Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that he is the natural candidate for the formation of the next government, “without any favor from anyone”, if all parties agree on the IMF program.
In an interview with Marcel Ghanem on MTV, he added that the French initiative still exists and can save Lebanon from the collapse.
Asked if there are regional changes that can affect the formation of the government, he said: “I have no information and do not think anyone has. Each political group expressed itself, except me. The collapse that we see in the country today imposes on us not to take stances from which we cannot retract. Hezbollah and Amal erected barricades from which it will be difficult to back away. I refuse to do this, I wanted to speak today, because after what happened with the French initiative, the country is open to all possibilities, security, instability and economic collapse. No constitution can succeed if some parties are imposing things, with the force of weapons. They are imposing equations that the Lebanese refuse. Before the 17 October revolution, there was a stagnating economy. Today, all parties revealed their stances regarding the French initiative. But the economic collapse exposed everyone. All political parties are responsible, including us. The Lebanese can determine who carries the biggest responsibility in leading us where we are today”.
He added: “Today, there are three projects in Lebanon: One carried by Hezbollah and Amal and linked to abroad. Another that wants to get Lebanon out of the collapse and liberate it from the parties. It is based on “Lebanon first”. And a third one that wants to outbid everyone who is trying to find a solution and it brought us where we are today. They have their own projects and they are part of March 14. In fact, I believe that we can get out of this collapse, and the French initiative can help us.”
Asked to which project he belongs, he said: “If I wanted to think about my popularity, I would have acted differently. I would not have tried to put an end to vacuum every time. My aim is the success of the French initiative”.
About the project of Amal and Hezbollah, he said: “Is the ministry of Finance or naming the Shiite ministers a good enough reason to topple the French initiative that can stop the collapse and rebuild Beirut?”
Asked why president Macron reprimanded him too, he said: “Macron said that there was a mistake, and that I courageously corrected it later and that he appreciates this”.
Asked who chose Mustapha Adib, he said: “When I resigned, I was asked to for the next government. I said the ministers should all be specialists. Gebran Bassil, Samir Geagea and Walid Jumblatt did not want me to be designated. Each has an agenda. I said we need new ideas because the old way of working is not successful. It is not a question of changing the system. They formed a government that was supposed to be a government of specialists. But they were chosen by parties. Where did we arrive in a year? It turned out this model is not successful either. The Macron initiative took place after the Beirut explosion. We sat at the Pine residence and agreed on a mission government, for 6 months, away from the parties. Everyone agreed. When we reached names, Geagea, Jumblatt and Bassil said that I should not be its president. So I said I will not be an obstacle, and stayed away”.
When asked how he could have presided a mission government while he is from the political class, Hariri replied: “Isn’t president Aoun from the political class? Hasn’t Speaker Berry been heading Parliament for 30 years?”
He continued: “Aoun and Bassil told me to nominate someone. Amal and Hezbollah said they want me. They said this to avoid Sunni-Shiite tension, it is a political game. I met with the former Prime Ministers, we chose three names, and finally Adib was designated. People criticized him, unfortunately. And when he left, they said he was good… My role when Adib was designated was to make sure that there would not be any name that upsets any party. Later, it was said that when Ali Hassan Khalil and Hussein Khalil met with Adib, he told them to check with me. Why? Because it was the issue of portfolio rotation.”
Asked where he got the idea of rotation, Hariri answered that it was proposed by Speaker Berry when the Tamam Salam government was formed. “There was a problem in the Energy ministry, and Berry suggested a rotation. We accepted it because Salam wanted it. If we showed good will about the rotation, and accepted that the Shiite community takes the Finance portfolio, it does not mean that Amal and Hezbollah have the right to keep this portfolio forever.”
Hariri reminded that many Finance ministers after Taef were nor Shiites, adding that the monopoly of any ministry by a sect is refused.
Hariri asked again: Does this portfolio deserve to topple an important initiative and rebuilding Beirut?
He added that the atmosphere regarding the French initiative was positive until the US sanctions took place.
Asked why the sanctions were imposed at that particular time, he said: “I don’t know what the Americans want”. Asked who hindered the initiative, he answered: “No one did. What hindered it are those who insisted on things. If the American wants to hinder the French initiative, should Amal and Hezbollah help him do this or continue the initiative?”
Hariri added: Then, Amal and Hezbollah hardened their positions. And everyone wanted to name his ministers. This brought us back to the Diab government formation mechanism.
