Bassil multiplies manoeuvres amid fears of EU sanctions

On his visit to Paris, the son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, will be seeking to explain his position to French officials regarding Lebanon’s political crisis
Wednesday 07/04/2021
A file picture of Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic movement, talking during an interview. (REUTERS)
A file picture of Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic movement, talking during an interview. (REUTERS)

BEIRUT--Head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Gebran Bassil is visiting Paris  Tuesday, where he will meet French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Lebanese political sources revealed to The Arab Weekly.

Bassil could also meet  French President Emmanuel Macron, who has recently warned Lebanese political players he could escalate pressure to expedite the formation of a new government.

On his visit to Paris, Bassil, son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, will be seeking to explain his position to French officials regarding Lebanon’s political crisis, the same sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed.

This comes amid mounting fears he could be exposed to European sanctions, after France issued such threats.

The sources did not rule out that Paris would organise a meeting between Bassil, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and a representative of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, in case Bassil agreed to the formation of a government without the blocking majority of 24 ministers, based on an initiative presented by Berri.

France does not hide its frustration with Lebanon’s handling of the political and economic crisis.

The sources noted that Paris has particular reservations about the behaviour of Bassil, whom it considers as the main stumbling block to the implementation of its initiative. This is calling for the formation of a technocratic government that opens the door for international aid and alleviates public anger and increasing foreign isolation.

Bassil is accused by his opponents of obstructing talks to form a new government as long as his demand for a blocking third is not met. He also insists on choosing ministers from the Christian community while using Aoun and the presidency to obstruct any cabinet formation that does not fall in line with his wishes.

The head of the Free Patriotic Movement, with the support of his ally Hezbollah, is apparently trying to exert maximum pressure on the prime minister-designate to force him to accept his conditions or walk out.

To up pressure on Hariri, Bassil recently suggested that Riyadh had abandoned its support for the prime-minister designate, taking advantage of the statements of Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, in which he said that Riyadh does not stand by any Lebanese party and that it is “not ready to support a robust and real reform agenda.”

Bassil said on Twitter, “The statements of the Saudi foreign minister confirm that the Kingdom stands with Lebanon, not with a party or an individual. The statements also show the desire of Riyadh, as well as France, to support the reform agenda that Lebanese officials are committed to.”

Bassil dealt selectively and partly with the Saudi minister’s statements, closing his eyes to the part in which bin Farhan spoke about Riyadh’s conditions to resume aid and Hezbollah’s detrimental role in Lebanon.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, bin Farhan warned that Lebanon will face “dangerous circumstances” if political leaders do not embrace “true reforms.”

“The status quo in Lebanon is no longer workable,” the Saudi minister stressed.

“The kingdom doesn’t feel that it is appropriate to continue to subsidise or continue to support the status quo,” Bin Farhan said.

Asked about Hezbollah’s role, the Saudi minister lamented that “a non-state actor, Hezbollah, has a de facto rule, veto, over everything that happens in that country and has control over its key infrastructure.”

In an interview with Al Jadeed TV, resigned MP Nadim Gemayel criticised Monday the visit of Bassil to France, considering that the visit goes to prove that “the biggest obstacle to forming the government is Bassil,” adding that “President Macron ought to have invited the principal – i.e. Hassan Nasrallah – and not the proxy, to reach an understanding.”

Gemayel also criticised FPM’s excuses of protecting the rights of Christians, saying, “They have destroyed all the dreams of Christians and the dreams of the Lebanese, and this is what we see when we look at the mounting flow of migration abroad. This mandate has destroyed everything…”

He considered that the main problem is that “a certain party that controls the country. It is not important if Bassil goes to Paris, because if Nasrallah agrees to the formation of a government, then a government will be formed. ”

He argued that “if the French do not manage to obtain guarantees to achieve a breakthrough, then they would lose their credibility.”

Gemayel also noted that Paris needs to change its superficial approach to the crisis, saying the French “made a mistake when President Macron separated the political from the terrorist Hezbollah.”