Lebanon lawmakers scuffle in televised meeting

Friday 02/10/2015
Are they ready to end divisions?

BEIRUT - Rival Lebanese lawmakers nearly came to blows on live TV on Monday, shoving and shouting at each other in a vivid illustration of political conflict that is paralysing decision-making and fuelling public discontent.

After arguing for several minutes at a parliamentary committee on public works and energy, one MP threw a water bottle, before scuffling with another. The fight was quickly broken up and the meeting abandoned.

Political tensions in Lebanon have been exacerbated by wider tensions in the Middle East, including the Syrian war.

A national unity government bringing together rival parties has struggled to pass decisions and the country has been without a president for more than a year.

The crisis came to a head this summer with the government's failure to agree a solution to a refuse collection and disposal dispute that left garbage festering on Beirut's streets.

Monday's altercation began when MP Ziad Aswad, a member of Christian politician Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, objected to corruption allegations raised against the minister of energy - who belongs to his political bloc - by a member of a rival alliance led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri.

Other committee members intervened to keep the rowing lawmakers apart. The FPM is part of a political alliance including the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah.

After the suspension of the meeting, both parties went on the offensive, calling for news conferences to defend their actions.

“The scuffle was a result of historic accumulation of disputes at the committee,” Change and Reform MP Fadi al-Awar told LBCI after the meeting.

“Officials and other figures, including Qabbani, who do not pay their electricity bills should be held accountable.”

Qabbani fired back, calling for future committee meetings to be open to the media and defending his party’s response.

“It is shameful to see such barbarism in communication at parliament,” Qabbani said. “I challenge any of those MPs to present any electricity bill that I have not paid.”

Qabbani explained the session was suspended because of the “shameful turn as shown on camera.”