President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, asserted that his visit to Qatar is in response to the invitation of its Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to attend the opening of the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup and the inauguration of sports stadiums, and it is an expression of the depth and strength of these relations between the two countries that are free of interests.
The President praised the Qatari initiatives to help Lebanon, especially after the explosion of the port of Beirut, noting that he would call on the Emir of Qatar to direct investment in Lebanon, “noting that the land is fertile at the present time”.
In addition, President Aoun considered that Qatari diplomacy is a pioneer and always present in regional and international forums, and the world today needs more than ever to give priority to the language of reason and dialogue instead of the language of fighting, distance and strength.
The President also clarified that his saying “I will not surrender for vacancy” was invested incorrectly within the framework of the focused and programmed campaigns to offend, and that what he meant was to emphasize that there would be no vacuum after the end of the presidential term, knowing that the Lebanese Constitution provided for the possibility of a vacancy occurring for any reason and stipulated that the Cabinet collectively exercises the powers of the president until a new president is elected by the House of Representatives, noting that there is no logical reason to bring the parliamentary elections earlier.
The President stressed that a term extension is not possible, and that the next president should have proper representation and have the qualifications that would enable him to assume this great responsibility, be familiar with the distinctive Lebanese structure, and be an element of convergence and not division.
Moreover, President Aoun pointed out that the events that Lebanon witnessed during the past two years negatively overshadowed all the positives that were achieved in the era, perhaps the most prominent of which was the approval of decrees for extracting oil and gas, which occupies the forefront of the positives, adding that Lebanon demanded amendments to the indirect negotiation lines with Israel over the maritime borders, considering that there are “geopolitical” considerations in this context, and the decision-making country in this context may be close to us geographically and may be far from us, but what is certain is that its impact on the oil companies is very large.
In addition, President Aoun affirmed his keenness on the principle of separation of powers, and on not interfering in the work of the judiciary, noting that it is not within the power of the Council of Ministers to decide on the issue of Judge Tariq Al-Bitar, and this matter is left to the judiciary exclusively. The President explained that he had not seen the images provided by Russia via its satellites of the Beirut port before and after the explosion, and that he requested that the images be handed over to the judiciary to find out the circumstances.
President Aoun’s positions came during an interview with the Qatari newspaper “Al-Raya” on the occasion of his visit to Doha, where he explained that he had received an invitation from His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim to attend the opening ceremony of the Arab Cup FIFA 2021 and the inauguration of sports stadiums, and that this invitation comes “in the context of the friendship that unites me with His Highness the Prince Sheikh Tamim and before with His Highness the Father Prince, and this friendship of ours is old, pure and free of interests, and I had the honor of him visiting me at my home with Her Highness Princess SheikhaMoza”.
The President pointed out that the relationship between Lebanon and Qatar is old, solid and strong.
“After my election as President of the Republic, I paid a special visit to the State of Qatar, and this visit was to express the depth of our relations and the friendship that unites us, and these relations continued to grow and develop year after year. Lebanon and its attendance at the summit, and the communication between us has never been cut off during this period. The standing of His Highness Emir Sheikh Tamim and the brotherly Qatari people by Lebanon after the explosion of the port is appreciated and thanked. The Qatari presence was distinguished and strong after the disaster that struck Lebanon. His Highness directed to send a lot of aid, and we appreciate Doha’s constant support by our side, and we thank His Highness for following up on the good and bad news of Lebanon” President Aoun said.
“In short, what unites us and Qatar goes beyond friendship and rises to the level of brotherhood where the brother fears for his brother. You fear for us and we fear for you” the President added.
Qatari presence in Lebanon
In response to a question, the President of the Republic considered that Qatari diplomacy is a pioneer and always present in regional and international forums, and constantly plays conciliatory roles that help establish understandings for the sake of stability, safety and the well-being of peoples, and the world today needs more than ever to give priority to the language of reason and dialogue instead of the language of fighting and distance and strength.
Regarding the Qatari presence in Lebanon and the aid to the army, he said: “Lebanon is going through a stifling economic crisis, and the Lebanese army and other security institutions are not immune from it. The causes of the crisis are manifold, and they start with the catastrophic consequences of the Syrian war, which blocked land ports to the Arab Gulf states, disrupted the export movement, harmed the Lebanese economy, flooding Lebanon with one million and 850 thousand displaced Syrians, only a few groups of them have returned because the return is voluntary, which constituted a huge financial burden on us, especially since the United Nations has limited its financial aid to the displaced themselves. According to the International Monetary Fund, Lebanon spends between 3 and 4 billion dollars annually on the displaced. In 2019, there were demonstrations that contributed to the deepening of the economic problem, and then the Corona pandemic came to tighten the noose further on our economy.
There are no basic Qatari investments in Lebanon, knowing that the land is fertile at the present time. During my visit to Doha, I will call on His Highness the Emir to direct investment in the reconstruction of the port of Beirut, in electricity and infrastructure, in addition to banking employment. The large debt is one of the main reasons for the collapse of the national currency, and the additional factors I mentioned above contributed to reaching the comprehensive collapse. We are working through the government to formulate an integrated economic plan, based on the principle of negotiation with the International Monetary Fund and carrying out the necessary reforms and reorganizing several sectors, including the banking sector, and controlling and rationalizing spending and other points. We put in the pre-existing government an integrated plan supervised by the “McKinsey group, but the political developments that accelerated after that prevented its implementation”.
