Berri refuses to back Aoun for president despite mounting pressure

Future Movement leader Sa’ad Hariri calls for a ‘unified stance’ from March 8 politicians over presidency

Image Credit: Reuters, AFP
Sa’ad Hariri (left) and Nabih Berri
Gulf News

Beirut: Anti-Syrian Future Movement leader Sa’ad Hariri will not declare his support for Free Patriotic Movement founder Michel Aoun for president unless the pro-Syrian March 8 alliance, particularly parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, agrees and takes a unified stance in that regard, media reports said on Monday.

“I will not nominate Aoun, don’t you try with me,” Berri said on Sunday, despite the fact that Aoun is the official candidate of Hezbollah.

“Saudi Arabia will never accept Aoun as a president, and will prevent his arrival at the Baabda Palace even though he garners the support of Hariri,” he said.

Hariri’s statement has put the onus on pro-Syrian March 8 politicians, testing their commitment to electing a president in the country.

March 8 politicians have been widely quoted in the media saying that Hariri has endorsed Aoun and will make the announcement “soon”.

Lebanon has been without a president since the term of Michel Sulaiman ended in May 2014 and Hezbollah and some of their allies have been boycotting the parliament’s electoral sessions, stripping them of the needed quorum.

Observers point to Hezbollah’s boycott as confirmation that Damascus is not interested in electing Aoun as president and prefers a weak state with no president at all.

Hariri’s official candidate for the post is Marada Movement leader Sulaiman Franjieh, but recent reports say he has been mulling to switch his support to Aoun.

On Monday, Mohammad Mashnouq, the minister of environment and a close confidant of Prime Minister Tammam Salam added credibility to the circulating rumours.

“There is a retreat in [verbal] escalations, and instead the adoption of a comprehensive sectarian coalition to build an understanding, and the absence of differences in anticipation for what will be announced in the coming days,” he tweeted.

Under the alleged agreement, Hariri would become prime minister and Aoun, president, a position he has long coveted.

But backing Aoun would put Hariri in direct conflict with most of the 35 Future Movement parliamentarians, creating internal rifts within the party, not to mention with Saudi Arabia.

On Monday, Druze leader Walid Junblatt said that Lebanon has probably received a signal from abroad, as he voiced fears of the future consequences.

“It seems that the signal has been received, God save us,” said Junblatt in a tweet on Monday.

His comments came in parallel with a telephone conversation that Hariri was received on Sunday from Saudi Arabia while in Paris, media reports said.

Following the telephone call, Hariri travelled to Saudi Arabia on board his private airplane, added the reports.

Al Nahar daily quoted well-informed sources who explained Junblatt’s comments, they said: “Junblatt was informed that the signal includes a rejection of Hariri’s presidential path [as for nominating MP Michel Aoun] by officials in Riyadh as well as a rejection of Hariri’s premiership from the March 8 alliance prompting fears of possible repercussions which made him say ‘God save us’.”

Lebanon’s presidential deadlock has been linked to regional issues mainly the war in Syria and the Saudi-Iranian ties.