06/26/2020, 13.29
LEBANON
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Sunnis and opposition Christians boycott Baabda summit. Fears mount of civil war

by Fady Noun

The meeting called by President Aoun to revive the national dialogue failed to meet expectations. On the ground, the divisions that emerged in recent weeks remain, resulting in violent clashes in Beirut Square and Tripoli. The collective responsibilities of the political establishment, unable to reason with a view to unity. The unresolved issue of the Shiite militant Hezbollah.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - An extraordinary national meeting was held yesterday in the presidential palace in Baabda, on the initiative of the head of state Michel Aoun and with the active support of the President of the Chamber Nabih Berry.

Intended to empower political forces in the face of a climate of revolt that threatens national unity, this appeal did not succeed in fostering unanimity among political forces. The event was attended by former heads of state, past government leaders, party leaders and parliamentary blocs and the vice-president of the Chamber.

However, the former heads of government, who represent the vast majority of the Sunni community, did not respond to the appeal. Likewise, representative leaders of Christian communities who are in opposition, such as Samir Geagea and Samy Gemayel.

The press release issued by the presidential office last week announcing yesterday's appointment, stated that the aim was to prevent the repetition of the "excesses" which, on June 6, 2020, almost burned some districts of Beirut and Tripoli.

The excesses were committed by demonstrations between opposing factions in Beirut, Tarik Jadidé and Barbou, with neighborhoods with a Sunni and Shiite majority, which in a first saw the appearance of armed civilians on the streets.

The army's intervention between the two neighborhoods prevented the worst. The soldiers at the same time prevented the clashes from escalating, at that juncture, into one of the old dividing lines that separate two Christian and Muslim majority neighborhoods in Beirut, Aïn el-Remmané and Chyah.

Sources close to the head of state say that since June 6, and as a result of reports he received the President convoked all political forces to express his concern at a situation getting out of control, asking them to join together to block the road to everything that threatens the unity and security of the country.

In his speech at the opening of the meeting in Baabda, yesterday, the president clearly echoed the specter of the "civil war". "It is with great concern - he said at the beginning of the meeting - that we have seen a return of certain signs indicating the risk of a civil war".

The final communique from the encounter stated that stability in security "is essential and represents a condition for the country's economic, financial, monetary and social stability [...] Fighting against sedition and attempts to create chaos is the responsibility of all components of society”. It also called on the government and opposition forces to "work together to save the country" from a social crisis "more dangerous than the war itself".

It is obvious that all political forces in Lebanon will sign this appeal. However, what this extraordinary meeting really lacked beyond the failed participation of the Sunnis and Christian opposition, was a clear agenda. This would have given participants the opportunity to frankly discuss what appears to be one of the causes, albeit indirect, of this climate of revolt. Furthermore, in the days preceding the meeting, the Maronite patriarch, Card Beshara Raï, aware of someone reticence, had proposed to the head of state to postpone the appointment for a few days "in order to complete the necessary preparations" for its development.  The leader of the Maronite Church also suggested indicating, among the constants of the country that he had to adopt to strengthen himself, that of his "neutrality" at the geopolitical level.

In this case, this is a particularly delicate issue because it automatically raises the status of Hezbollah, an ally of the Free Patriotic Current (Cpl), an armed party whose presence weighs heavily on the country, its society, the economics and politics. And it is precisely the "taboo" that revolves around this issue, which the head of state had promised to raise in the first period following his election, and which prompted some invitees to desert the meeting.

The question that these forces never stop asking is that, with its armed presence alone, its political ideology and presence sprawling, Hezbollah endangers the very notion of the civil state and peace. It does so by tapping on the button of Lebanon's neutrality, influencing its foreign policy, alienating the support of the United States, surrounding its land, air and sea borders, and paralyzing its economy for personal gain.

In lending an ear to these demands and exposing himself to the claim of being the president of only a part of the Lebanese, the head of state refused to draw up a clear agenda for the meeting, or to raise the issue of a "defensive strategy” which would place Hezbollah's armed wing under Lebanese military command.

At the same time, it should be specified that, to the surprise of those present, the head of the CPL Gebran Bassil had to affirm during the meeting that no element should be "taboo" and impossible to discuss, including the defense strategy. Nonetheless, this bold statement still appears insufficient to reassure the opposition.

Stripped of its unanimity, the June 25 meeting was drained of part of its original strength. Of course, those who boycotted it are the last to be able to lecture the head of state. The responsibility for the dangerous situation facing the country is collective and it will not be "talks" or an additional final declaration that will make the difference. For civil society, the risk is great in wanting to fight the crisis with police vehicles. We must get to the root of the problem, and that is what neither the head of state nor the parties involved seem ready or willing to do.

 

Photo 1: inaugural session of the Baabda summit

 

Photo 2: Traders' demonstrations in Saïda: 5000 families in difficulty, 1200 schools threaten to close. Credits: Agence nationale d'information - officielle

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