Lebanese President Michel Aoun expressed outrage in a speech on Monday that the country's cabinet has not met for over two months due to demands by Hezbollah for Judge Tarek Bitar to be removed from the Beirut Port blast case before they agree to a cabinet meeting.
After being halted for a month, Bitar resumed his investigation into the Beirut Port blast earlier this month after the Beirut Court of Appeals rejected an appeal by former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos, who had been charged and summoned for questioning by the judge. However, on Thursday the investigation was halted for a fourth time due to a lawsuit by ex-ministers who Bitar had summoned for investigation.
Aoun started his speech on Monday by stressing that it has become necessary to "speak in a clearer manner because the risks are growing and threatening the nation’s unity – and the preparations we are witnessing in the region make the problems all the more obvious," according to Lebanon's National News Agency (NNA). He did not specify to which regional preparations he was referring.
The Lebanese president, seen as an ally of Hezbollah's, additionally referenced the terrorist group's role in "defending the nation," saying that while defense requires cooperation between the army, the people and Hezbollah, "the state alone sets the defense strategy and attends to its implementation."
Aoun demanded that the "unjustified, deliberate and systematic blockage which dismantles the State and drives it to its demise" be ended.
The Lebanese president referred to a number of issues preventing the country's government from operating as the nation suffers from a worsening economic crisis, including a delay in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the blockage of the cabinet from meeting. He did not specifically name Hezbollah or any other party as responsible for any of the issues.
As of Monday morning, the exchange rate for the Lebanese pound sat at around 27,400 LBPs to the dollar.
CONCERNING THE blockage of the cabinet, Aoun questioned why it was being blocked, stressing that it could not make a decision about a matter that falls under the authority of the judiciary.
"Not tomorrow – today it is imperative that the cabinet meets and remedies the problems in the Council of Ministers," said Aoun. "By which law, by which logic, by which constitution is the Council of Ministers blocked, asked to make a decision that does not fall within its powers and have its action frozen over an issue that does not represent a pact-related disagreement?"
The president also called for the governmental system in Lebanon to be reformed to a civil state based on expanded administrative and financial decentralization.
Aoun also referenced recent tensions with Gulf states surrounding comments made by then-information minister George Kordahi seemingly in support of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. "I am keen on the best relations with the Arab states, and precisely with the Gulf countries, and I ask: “What is the reason for tautening the relation with these countries and meddling in affairs that are none of our business?" he said, according to NNA.
"I do not want to quarrel with anyone, neither people nor parties, and I do not want to dismantle the unity of any sect," said Aoun. "Yet, we have to be candid: marking time is fatal, and I shall not accept to watch silently as the state is falling apart and people are suffocating. I shall keep striving till the last day of my presidential tenure and the last day of my life to prevent that."
The Lebanese president stressed that "the state is built by respecting the laws, not by transgressing authority, nor by the domination of one authority over another. The state means law and stability at the same time, and no one may give the Lebanese a choice between one of the two matters."
Earlier this month, the Lebanese Ad-Diyab newspaper reported that Prime Minister Najib Mikati is hesitant to call a cabinet meeting due to concerns it could destabilize the country, especially amid "alarming security information" as well as the security situation possibly being shaken by the shooting against a Hamas funeral in a Palestinian refugee camp earlier this month.
Hezbollah has expressed strong opposition in recent months to Bitar continuing the investigation. The case has been suspended multiple times due to allegations of bias filed by officials who have been charged by the judge.
Both implied and explicit threats have been made by Hezbollah and its allies against Bitar in recent months, claiming that the investigation is being influenced by foreign and political pressure.
In October, sources from Hezbollah and the Marada movement told the Lebanese Al-Jadeed TV news that Bitar was preparing to accuse Hezbollah directly of responsibility for the explosion. The sources added that if he is not removed, they will leave the government.