Bassil entrusts Nasrallah with fate of Lebanon’s Christians

“I want to ask for help from a friend, His Eminence Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. I ask him to act as a judge and I trust him with this matter,” Bassil said in reference to the dispute over government formation. “He knows we are being targeted unfairly,” Bassil added.
Tuesday 22/06/2021
A file picture shows the head of the Free Patriotic Movement addressing supporters in Beirut. (AFP)
A file picture shows the head of the Free Patriotic Movement addressing supporters in Beirut. (AFP)

BEIRUT – In a televised speech on Sunday, Gebran Bassil, leader of Lebanon’s largest Christian Maronite party, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), appealed to the Secretary-General of the Hezbollah movement Hassan Nasrallah for support in a months-long dispute over government formation.

Bassil also entrusted Nasrallah with the fate of Christians in Lebanon,

“I want to ask for help from a friend, His Eminence Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. I ask him to act as a judge and I trust him with this matter,” Bassil said in reference to the dispute over government formation.

“He knows we are being targeted unfairly,” Bassil added.

Lebanese political sources said Bassil’s appeal to Nasrallah in an attempt to embarrass the country’s Shia duo, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, by pushing Nasrallah to choose between his Christian ally and his Shia partner.

Bassil, who was felt to be disappointed after Nasrallah requested the mediation of parliament speaker and leader of the Amal Movement Nabih Berri in the dispute over government formation, expressed his readiness to make concessions.

Bassil, who is also President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, said his bloc had made concessions but opponents were pushing to prevent the president from naming a single minister.

Hezbollah, listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States, is a political ally of Bassil’s party. It has repeatedly called for the formation of a government, urging all those involved to offer concessions.

“I want Nasrallah to be a judge because I trust him and his honesty,” Bassil said. “He knows how much we conceded on the cabinet formation.”

Bassil was hit with US sanctions last year for alleged corruption and his ties to Hezbollah. The European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Saturday the bloc may also impose sanctions on Lebanon’s political leaders if they fail to break the government deadlock, though he did not name any individuals.

The political impasse has prevented Lebanon launching reforms that potential donors insist are a precondition for aid. Meanwhile foreign reserves are running out and fuel shortages, power cuts and gaps in medical supplies are spreading.

Under a sectarian power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim.

Bassil said some politicians were trying to freeze Aoun out altogether, preventing him from choosing any minister and turning the president into “a picture on the wall … to be broken when necessary.”

He criticised Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Lebanese Forces Commander Samir Geagea, saying that Berri has been an “unfair” mediator. Bassil stressed that the speaker of parliament is not entitled to interpret the constitution and called for the amendment of the parliament’s rules of procedure to set deadlines.

Last month, Berri launched an initiative to resolve the government formation crisis but a war of words with Aoun erupted, with the two leaders squabbling over a number of issues, including government formation and constitutional powers.

In his Sunday statements, Bassil singled out Geagea for staunch criticism, accusing him of harming the interests of Christians.

Lebanese political sources expressed to The Arab Weekly their wariness about a Christian-Christian infighting after Basil’s accusations against Geagea.

Bassil also accused Hariri of hindering the government formation.

“He [Hariri] has been procrastinating for eight months and has not actually consulted with the blocs or the president,” he said.

Despite placing the blame on political opponents for months of political paralysis, Bassil stressed the need for “a government today, not tomorrow, led by Saad Hariri.”

Lebanese political analyst Ghassan Rifi described Bassil’s criticism of political opponents as an attempt to shore up his own popularity through populism that no longer works in light of the current political and social conditions.

“Bassil, who seemed to live on another planet, forgot that solving the Lebanese people’s living crises has become much more important than everything that was mentioned in his speech,” Rifi said.

Political analyst Joseph Abu Fadel agreed with Rifi, saying that “Bassil presents himself today as a saviour for Christians.”

Lebanon’s politicians have argued over the structure of a new government since the last one quit in the aftermath of the devastating August 2020 Beirut port explosion, leaving the country adrift as it sinks deeper into economic crisis.

Veteran Sunni Muslim politician Hariri was named premier for a fourth time in October, promising to form a cabinet of specialists to enact reforms needed to unlock foreign aid, but the process has stalled over the nominations of ministers.

While Lebanon’s leaders bicker over their upcoming ministerial shares, the head of the Maronite church Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai called for the people to vote out the political class in parliamentary elections next year.

Rai said elections must be a moment of “national awakening” to mend the economy after a year and a half of financial crisis.

“The people of Lebanon are called to a national awakening,” the patriarch said in his Sunday sermon.

“The elections are a unique occasion to present our country with new leaders.”