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  •  Saad al-Hariri, who quit as Lebanon's prime minister on Oct. 29, speaks after meeting President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019.

    Saad al-Hariri, who quit as Lebanon's prime minister on Oct. 29, speaks after meeting President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 December 2019

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Lebanon’s most senior Sunni cleric, told Khatib during a meeting on Sunday that he backed Hariri.

Lebanon’s former premier Saad al-Hariri, re-emerged as a candidate for prime minister Sunday when businessman Samir Khatib withdrew his candidacy to lead a government that must tackle its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, as well as political and social unrest.

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After the announcement, President Michel Aoun responded by postponing until Dec. 16 consultations with lawmakers that had been expected to result in Khatib being named prime minister Monday; as requested by most parties in parliament.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Lebanon’s most senior Sunni cleric, told Khatib during a meeting on Sunday that he backed Hariri. Under the country’s power-sharing system, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim.

“I learned... that as a result of meetings and consultations and contacts with the sons of the (Sunni) Islamic sect, an agreement was reached on nominating Saad al-Hariri to form the coming government,” Khatib said after the meeting.

The former premier resigned on Oct. 29 in the face of nationwide protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite. His decision toppled a coalition government including the powerful, Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah, which opposed the decision.

After Hariri quit, talks to agree a new cabinet became mired in divisions between the prominent Sunni Muslim politician, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, and adversaries including the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah. 

However, on Nov 26 Hariri officially withdrew his candidacy to be prime minister. “I am sticking by the rule ‘not me, rather someone else’ to form a government that addresses the aspirations of the young men and women,” Hariri said in a statement.

There has not been any new statement from Hariri.

Meanwhile, protests continue in the Arab state. The demonstrations began on Oct. 17 when a series of proposed tax hikes led hundreds of thousands of Lebanese to take the streets. 

People have since been denouncing rampant corruption among the elite and political class who ruled the country for decades, urging all the current politicians to leave power and be replaced by technocrats.

Grounded in years of waste and corruption by the successive governments, the economic crisis has now filtered into the financial system which faces dollar shortages and a weakening of the pegged pound. Banks had mostly been closed since the protests started.

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