Nabih Berri Image Credit: Agency

Beirut: Nabih Berri, the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament and the highest-ranking Shiite leader, accused Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founder General Michel Aoun and Future Movement leader and former prime minister Saad Hariri of seeking to “topple political Shiism” in Lebanon.

His strong warning — that such an attempt might lead to a new “civil war” in the country — prompted Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to distance himself and his party from ally Aoun in what was little short of a political tsunami.

The pro-Hezbollah Al Akhbar daily quoted aides to Berri lamenting Hariri’s choice, which apparently “triumphed [as] he revived the 1943 pact with Aoun”. “We will be outside of power — among the ranks of the opposition,” it said, continuing: “What they [Aoun and Hariri] are doing will lead to a civil war and we will fight to defend ourselves and Hezbollah!”

The unwritten 1943 National Pact established the political foundations of modern Lebanon that allocated power along an essentially confessional system that handed the powerful post of president to a Maronite Christian, the prime ministership to a Sunni Muslim and the speakership of parliament to a Shiite Muslim. Amendments made following the Lebanese Civil War transferred many of the Christian president’s powers to a cabinet divided evenly between Christians and Muslims in the 1989 Taif Accords.

According to Al Akhbar, Hariri and Aoun were trying to undermine the partnership with political Shiism that followed the Taif Accords and asked both to “become used to governments in which Hezbollah would be entrusted with preserving the share of the Shiite community in power”.

Berri stands with Marada Movement leader Sulaiman Franjieh, and insists that he will not back Aoun who is apparently not reassuring because the FPM is avoiding to mention the Resistance, a reference to Hezbollah’s armed wing, and is no longer backing the group’s military deployments in Syria.

What prompted the Speaker to vent his anger was the alleged agreement between the FPM’s Jibran Bassil, the Foreign Minister and Aoun’s son-in-law, and Nader Hariri, Saad Hariri’s adviser, on everything.

An anonymous March 8 source conveyed the Speaker’s dismay, noting — again, according to Al Akhbar — that he commented harshly and said: “So now it is Jibran Bassil and Nader Hariri who decide who the next president, prime minister and speaker be! And, they are the ones who distribute the quotas and portfolios and all I have to do is sign?”

Berri’s disapproval upset Hezbollah, which prompted an urgent meeting on Monday night between Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil (Amal) and Hussain Al Khalil (Hezbollah), according to Al Liwa’a. The pro-March 14 newspaper reported that Nasrallah reassured Berri that the March 8 camp does not consider itself to be part of the alleged agreement that was reached by Bassil and Nader Hariri, which will render Hezbollah’s backing of Aoun invalid.

With these latest revelations, and while Lebanon waited to hear from Saad Hariri, Berri signalled that the ongoing polarisation would not be tolerated. The Speaker rejected a return to the 1943 bilateral power-sharing between Sunnis and Maronites, and insisted that he was against the election of Michel Aoun as president.

Asked whether that means that Berri has ruled out any agreement with Aoun and Hariri, the unnamed Hezbollah sources told Al Akhbar: “No. They must first realise that an agreement with Hezbollah is not an agreement with us [Amal] and that their [Hariri-Aoun] problem with us is not about a share, a post or a ministerial portfolio. They must renounce the deal of returning to the 1943 bilateral power-sharing and they must return to the dialogue table so that we discuss the country’s future.”