10/21/2016, 17.38
LEBANON
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Saad Hariri to back Michel Aoun for presidency

This is a last resort “to protect Lebanon, the political system, the State and people” on the condition of dissociating Lebanon “from the Syrian crisis”. Some Sunni lawmakers are against the deal, but Nabih Berri (Amal) is the most critical. Still, chances are good for an election on 31 October.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Former Prime Minister and Al-Mustaqbal (Future) Movement leader Saad Hariri yesterday formally endorsed Michel Aoun, Free Patriotic Movement founder and ally of radical Shia Hezbollah party, for the post of president.

In a country without a president since May 2014 when the mandate of Michel Suleiman came to an end, this could be an important turning point.

Before making public his position, Hariri visited the tomb of his father, Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister killed in 2005 in an attack blamed on members of Hezbollah and Syria’s Assad. Perhaps for this reason, Saad described his decision "a major political risk".

Hariri, a Sunni, is close to Saudi Arabia. Aoun is allied to Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran. This polarisation has led to a stalemate of more than two years over the presidential election, boycotted by Hezbollah lawmakers.

“This decision,” Hariri said yesterday at a press conference with Aoun (pictured), “stems from the need to protect Lebanon, the political system, the State and people. . . It is a decision based on an agreement to cooperate to preserve the system, strengthen the State, reactivate economy and dissociate ourselves from the Syrian crisis”.

This last point seems however out of reach, given Hezbollah’s military role in Syria on behalf of the Damascus government.

At the same time, it is very likely that Hariri’s will be met with hostility in his own party, but in his view, Aoun was the only choice left, after his other preferred candidates failed to secure a majority.

In any case, given Aoun’s popularity among Christians lawmakers and Hariri’s decision, the former general is likely to be elected president at the next vote, scheduled for 31 October.

Amal, a moderate Shia party led by Nabih Berri, remains critical of the choice, fearing that the bilateral deal between Aoun and Hariri will marginalise it.

For Aoun however, “There will not be bilateral, tripartite or four-party agreements but rather a single agreement on running the country's affairs . . . and whoever tries to eliminate a certain sect would be trying to eliminate Lebanon”.

In fact, “The National Pact was a pact between Muslims – both Sunnis and Shiites – and all Christians to live together with equal rights. The National Pact does not contain a bilateral agreement (between Sunnis and Christians),” Aoun noted. “No one will be excluded and we will not deal with anyone maliciously”.

Yesterday evening, right after his meeting with Hariri, Aoun met with Nabih Berri.

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