After having tried, in vain, to solve the problem caused by the insistence of the Amal-Hezbollah duo to keep its grip on finance, Aoun tried to settle this issue by linking it to the controversy over the sectarian distribution of the so-called sovereign portfolios. For decades, the four key portfolios have been shared among large sects. The Maronites thus held the foreign affairs, while finance was entrusted to the Shiites, the interior to the Sunnis and defense to the Greek Orthodox. Thirty years after the end of the civil war, Aoun proposes "to abolish the sectarian distribution of sovereign portfolios" and "not to devote them to particular sects."
According to political observers interviewed by L'Orient-Le Jour, "this call is surrounded by vagueness." A source close to Baabda, who requested anonymity, explained to OLJ that Presi-dent Aoun is only applying the constitutional texts. "They do not dedicate a portfolio to a specif-ic sect," he said. "It is about opening these ministerial positions to all Lebanese, regardless of their confessional affiliations, in order to appoint ministers based on merit and competence. But the president is aware that only one safeguard exists through Article 95 of the Constitu-tion," which "stipulates that the sects are equitably represented in the cabinet. There is there-fore no question of attributing two sovereign ministries to the same sect."
"Let Them Start with the Presidencies"
In presenting this draft solution, Aoun clearly passed the buck to the two majority Shiite parties. In doing so, he hopes to encourage them to facilitate the formation of the new government. But this will probably not be the case, at least in the near future. Sources close to House Speak-er Nabih Berri, contacted by OLJ, were categorical: Amal and Hezbollah will not back down and will continue to demand the finance ministry.
Commenting on Aoun's initiative, a close associate of the speaker of parliament did not mince his words. "It is a real masquerade. Let them apply the principle of rotation to the presiden-cies," he said, referring to the three presidencies divided between Maronites, Sunnis and Shi-ites, as has been the custom since 1943. "We want the finance portfolio because we have noth-ing, while the head of state presides over the council of ministers and the head of cabinet commands the executive authority," he added. Ain el-Tineh thus suggests that the Shiite sect is looking for a guarantee that would allow it to exercise control over the work of the executive power in the same way as the Maronites and Sunnis.
Hezbollah refrained from commenting on the President's remarks, undoubtedly to maintain its relations with its traditional ally, in spite of what a well-informed source described to OLJ as "the severe accusations that Aoun addressed to the Shiite party."
Public Security Director-General Major General Abbas Ibrahim may be dispatched to Baabda to bridge the gaps between the presidency and Hezbollah, according to another informed source.
Arrows in the Direction of Adib
As if for good measure, Aoun also shot his arrows in the direction of Adib. He criticized him for forming his cabinet without consulting with the parliamentary blocs and for not having pro-posed any draft cabinet so far. But like in the Shiite circles, Sunni circles, especially the four former prime ministers (Saad Hariri, Fouad Siniora, Najib Mikati and Tammam Salam), do not see the next cabinet being formed on the basis of the Aoun initiative. Siniora told OLJ that he "does not think" that the President's proposal will accelerate the cabinet-formation process, as Hezbollah is far from changing its position. As for the initiative itself, Siniora welcomed the fact that "the president is finally applying the Constitution after having committed several infrac-tions in the past."
Adib, the main person concerned, issued a communiqué on Monday in which he urged the poli-ticians to make his task easier, namely to form "a cabinet of specialists to carry out a mission that the politicians have committed themselves to supporting" (during the expanded meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on September 1).
Some opposition figures, however, such as the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), Walid Jumblatt, also criticized Adib's approach. In a statement to MTV, the Druze leader called on the appointed head of cabinet to consult with the political parties. "But I think someone is asking him not to talk to anyone," he said, in apparent reference to the four former prime min-isters. In fact, Jumblatt said that his last telephone conversation with Hariri "was not positive." The Druze leader also said that Berri told him he was under "pressure to insist on the finance portfolio." Jumblatt reiterated his support of Macron's initiative, saying again that this is the last chance to save Lebanon and accusing Iran of thwarting it.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea "categorically" rejected on Monday that "blocs" in power appoint ministers in the future cabinet, saying he is in favor of rotating the allocation of portfo-lios among the different confessions and parties.
In an attempt to break the deadlock and speed up the formation of Adib's cabinet, Hariri made a surprise move on Tuesday, announcing that he agreed to an independent Shiite candidate to be named finance minister on condition that he is chosen by the prime minister designate. He, however, stressed that his move was not to be considered as recognition that the Finance Min-istry is the exclusive right of the Shiite sect or any other sect.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour ont he 22nd of September)
A cabinet or hell. This is the new equation posed by the president of the republic, Michel Aoun, to express the urgency of forming a cabinet as soon as possible. He thus acknowledged that Lebanon is at an impasse and thus delivered a terrible admission of weakness. Faced with the stalemate, he proposed a solution that, in his view, should put an end to the finance ministry problem, while blaming...