Lebanon is facing a political crisis and a deadline to elect a president. The country’s law-makers have to vote before the present incumbent’s term ends on 23 November, but so far the main political parties have been unable to decide on a consensus candidate who would get the necessary two thirds majority in the Parliament.
In an exclusive interview with EuroNews, Nabih Berry, the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament who also heads the Shi’ite Amal opposition movement, said that he would not oppose the candidature of Christian General Michel Aoun, the former army commander who has been a fierce opponent of Syria.
Nabih Berry, who is an ally of Syria, spoke to EuroNews’ Mohamed Abdelhazim about his attempts to end the impasse and his concerns about the future of his country.
EuroNews: As a result of your efforts, are you optimistic?
Nabih Berry: I was always optimistic because I know that the Lebanese people will never abandon their country.
EuroNews: Do you have the feeling that Lebanon is in danger?
Nabih Berry: If we don’t respect the constitution and our laws and legislative procedures, yes, Lebanon is in danger.
EuroNews: You met the leader of the majority group in the Lebanese Parliament, Saad Harriri. What did you discuss?
Nabih Berry: The meeting went well. There was an agreement and we agreed about the importance of arriving at a consensus. We did not go into detail on specific candidate’s names.
EuroNews: Have you found who you’re looking for?
Nabih Berry: There are lots of people who could lead our country, on behalf of all of the Lebanese people.
EuroNews: Saad Harriri has said he’ll reject any candidate who, as he puts it, “would lead to the imposition of someone who is pro-Syrian.”
Nabih Berry: Impose someone? We want a person who is pro-Lebanese. Nobody is asking for this person to be imposed on behalf of the Syrians or the Americans
EuroNews: Did he bring up Syria or any other country?
Nabih Berry: And any other country, yes, exactly, we were talking about the same thing.
EuroNews: Meaning what?
Nabih Berry: As I said to the Lebanese people, we want a president who is Lebanese, Lebanese, Lebanese.
EuroNews: Saad Harriri has issued an appeal to Russia and China about third countries not intervening in Lebanon’s internal affairs.
Nabih Berry: I don’t know about that. I don’t want anyone intervening. My effort to find a consensus candidate is 100% Lebanese. In contrast to those Arab countries where you get 99.99% votes for the leader in elections.
EuroNews: Turning back to the presidential election, if no president is elected by the end of this month, does that mean Lebanon will descend into chaos?
Nabih Berry: We still have time to elect a president of the Republic, from 25 September to 24 November, so we have that opportunity and that’s happening. I’m working to achieve that in time. We will be able perhaps to elect a president before the deadline.
EuroNews: Are you saying it’s the last chance, or is there still time?
Nabih Berry: No, no, we’re not talking about last chances. We can continue the search. The worst possible thing would be if we were totally divided, but we can continue talking and looking for a candidate until the last moment. Perhaps we’ll succeed. We’re not giving up – me, Saad Harriri and the other leaders – not before we reach an agreement on the name of the president and electing him by the time of 23 October meeting. God willing.
EuroNews: The name of Michel Aoun is being put about as a possible candidate. Is that true?
Nabih Berry: Michel Aoun is one of the candidates.
EuroNews: You support him?
Nabih Berry: I’m for the consensus candidate. If that’s General Aoun, I’d welcome that.
EuroNews: And what’s your position with regard to the Jumblatt group?
Nabih Berry: What do you mean?
EuroNews: Jumblatt has consistently been opposed to everything.
Nabih Berry: He has that right.
EuroNews: And if the situation stays as it is after the month of November?
Nabih Berry: No, I don’t want to talk about, if it’s this, if it’s that. I’m not responding to hypotheticals and suppositions. We’ve got to make every permissible effort to find a strong President, as I said, within the framework of the constitutional.
EuroNews: Finding what you call a strong President is difficult. Michel Aoun has said that if one was elected with just a simple – that is less that two thirds – majority, it would mean “a declaration of war”. What do you say to that?
Nabih Berry: It is, if the President is elected in an unconstitutional way, with less that two thirds of the votes in the first session. Because, at that first session, two thirds of the Parliamentary deputies need to be present. If the President is elected in a non-constitutional way, it is true, in that case, the situation would be more than dangerous.
EuroNews: Meaning what?
Nabih Berry: He would not be a president. He would be a usurper of power.
EuroNews: Is there any initiative to make Hezbollah’s position clearer with regard to the election?
Nabih Berry: Hezbollah wants a president to be elected. It wishes that person to be a president of consensus. It’s not putting any obstacles in the way. It is supporting my initiative.
EuroNews: There have been accusations that there are countries trying to destabilise Lebanon. What’s your position on those accusations?
Nabih Berry: We must, above all, look after ourselves. Then no outsiders will be able to intervene, unless the Lebanese people permit it. If we, the Lebanese are in agreement, then everything will be all right.
EuroNews: Who do you fear in the region ?
Nabih Berry: Of…. of who am I afraid?
EuroNews: In terms of foreign intervention.
Nabih Berry: Israel is the enemy of Lebanon. It is the cause of all the occupations of Lebanon and all that’s happened to Lebanon. Israel still occupies Lebanese land. Despite everything, the international resolutions that have been adopted and UN Resolution 425, Israel still occupies some Lebanese territory.
EuroNews: With Syria and Iran, playing a role, what is there for the European Union to do?
Nabih Berry: There’s a role for the entire world, including Syria and Iran in finding a consensus and electing a Lebanese president. I know what I’m saying.
EuroNews: The accusations that Syria wants to disrupt the election, is there any truth in them?
Nabih Berry: You talk about accusations, I’ll tell you that every country in the world, and particularly the Islamic Republic of Iran, along with Syria, say they wish for consensus and want the election of a President of Lebanon.
EuroNews: If the election of a President doesn’t happen in time, would that mean the collapse of Lebanon’s institutions?
Nabih Berry: If the election were not in accord with the constitution, the situation would be very sensitive and dangerous. That’s why we must avoid that.