Walid Jumblatt describes deep divide between Aoun, Hariri

Druze leader urges Hariri to withdraw from the task of forming the government as long as the matter is in the hands of Hezbollah and its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement. He also alledges that Mrs Aoun holds the real reins of power.
Saturday 23/01/2021
A 2016 file picture shows then-Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founder Michel Aoun (L) walking with Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt in Beirut, Lebanon. (REUTERS)
A 2016 file picture shows then-Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founder Michel Aoun (L) walking with Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt in Beirut, Lebanon. (REUTERS)

BEIRUT - Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said it is the wife of Lebanese President Michel Aoun who rules Lebanon through a “secret room”, and that she protects her son-in-law Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, whom he called “a permanent authority in the making”.

This comes at a time when the political scene in Lebanon is deteriorating at an unprecedented pace, as illustrated by the recently reported exchange between President Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri which was reflected in a leaked video during which Aoun described Hariri as a liar and put down his efforts to form a government.

Jumblatt said, “There are dark rooms, there is Salim Jreissati and Mrs Aoun, they are the ones who rule and control the judiciary. There are incredibly strange military rooms.”

He added, “Behind the president of the republic there is the honorable son-in-law (Basil), and he is a permanent authority in the making.”

He pointed out that,  “the dear son-in-law wants the blocking third, so if something happens to his uncle, power remains in his hands in the government, which according to the constitution holds the reins of power pending the election of a new president, and this is clearly the case.”

The interview of the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party with the website “Voice of All Lebanon” reflected a situation where personal considerations interfere with political affairs and explain the attacks on Hariri and the army commander, General Joseph Aoun.

Jumblatt said he considered Hariri to have been insulted in the leaked video where President Aoun described the prime minister-designate as a liar in the presence of caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab. The Druze leader called on the political class to focus on important issues instead of trivial matters.

The relationship between Aoun and Hariri is prey to tensions after the government lineup presented by the latter and which the Lebanese president refused to approve, accusing the prime minister-designate of ignoring his demands. Hariri denied the accusations.

However, observers say that the personal disagreements between the president and the prime minister-designate are mainly due to their reliance on different alliances. The first pins any progress in forming the government and a breakthrough in the political crisis on heeding the interests of its Hezbollah ally, the de facto ruler of the country, while the second relies on his foreign ties and the advantage he takes from international pressures which link financial and economical support to Lebanon to the formation of  a cabinet.

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, right, attends a meeting at the parliament building in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Sept. 9, 2015. (AP)
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, right, attends a meeting at the parliament building in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Sept. 9, 2015. (AP)

Jumblatt urged Hariri to withdraw from the task of forming the government as long as the matter is in the hands of Hezbollah and its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, saying, “Let them take over the whole country with all its joints, and bear the responsibility for gains or setbacks, why should one participate and not receive anything in return?”

He added that “there is a very strong political party, and behind it there is a very strong state (Iran),” wondering whether Tehran “recognizes Greater Lebanon, or are we only a province among the provinces of the Islamic Republic along with  Lebanon, Syria and Iraq?”

The Lebanese presidency issued a statement, on Friday, to respond to what it called the false allegations accusing the president of obstructing the formation of the government.

The statement said that President Aoun has “a constitutional right to approve the entire cabinet lineup  before ratification.”

Aoun sought to defend his son-in-law and denied Bassil’s playing any obstructive role. The presidential statement said, “Allegations abound that the head of the powerful Lebanese bloc (…) Bassil is obstructing the formation of the government, while reality says that MP Bassil did not engage in the cabinet formation process at all, and the bloc has its own political stances.”

The statement also defended Hezbollah against any responsibility in the matter, and said that “the party does not interfere in decisions by the president  on all issues, including the formation of the government, and that the party has its political positions which it expresses.”

Lebanon has been unable to form a government since Hassan Diab’s cabinet resigned, six days after the catastrophic blast in the port of Beirut, on August 5, which killed about 200 people and injured about 6,000 others, in addition to the huge material damage it caused.

Lebanon is facing a financial and economic crisis, the worst in decades. The Lebanese are mostly despaired over the inability of  the current political elite to end the ongoing crisis, especially after the failure of the French initiative and the persistent attempts by all  Lebanese parties to decline any responsibility for the impasse while accusing other parties of obstructionism. As a result, analysts expect external support to remain on hold for a while, at least until agreement about forming a new government is reached.