Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- Former Lebanese Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, who announced the resignation of 10 Lebanese ministers – including himself – from cabinet, resulting in the collapse of the Lebanese government spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the present crisis in Lebanon, and the political future of the country. Gebran Bassil is a member of the Christian Free Patriotic Movement that is close to Hezbollah and which is led by his father-in-law, General Michel Aoun.
The following is the text of the interview.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What does the future hold for Lebanon?
[Bassil] I think we have entered a new area, and many people do not understand the size of the changes that have taken, and will take, place. They put on a brave face and did not pay attention to our calls for the internal crisis within government to be resolved; they put on a brave face with regards to the role being played by Saudi Arabia and did not pay attention [to what was happening], and they put on a brave face in response to our last calls for a meeting of the Council of Ministers to be held, saying that there is no capital other than Beirut. They did not believe that the government would collapse, and today they continue to be unaware of the extent of the changes that have taken place.
What is most important is for everybody to be assured that our actions do not include any departure from or contravention of the constitution; there is no contravention of any of the powers of the presidency, premiership, or speakership, and no particular sect is being targeted by this. The Sunnis are not being targeted, because the prime minister will be a Sunni, and will enjoy the same powers. Not every post in Lebanon is open to everybody. When General Aoun won 70 percent of the Christian vote (in 2005), we, the Christians [in the Free Patriotic Movement] were not even allowed in government, let alone granted the post of presidency, and we did not destroy the country or harm stability or threaten anybody, so nobody should threaten us with things that we did not intend, and which did not happen. The attempts by some to intimidate the public in order to strengthen their positions are not useful. On the contrary, what happened has confirmed to us the importance of mutual participation and understanding, and we are reassured that Saudi Arabia, as represented by King Abdullah [Bin Abdulaziz], is only concerned with rescuing Lebanon, and this is something that can only be viewed positively, and responded to positively. Saudi Arabia is only acting logically and with concern for everybody…and this is something that we believe is helpful and useful. Therefore we hope that nobody portrays the situation as being under the title of vital Arab issues or internal sectarian accounts. Any future government will unite all of the sects, and there will be genuine participation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You succeeded in toppling the government…what now?
[Bassil] A new government which avoids the inability of the previous government and which stops the country’s paralysis which was caused by this government. We, as ministers, discovered that we were unable to take decisions relating to the electricity grid or to stop corruption, or on issues that we all agreed on the necessity of addressing, such as the case of the false witnesses [of the international tribunal], even though we did disagree on the [governmental] body that should pursue this issue. The government was no longer viable, and so it collapsed. Today, there must be a new government that is able to take action.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What would you like the makeup of this government to be, a government made up of one party, or a national unity government?
[Bassil] We want to work for a national unity government, but under a new prime minister; we hope to see a new [political] majority different than the previous majority, otherwise we would have remained with this government, and there would have been no need for resignation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are saying that you want the Future Movement to be part of this new government, just not its leader [Saad Hariri]?
[Bassil] That’s right, and the same should apply to the Future Movement itself. For in the same manner that we in the Change and Reform bloc enjoy the Christian majority but do not possess the most powerful Christian position (president of Lebanon) then it is up to the Future Movement to enjoy the Sunni majority without possession the post of prime minister. Here I stress that if we are able to do this [establish this government], then the country will not be destroyed, but if we are unable [to establish this government], it will be destroyed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are three different scenarios or models with regards to the position of Lebanese prime minister; one would see Hariri or somebody who represents him [and the Future Movement] return to this post; secondly, the opposition could nominate an opposition candidate; and finally we could see a transitional government such as the one led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati in 2005. Which of these models would you prefer?
[Bassil] As a priority, we reject the previous models, and we will discuss the remaining priorities in the near future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can the country accept another prime minister other than Hariri?
[Bassil] I refer you to my previous answer. The country has accepted another prime minister other than General Aoun; did the Christians discard their citizenship or rights by accepting a prime minister other than Michel Aoun?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Perhaps that is because the Lebanese Christians are already divided amongst themselves?
[Bassil] The Sunni situation is no different than the Christian situation, the Future Movement does not enjoy 90 percent of Sunni support, nor even 70 percent…their situation is no different than ours.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In that case, all that is left is the Shiite model which resulted in Nabih Berri becoming Speaker f Parliament, despite the fact that he did not enjoy a parliamentary majority.
