BEIRUT (AP) — The head of Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement said on Sunday that a 15-year-old alliance with the country’s powerful Shiite group Hezbollah was no longer working and must evolve.
The televised speech by Gebran Bassil signaled an unprecedented level of frustration with Hezbollah and suggested the 2006 alliance credited with helping maintain peace in the small country was in jeopardy.
Bassil’s comments come amid a devastating economic crisis and also ahead of critical parliamentary elections in which his party is expecting tough competition. Undoing the alliance with Hezbollah would cost him more votes in the May elections.
But Bassil, a former foreign minister, said the alliance is costing him credibility with supporters. Bassil is also the son-in-law of FPM founder , Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun. He has positioned himself as a reformer and is believed to have ambitions to run for president himself.
Bassil pinned his frustration on Hezbollah’s other ally, the powerful Shiite Amal Movement, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. He said in recent months Hezbollah has backed Berri’s Amal at the expense of their own alliance.
“We reached an understanding with Hezbollah (in 2006) not with Amal,” Bassil said in an hour-long speech. “When we discover that the one making decisions in (this alliance) is Amal, it is our right to reconsider.”
Hezbollah and its allies control most seats in parliament and are the main backers of the government that took office in September. But the government and parliament have been paralyzed as political disagreements deepened and as Lebanon faces an unprecedented economic crisis unraveling since 2019.
Berri is an old-time rival of Bassil, who accused him of using his power in parliament to block several of his draft bills.
Recently, Hezbollah and Amal have been widely critical of the investigation into last year’s Beirut Port investigation, accusing the judge of being biased against their allies— a position at odds with Bassil’s party.
Hezbollah has asked for the judge to be removed, leading to a paralysis within the government. Deadly clashes in October that pitted Amal and Hezbollah supporters against Christian gunmen were triggered by the investigation dispute and further strained relations with Bassil’s party, which accused Amal of the violence.
Bassil criticized Hezbollah for not backing his party on reform laws that he says aim to weed out corruption and ensure decentralized financial policies, or in efforts to protect constitutional powers of the president. Such choices have left Bassil unable to justify to his supporters Hezbollah’s decisions, he added, openly blaming Berri for the rift.
“It is understandable why the Americans want to corner Hezbollah, but it is not understandable why (Hezbollah) wants to corner themselves,” Bassil said of Hezbollah’s alliance with Berri.
Hezbollah is designated a terrorist group by the United States. Bassil has been placed on a U.S. sanctions list for corruption. He claims the sanctions are to pressure him to undo his alliance with Hezbollah.
“We don’t want to cancel or tear apart the (2006) memorandum of understanding,” Bassil said. “But we want it to evolve because it no longer responds to the challenges, particularly economic and financial, facing us.”
Supporters hail the alliance as a step toward a more democratic Lebanon, transcending traditional Christian-Shiite rivalry. For Hezbollah, the alliance with Christian groups, which traditionally sided with the West, provided it with cover after its 2006 war with Israel and its involvement in the Syrian war .
“Naturally, we are stronger electorally if allied with Hezbollah,” Bassil said. “But between winning the elections and gaining ourselves, we choose ourselves, our credibility and our dignity.”
LEBANESE GETTING TITRED OF HEZBOLLAH
Last week president Aoun made similar statements when he criticized Hezbollah and its Amal ally ( without naming them for their deliberate and systematic blockage of the cabinet meetings stressing that such behavior which dismantles the state and drives it to its demise must be ended.”
The Cabinet of PM Najib Mikati has not met since October , since the Shiite alliance is insisting that the judge investigating the devastating port blast must be fired before their ministers rejoin the cabinet meetings
Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement is an ally of Hezbollah in the Lebanese parliament and in 2016 he was elected the president due to its support after 29 months of stalemate.
Experts are wondering whether the leaders of FPM are truly serious about reconsidering their ties with Hezbollah before the upcoming 2022 parliamentary elections, specially since it is their ally. But as Bassil concluded today in his speech ” this is all about choosing between credibility and dignity vs winning the elections.
According to analysts FPM’s alliance with Hezbollah is going to cost it the election in 2022 , even Bassil may not make it to the parliament and his bloc will shrink by more than 75 % , since the majority of the Christians in Lebanon are angry at FPM , Bassil and Aoun over the alliance with Hezbollah which they blame for the collapse of the country and its economy . The majority of the people that emigrated from Lebanon since the October uprising are Christians and they will be voting against FPM the analysts concluded