Asked why he said that those who torpedoed the initiative would “bite their fingers”, he answered: Look where we are now. Every day we waste time in implementing the French initiative, is a lost day for the Lebanese.…
Hariri said that there should be a dialogue between the political leaders to find a way out of the collapse, adding: “If we let the French initiative fail, we would be committing a crime. I do not want to confront with weapons that destroyed the country. The problem in the country is that everyone has weapons and there were military parades everywhere in the country. Doesn’t anyone see that we are heading to the unknown? I am a candidate without a favor from anyone. Because I have a parliamentary bloc and people know who I am. I am not like the others. I do not threaten. Some of those who criticize me wants me to threaten but I will never be like the others. I am the son of Rafic Hariri. I am a moderate Lebanese. I want people to live and to have a free economy. This is Saad Hariri”.
Asked if this is considered a kind of surrender, Hariri answered: “Is it a surrender if someone works for his country in order to get it out of the crisis? I prefer to leave politics if we reach a place where there is a decision to carry weapons”.
In response to a question, Hariri explained that his objective was to stop the collapse and that he sacrificed for another person, Mustapha Adib, whom he met just once in Germany.
Asked if he and the former prime ministers wanted to implement the French initiative according to American and Saudi conditions to keep Hezbollah out of the government, Hariri said: “There are always accusations of conspiracies and accusations, as if someone is plotting against Hezbollah. There was even talk that we want to protect our back. How do you protect your back if three quarters of the Lebanese people are hungry? Due to all these practices, there is an economy that is collapsing. The conspiracy is against the people, and no one is making a conspiracy against Hezbollah. Everyone in Lebanon and the international community know that Hezbollah’s weapons exist, this weapon has regional repercussions and in order to solve it you have to solve the regional problem. But no one was calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah and this means there was no conspiracy. There was an attempt to rescue the country. As if asking for rotation is a crime”.
Asked whether there is a possible return to an understanding between Saad Hariri, and Aoun and Bassil, he answered: “I didn’t contact President Aoun. I called Gebran Bassil when he caught the coronavirus”.
Hariri explained that the agreement in Pine Residence was to form a government of specialists and we had one headed by Hassan Diab. The responsibility of the collapse lies on all the members of the government because at that stage they could have easily reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund and carry out projects and required reforms.
Hariri added: “What brought down Diab’s government was the explosion that occurred on August 4 in Beirut”.
Asked if he links the demarcation of borders and the refusal of the French initiative, he said that a lot has been written about the existence of a deal. “But I don’t know whether there was a deal or not. What I know is that a dialogue on the blue and maritime line is good for Lebanon, but this dialogue should have started three years ago. It did not start then because we always waste opportunities.”
He noted that those who work for Lebanon and those who block things cannot be compared, adding that he did the CEDRE conference while other blocked it.
Premier Hariri explained “there must be constitutional adjustments, but this happens with understanding. What saddens me in this country is that when there is a crisis they say that the problem is a system problem. The real problem is a problem of thinking. We go to the extreme in our stances. When we freeze the country for three years to elect Aoun, isn’t this an extreme? My disagreement with Geagea is that when there was vacuum in the country, we went for 45 sessions to elect him, but there was no solution. Then when I chose Frangie, Geagea chose Michel Aoun. I chose Aoun because I wanted to end the void, which is the main enemy of any system in the country. If we look at the United States, we see that if something happens to the President the vice president takes over, while in Lebanon if the President is gone there will be vacuum. We as political parties have a responsibility.”
He added: “The problem is with the parties and not the mechanism and the open time of the formation of the government needs amendment. But this is not the time for this discussion or other discussions. Pope John Paul II came to Lebanon and said that Lebanon is a message. What do we do with this message, do we tear it? The problem is that there are people who are using their surplus of strength to win in politics and this is unacceptable. Thus, I say there are two projects in the country, the first may change the system with the surplus of power, while the other consists of all the Lebanese who don’t want to change the system.”
About Dar al-Fatwa, he said: “The Mufti doesn’t want to be like the others, that is he doesn’t want to use a religious platform for political purposes. I believe this is a 70 year old problem. Every sect used it at one time. I am not blaming anyone, but if we want to be rational and wise we should not use religion in politics, particularly at this delicate stage, because if everyone lets the sect interferes in politics, then the stances would harden. So instead of having a political problem, it will become a problem between Sunnis and Shiites, Sunnis and Christians, or Shiites and Christians. Dar al-Fatwa took a decision not to use the religious platform for political purposes. Some also accused us as former Prime Ministers of naming Mustapha Adib. You don’t want us to name anyone, so what should we do? We always turn the problem into a sectarian issue although it is not. The issue is political”.
Asked about the people who supported him in the past and then accused him of concessions, like Radwan al-Sayyed and Nuhad Machnouk, he said: “What is their project and what is the alternative? They are trying to find a political position for themselves.”
Hariri added: “Everyone has the right to give his opinion in politics and criticize any political party. But in exchange they should have an alternative or a solution and not just criticism.”