[Bassil] As for the Shiite model, there are two united trends [Hezbollah and Amal], and together they enjoy more than 90 percent [of the Shiite support]. However the Shiite situation is different…if the Future Movement managed to bring together all the Sunni figures, then we can talk.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Free Patriotic Movement [only] has 21 MPs, of an original 27 MPs.
[Bassil] If that is the criteria then they must apologize for the mistake they made with us in 2005. It is their right to exert effort democratically to prevent this, but if this happens democratically, how can they issue threats?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you respond to those who say that you do not have the necessary majority?
[Bassil] We are seeking to secure a majority under a name that we agree upon.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you satisfied with the position of Walid Jumblatt?
[Bassil] Walid Jumblatt has a political position that he announced in August 2006, and this is in line with his political position.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you in communication with Jumblatt?
[Bassil] We are in communication with everybody.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So you are assured of the result of this?
[Bassil] No, we are well aware of the difficulty of this issue, however we also knew the danger of taking the decision to resign [from government], however we took this months ago…as a last resort.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So you are saying that you are against the return of Saad Hariri to the post of prime minister?
[Bassil] I did not say that.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You said that you wanted a new prime minister.
[Bassil] I said that there must see a new [government] formation, with new characteristics.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There has been talk that the Free Patriotic Movement will accept the return of Hariri should he grant constitutional amendments that restore some presidential powers. Is there any truth to this?
[Bassil] This is a subject that has never been put forward or discussed. Sectarian issues cannot be raised as a scarecrow every time that we feel worried. It is not right to try to secure a coup against the powers of the prime minister at the same time that we are changing the prime minister.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the security situation?
[Bassil] There are no reasons to fear, those inciting sectarian fears are only doing so out of weakness, but they do not know what consequences such actions will have.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you fear major international mobilization towards Lebanon?
[Bassil] Why? Don’t they [the international community] want sovereignty, freedom, and Lebanese stability? If the Lebanese government resigns, why should all countries mobilize? Why this contradiction?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about those who say that such fears are because Hezbollah was responsible for the collapse of the government?
[Bassil] Hezbollah only has 2 ministers, and I am not a member of Hezbollah, and I would never be a member of Hezbollah. Why is there this contempt for Lebanese diversity and humanitarian thinking?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It seems that the situation is as if the opposition is being threatened with not being recognized internationally; [however] this would mean that the government would have to be formed by itself [without the participation of the opposition].
[Bassil] If the countries acted in this manner, these countries would be threatened by being prohibited from engaging in Lebanese affairs.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Where is Syria in this crisis?
[Bassil] Syria has informed everybody that it is not intervening in this issue at all. There is a Lebanese government that will be made up of a parliamentary majority. It is not for Syria or any country to decide the Lebanese government. If there are some who have sold their decision [in this regard], then that is different. The scene of the resignation was formulated by those in Beirut and Washington.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However some people have claimed that the decision to resign from government was a Syrian – Iranian one?
[Bassil] Even if we assumed that this is true – and it is not true – this at least reveals that there are those who are clever and those who are not; those who are not clever show that they are not responsible for their decisions, whilst the others show that their decisions are Lebanese.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the position of Lebanese President Michel Suleiman with regards to what is happening?
[Bassil] You’ll have to ask him that yourself.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What role must he [the Lebanese president] play at this stage?
[Bassil] Firstly, we thank him for accepting the resignations promptly, and calling for parliamentary consultations to name the caretaker prime minister, and his duty of care towards the application of the constitution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What if the international tribunal issues its expected decision, have you not relieved Hariri from bearing the consequences of what will happen after you forced the collapse of his government?
[Bassil] If that is the case, why would he want to return [as prime minister]?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you prepared to deal with the international tribunal’s expected decision as part of a government that does not include Saad Hariri?
[Bassil] We are prepared to face this, and we want this to include all the Lebanese, not just one party. The difference is that there are those who are unable to take decisions, but we are able. So the other team must decide whether they want to be with us or against us in dealing with this decision.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] And then…?
[Bassil] And then each party will be responsible for its actions.