05/04/2021, 13.49
LEBANON
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Lebanese intellectuals slam the president, but Bishop Aoun blames crisis on external influences

Forty leading figures from the world of culture, law and politics sign a study that accuses the president of violating the constitution while in office. For the bishop of Byblos, Lebanon needs help from abroad to end the deadlock; however, the attacks against the president go too far. External violence has repercussions on domestic problems.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Some 40 Lebanese intellectuals, legal experts, politicians and activists have signed a study prepared by some legal experts that explicitly accuses President Michel Aoun of having violated the constitution several times since he took office.

For some time now, the president has been at loggerheads with the prime minister designate, Saad Hariri, exacerbating Lebanon’s already severe political, economic and social crises.

This row has been fuelled by domestic divisions, conflict over constitutional powers, and foreign players, with the president backed by Hezbollah (and Shia Iran), and the prime minister designate viewed as a go-between between Lebanon and the Saudis.

Against this acrimonious background, the mediation by the Lebanese Church and Card Bechara al-Rahi has been of little avail. The Maronite Patriarch has repeatedly urged the parties to respect the constitution, the Taif agreements, and the country’s neutrality; he has also called for an international UN conference.

Drafted by former State Council President Chucri Sader and constitutionalist Hassan Rifai, the study was also signed by former Constitutional Council member Antoine Messarra and Michel el-Khoury, the son of Lebanon's first president Bechara el-Khoury.

According to the study’s authors, President Michel Aoun has “resorted to anti-constitutional practices and misinterpretations” of the constitution, causing “serious harm to the public interest”.

The first charge is that he is “trying to participate in the formation of a cabinet” with similar powers and in an equal standing as “the head of government designate on the pretext that the constitution gives him the power to sign the decree establishing the cabinet.”

Secondly, he wants the power to choose “ministers from his own faction and appoint Christian ministers, thus trying to influence the action of the cabinet.”

Speaking to AsiaNews, Bishop Michel Aoun of Jbeil-Byblos of the Maronites said that “the origin of the country's problems is in external influences” that do not favour a solution to the crisis. For this reason, “the patriarch calls for a broadly-based international conference, with as many parties as possible, because here the whole situation is deadlocked.

“We need external help, from the international community and from the United Nations. We are faced with a serious problem; the pressure from outside is strong. We also need strong external intervention” to overcome the stalemate and respond to the crisis.

President Michel Aoun is the target, towards whom the Bishop of Jbeil-Byblos maintains a certain degree of openness and trust. “I know that he is a person who cares about the good of the country; he is not corrupt” even if the media lately “have not spared him attacks, even harsh ones, in some cases akin to a smear campaign.”

“I think the president believes that he is acting to protect the country and Christian rights and that it is appropriate for the president play a role in establishing the cabinet.

“There is also the issue of the fight against corruption and cabinet formation. In my opinion, the one proposed by (Prime Minister designate Saad) Hariri was not able to address the issues and was not what the Lebanese expected.”

Finally, Bishop Aoun notes the importance “of the closeness and support of Pope Francis and the Vatican” whose “influence” towards “powerful countries, which have a role in Middle Eastern politics, could be of great help.

“Of course, the Lebanese are to blame for the stalemate but so are external influences on Lebanese leaders, tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the violence in Syria that results in clashes and problems on Lebanese territory.”

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