Exit of Aoun, Diab government among demands of march on Baabda

Demonstration is a blow to dialogue conference after Sunni boycott.
Tuesday 23/06/2020
A file photo of Lebanese demonstrators trying to remove the barbed-wire and metal rai on the way to the Presidential Palace in Baabda, last November. (AFP)
A file photo of Lebanese demonstrators trying to remove the barbed-wire and metal rai on the way to the Presidential Palace in Baabda, last November. (AFP)

BEIRUT – Lebanese political circles considered the country’s Sunni leaders’ move to boycott a dialogue conference called for by President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace on Thursday to be “the strongest blow” to the current era since Aoun was elected president on the last day of October 2016.

These circles suggested that a popular demonstration called for by the forces behind the street protests that erupted last October is more likely to replace the dialogue conference.

Participants in the demonstration, which will try to approach the Baabda Palace, will, among other things, demand the resignation of Aoun and the departure of the current government headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

These circles could not speculate on the size of the demonstration meant to descend on Baabda Palace, where the president resides, but considered it an indication of growing popular anger at the political elite, especially as the country’s economic crisis lingers.

The Lebanese political circles said the Sunni boycott, which was confirmed by a statement issued on Monday evening by former prime ministers Saad Hariri, Tammam Salam, Fouad Siniora and Najib Mikati, shows that Lebanon’s largest community has rejected any form of engagement with the president and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement and who some say really controls the levers of power.

These circles added that Bassil’s provocative speech last Sunday in which he spoke ill of Hariri, accusing him of “running away from his responsibility,” played a role in the former prime ministers’ boycott.

The Lebanese Sunni leaders’ position was reinforced by that of former presidents Amine Gemayel and Michel Suleiman. This has pushed Hezbollah to support the conference, using Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and his Shia Amal Movement, which is represented in the current government.

Despite his many reservations about the performances of Aoun and his son-in-law Bassil, Berri nevertheless sought to persuade Lebanon’s political forces to attend the conference.

Also in favour of boycotting the Baabda conference is the Kataeb Party, headed by Samy Gemayel. Kataeb is one of the oldest parties in Lebanon. It is also expected that the Lebanese Forces Party, which is headed by Samir Geagea and has a large parliamentary bloc of 15 deputies, will boycott the conference.

In a related development, a political source told The Arab Weekly that Beirut MP Nohad Machnouk has postponed his press conference scheduled for Monday in which he intended to condemn Hezbollah’s provocative practices, including its supporters’ sectarian slogans, such as “Shia, Shia, Shia” and insults of Sayyeda Aisha, the Prophet’s wife. The source added that Machnouk agreed to postpone his press conference at the request of political figures currently working to defuse Shia-Sunni tensions in Beirut and other Lebanese regions. The source revealed that Machnouk was intending to state that Hezbollah’s brutal behaviour towards the people of Beirut has not changed since the party’s gunmen stormed the capital on May 7, 2008.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah had described the group’s eventual takeover of Sunni areas of Beirut as a “glorious day.”

An organsier for Thursday’s planned demonstration towards Baabda Palace said the protest’s slogans will challenge Hezbollah and its control of weaponry. The organiser explained that the demonstration will be limited to demanding the preparation of a fair election law, independently administered and monitored, drawing up a plan for economic development and clear delimitations of responsibilities, pursuing the recovery of looted funds, bringing major figures of corruption to justice, protecting the poor and low-income classes, enhancing the independence of the judiciary and guaranteeing citizens’ deposits in banks.

But the demonstration’s most important demands are going to be the departure of Aoun and the government responsible for “bankrupting Lebanon” and the formation of an independent government that has the confidence of the Lebanese people.