2022, as he was elected in October 2016 for a six-year term.

The head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) summed up the reasons for the delay in the formation of the government, as being  “the violation of the agreement with French President Emmanuel Macron as well as the breaches of principles, rules, the constitution and the charter,” without elaborating.

After the Beirut port blast of August 4, which resulted in scores of casualties, Macron announced a French initiative to form a government of specialists and carry out administrative and banking reforms.

On October 22, President Aoun tasked Prime Minister-designate Hariri with forming a government, after his predecessor, Mustafa Adeeb, failed to do so in the wake of Hassan Diab’s resignation.

After the expiration of a period of two months after his appointment, Hariri announced that he presented Aoun with a “cabinet consisting of 18 ministers who are non-partisan specialists”.

But Aoun later announced his objection to what he called at the time “Hariri’s monopoly of the task of naming ministers, especially Christians, without the agreement of the presidency.”.

Bassil seems to be seeking to confirm that he is exercising the role of a de facto president by endevouring these days to transfer a working team from the FPM to the Baabda palace in a clear attempt to leave no political margin for the president.

In his speech, he was keen to praise Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as “the protector of Christians” in Lebanon and to laud Hezbollah and its practices in Lebanon.

Bassil has toed the line drawn by Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, who called in his last speech for the number of cabinet members to exceed 18, in order to secure a blocking third for him within the government.

Future Movement MP Mohammad al-Hajjar said, “There is a party that seeks to obtain the blocking third, and this party is unable to understand that this government is made up of specialists only.”

The “obstructing third” means that a political faction obtains a third of the number of ministerial portfolios, which allows it to control government decisions and block its meetings.

Political writer Tony Paul said that the problem appears from the outside to be a struggle about quotas, but the essence of the matter is Hezbollah.

He added, “Hezbollah is in no hurry to form a government, especially if it is unable to secure a government as it wishes.”

A source close to President Aoun confirmed that “the way things are heading, the formation of the government will be put on hold for now.”