CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Monday he feared a poor turnout at an Arab summit in Damascus this month if a session of the Lebanese parliament to select a president is again postponed.
Lebanon’s parliament speaker Nabih Berri indicated on Sunday he would put off for the 17th time a session, this time scheduled for Tuesday, to choose a president due to a lack of progress toward ending the political deadlock.
A delay would mean that there would be no Lebanese president to attend the March 29-30 Arab summit. Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahoud’s term ended in November.
“If we go into the summit and Lebanon is not present in its seat or is present with a very low-level representative, and there is no Lebanese president, I think there are Arab powers that perhaps would not be happy with that,” Egypt’s state-run news agency quoted Aboul Gheit as saying.
Asked what a delay would mean for the summit, Aboul Gheit said: “I think that there would be weak participation, and I fear that the Lebanese issue would negatively reflect on the successes of the summit.”
Arab divisions over Lebanon have cast a shadow over the Damascus summit, with several key leaders expected to stay away, blaming Syria for blocking an election in Lebanon.
Lebanon’s parliament cannot convene to elect a president unless there is a deal between rival camps that will secure a quorum for the vote.
Berri said on Sunday “there is nothing stopping a postponement” of Tuesday’s session, but gave no possible new date for the election. Berri, also a leader of the Syrian-backed opposition, said he would invite rival Lebanese leaders for direct talks if the Arab summit failed to find a solution.
The Lebanese crisis, the country’s worst since the 1975-1990 civil war, has paralysed government and led to bouts of deadly sectarian violence. It has also strained ties between Syria and regional power Saudi Arabia, which back opposing sides.
“If the Lebanese problem is not resolved as fast as possible, at least the problem of the president, then I fear that Lebanon would … be put in a thorny position that could last for an indeterminate period,” MENA quoted Aboul Gheit as saying in remarks aired on Egyptian state television on Sunday.
Lebanese rivals have agreed that army chief General Michel Suleiman should fill the presidency, but his confirmation by parliament has been delayed by a dispute over the make-up of a cabinet to be formed after his election and over the law governing a parliamentary election scheduled for 2009.