Asked if he considers that what Bahaa Hariri is doing is directed against him, Hariri said: “Bahaa is my elder brother, I love him and respect him. He is responsible of his acts. The Lebanese will judge. I will not talk about the family”.
Asked if he will try to unite the Sunnis, he said: “What concerns me is Lebanon. If you look at the history of Sunnis in Lebanon, their project is the state and we do not want foreign projects.”
If US sanctions befall a person close to him, what would he do? “If he is corrupt, I will not protect him”.
Asked about what led to the collapse of the presidential settlement, he said: “They always accuse me of electing President Aoun. I am not saying that I am not responsible. I bear responsibility and I elected President Aoun, but the Lebanese Forces were the ones who named him first. I wanted to put an end to the vacuum and this is not the first time I do it. I stand by my allies to the end, but when I see that they stand against the interest of the country, I prioritize the interest of the country. I am not accusing anyone, but these are the facts and after four years, I am the only one who made this settlement.
I regret that we reached to where we are today. All the battles that took place during the past three years, especially between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces, are insignificant. I discovered after they reconciled and we elected President Aoun that there was an agreement, which I was not aware of, to divide Christian appointments between them. This bothered me. Did they want through it to say that they name the Christians and so-and-so names the Sunnis and others name the Druze? This is a big mistake and the country does not go like this. After my resignation in 2019, I was asked to form a government, but I told them that this method was no longer useful and that we should form a government of specialists.”
Whether he accuses Geagea of inciting Saudi Arabia against him, he said that no one could shake his relation with Saudi Arabia. Geagea did his interest but where is Lebanon’s interest? He added that Gebran Bassil is more dangerous for the presidency than Geagea because he pursued the policy of eliminating the other Christian group.
Asked if he thinks that Bassil is responsible for the collapse, he said that the differences always affected the work of the government.
He said : “I wanted to reform, and in Michel Aoun’s mandate, didn’t CEDRE happen? It did, but there were always differences, some say that Saad Hariri does not stand with his allies, this is not true, but when I see my ally making a mistake, I do not support him.”
Hariri said that we live in a region that goes through changes, adding “Some say that Saad Hariri has a kind heart, and is weak. Saad Hariri saw what happened in Syria, with 23 million Syrians, 85% of whom are Sunnis. Where are they? 10 million abroad, 8 million displaced in Syria. When I see this, would you tell me to do this to my country? I supported the Syrian revolution at a time when it was peaceful, and I support it today, because it is rightful. There is a regime that killed and massacred people and Bashar al-Assad committed awful crimes, and I do not want Lebanon to witness the same. We saw red lines suddenly erased, when a chemical attack was launched. All we want for Lebanon is stability and a life of dignity and security.”
He said that the Lebanese are not responsible of the sanctions imposed on Hezbollah, adding that Hezbollah knows this and should make some sacrifices and let the Lebanese live.
Hariri added: “I am convinced that there is a project that is trying to take us to a civil war and I am against it and not because of Hezbollah, Amal and Aoun but because I am against war and against weapons”.
Concerning the fact that Geagea refused his nomination for Premiership, he said that it was linked to the diplomatic appointments but that there is no real problem with him.
About early elections, Hariri noted that MP Mohammad Raad said at the Pine Residence that Hezbollah refuses early parliamentary elections, and this was the main problem in the paper for them.
About the resignation of seven MPs, Hariri considered it as useless because he would have preferred Sami Gemayel to remain in Parliament, and his voice heard in Parliament.
He added that he did not submit his resignation because he did not consider that it would lead to early parliamentary elections.
Asked if he fears a civil war as a result of all these collapses, he said: “Yes because of what is happening today in terms of armament and military displays in the Sunni or Christian street, even what happened in Hamra and Mar Mikhael and other places. Also what is happening in Baalbek-Hermel. This is the collapse of the state. We did not see such things few years ago. All these collapses lead us to one place and we are afraid to talk about it but all this is leading to civil war. All the foreign press and even the French Foreign Minister are talking about the demise of Lebanon. What does this mean? Is Lebanon going to disappear? Lebanon has been here for thousands of years”.
He added that he is with the positive neutrality called for by the Maronite Patriarch but can it be imposed on all people and all parties?
Asked if he agree to lift subsidies on basic commodities, he said: “We are subsidizing today because there is no dollar in the country. If we want to solve the problem we have to go to the base, which is how are we going to bring the dollars into the country? This happens through a program with the International Monetary Fund. When there are dollars in the country, there won’t be problems such as the ones that the citizens are witnessing now. Then Riad Salame does not have to do what he is doing today. If there were a program with the IMF, we would not have all these problems, because when you agree with the Fund on a framework program and start implementing it, the Fund will begin pumping money into the country, according to the reforms that we are carrying out. Then Riad Salame or any central bank governor would have no problem. The problem is in the dollars, not in the subsidies.
Of course I am with the subsidy but it should be associated with a program, because the sum of the 1800 billion will finish. I said that last February. We must negotiate with the IMF, knowing that Hassan Diab’s government is conducting negotiations, but I do not know why they did not reach a result”.
When asked what Hezbollah was doing, he said that Hezbollah says that he does not want privatization, taxation, or the monetary fund. But how do we subsidize? Do we sell our gold reserves? We have to agree with the International Monetary Fund. He added that President Macron’s initiative is very clear regarding the reforms that should be carried and the negotiations with the IMF.
Hariri added that the government of Hassan Diab stopped paying the Eurobonds eight months ago and until now there hasn’t been a single negotiation with the shareholders? The behavior of this government is what got us here. This dispute is not whether the number set by Lazard is correct or not. This is not the dispute, but rather it is over how to negotiate with the IMF. And there will be a battle in the negotiations. Let nobody think that negotiating with the International Monetary Fund will be easy. We call on the IMF and they have to listen to us and tell us and say these are the steps that we have, this is what we can offer, and this is what we will negotiate.
When asked if this means that he wants privatization and increases taxes on people, he said: “This matter was agreed upon by everyone in the Pine Residence. But the question is: Do we still approve this program? Do Hezbollah, Amal and all political parties still agree to this paper? If they do not agree, the problem is elsewhere. You are talking about a problem in forming the government while the problem is in the program. From now, say what is the problem with the program so that they won’t negotiate on the government and then a party says that it does not agree with this program.”
Hariri explained that if a monochrome government is formed supported by Hezbollah and the party that supports Hassan Diab’s government, then no one will give a penny because there is an international decision in this respect.
He also said that he is not against the forensic audit but it is said that the IMF was the one who requested it. This is not true because the IMF has never asked any country to conduct this type of audit. It is a lie. If it is to fight corruption, I have no problem, even if they enter Saad Hariri’s accounts, to see what he had 15 years ago and what he has today, adding “if you want to fight corruption the first rule is the independence of the judiciary, and this is mentioned in Macron’s paper. Is there any law that has not been passed in the parliament to fight corruption? Every day a law is issued, but how will we implement it as long as everyone interferes with the judiciary?”
Concerning Aoun’s call for consultations, Hariri said that he is the natural candidate in this matter and is ready to start contacts this week. If all the political parties agree on the IMF program, he will not shut the door on the only hope that Lebanon has to stop this collapse.
He added: If they do not want a government of specialists then they should tell the Lebanese and the international community because no money will be granted and Macron’s initiative has a grace period of 6 months. This opportunity must not be missed, it is unacceptable to starve the Lebanese. Let them take 72 hours and think, in order to start the contacts.
Asked if the condition of having Bassil in the government still stands, Hariri said: “I do not accept this. I think that everyone sees the collapse and should take the decision and implement the program of the IMF”.
Concerning the October 17 revolution anniversary, Hariri said that the people who took to the streets are the people of Beirut and Ashrafieh. They participated in March 14 and some of them elected me. Part of them regretted that they participated in the revolution because the problem with the revolution is in people who infiltrated it. But if you think about the core of the revolution and its demands then what was discussed at the Pine residence must be implemented.
About an international investigation of the port of Beirut, Hariri said: “Four prime ministers issued the first statement on the subject of the international investigation, and the bloc did the same thing, and the international investigation started with European countries that are helping the Lebanese security services find out the cause of the explosion. I think it was the result of neglect. If I had known (about the presence of explosive material), I would have made a lot of noise. If I was Prime minister and had known, I would have interrogated everybody. If there is corruption at the port, we have to follow the money. The Information branch arrested 80 trucks of nitrate and explosives and modern material that was headed to Syria…I wish that we could have an international investigation”.
Hariri said: “We must be clear that the French initiative is the only and fastest way to rebuild Beirut. But there must be a good atmosphere in the country to start the reconstruction, and today there are many problems like the dollar. Some parties in the country did not leave us one Gulf friend and Arab friend because of their political stances.
Regarding general amnesty, Hariri said: “After what we saw in Baalbek-Hermel, will we still talk about amnesty? Is it to gain popularity?
I am with an amnesty to release the innocents, but those who committed crimes against the army, the security forces, or against the citizens, will not be released”.
Asked about Beirut, which is drowning in sorrow, Hariri said “to the people of Beirut, especially to its martyrs and their families, and those who were injured, that Beirut will rise against all odds”.
He added: I hope that all the parties would make the right decision. If you do not want the IMF program, say it. I apologize for being harsh. I endured the harshness of all parties, allies and non-allies, I remained silent for two years because I was watching where we were heading, and I knew from the first moment that we were heading towards a downfall.
Source: National News Agency