On the electricity situation, President Aoun indicated that government neglect “Has brought us to where we are today, and if the ideal and integrated plan that was drawn up in 2010 had been adhered to, we would have been far from this crisis, and it is known that the plan has been obstructed by a political decision for which the Lebanese pay dearly. It is the political wrangling and personal considerations that prevented the implementation of the plan, and those who obstructed it are known to all Lebanese.
President Aoun was asked about Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup next year, and he replied that “Despite its small area, Qatar’s name is big in the world, and had it not been for the exceptional effort made by the wise Qatari leadership, which was distributed on more than one axis and on more than one level, Qatar would not have occupied these top ranks. For an Arab country to host the World Cup in football is a major event in itself, and success will crown this hosting”.
In response to another question, he stressed that the relationship with Qatar is fraternal, ancient and solid, “And there is a special treatment that Doha gives to the Lebanese it hosts on its lands, and we undoubtedly appreciate this special Qatari gesture. Despite all the pitfalls caused by Arab-Arab disputes, Qatar adhered to the policy of open doors with the Lebanese, and this matter is appreciated by us. God willing, we will see you in Beirut next summer. My message to the Lebanese in Doha is to be, as we have entrusted them, messengers of love between the two countries and to remain loyal and giving, while they feel that Qatar is their second country and act on this basis”.
The delusion caused by the phrase “I will not surrender to vacancy,” which he said, President Aoun asserted that the phrase was misused within the framework of the focused and programmed campaigns to abuse. “What I meant was to confirm that there will be no vacuum after the end of the presidential term, given that the Lebanese constitution stipulates the possibility of a vacuum for any reason and stipulates that the Council of Ministers collectively exercises the powers of the president until a new president is elected by the House of Representatives. It has already happened. That happened twice after Taif.. I hope that we will not reach the hypothesis of a vacancy, knowing that the constitution is clear. The existing government is the one who collectively assumes the powers of the president” the President said.
President Aoun responded to a question about the possibility of a term-extension: “For me, an extension is out of the question. I have said this repeatedly and I will repeat it today. As for the next president, he must have a parliamentary majority, which means that he has a correct representation and has the qualifications that enable him to assume this great responsibility and be familiar with the Lebanese structure. It will be an element of convergence and not discrimination, and it is not yet certain who will have the next majority in the Parliament, and the picture becomes clear after the electoral merits are completed”.
President Aoun also said that he was elected by the House of Representatives, for a specific term that ends on October 31, 2022, and “I will continue to assume my full responsibilities until that date. Then I did not understand yet what is the reason that necessitates my resignation?! The calls that are issued from time to time are not realistically justified. Rather, it falls within the framework of populist bidding and slogans, which if their launchers had realized the extent of their danger, they would have refrained from repeating them”.
Pros of the Presidential Term:
President Aoun was asked about the popular protests that took place, and he replied that “When a government falls under popular pressure, a new government is formed that takes into account the demands for which the people took to the streets. I called on the movement to listen to its demands and to carry out the required reforms, and it turned out with time that the groups are contradictory and lack a unified leadership and one reference, and then we learned that the operators of these groups are abroad and not in Lebanon. With regard to the parliamentary elections, apparently there is no cohesion between the movement’s groups despite repeated attempts to reunite, and her irregularity in unified lists, will make it difficult for the movement to win the elections”.
President Aoun also considered that the crisis we are experiencing is what will remain in the minds of the Lebanese, “but the positive factor in this negative atmosphere is that I was able to maintain stability despite the great international pressure for several reasons, most notably regarding Hezbollah’s weapons, which the entire Lebanese people do not unite in their view of it.” Despite that, we created a peaceful situation among the Lebanese, and there was not a single hit. Unfortunately, the events that Lebanon witnessed during the past two years overshadowed, with their negativity, all the positives that were achieved in the era, perhaps the most prominent of which was the adoption of decrees for the extraction of oil and gas, which occupies the forefront of the positives”.
Oil and demarcation
In response to a question, President Aoun confirmed that there is no oil war being waged against Lebanon, “But there are geopolitical” considerations. There is something ambiguous. I was told by the ship that was drilling in Block No. 4 that it was found that there was gas present. I received the congratulatory call when we were at sunset, and I asked to keep the matter secret until my visit to the ship the next day, when an announcement would be made from there that gas had been discovered. The next morning I received a call saying that the amount of oil was not commercial, so I told them thank you… I added jokingly: Because you were able to measure the basin at night!!! I immediately estimated that the reasons are international political, and the country that makes the decision in this context may be close to us geographically and may be far from us, but what is certain is that its impact on the oil companies is very large.. Among the positives, is the “Fahr Al Juroud” operation and the cleansing of Lebanon from sleeper terrorist cells. Also among the positives is the new electoral law on a proportional basis, for the first time in Lebanon’s political history, after our system was a majority. This law established a state of balance between the Lebanese sects, in addition to a balance within each sect. Financial regularity is also one of the most prominent advantages, as after 12 years of not setting a state budget, where the exchange was based on the twelve rule, the budgets were completed annually, and the audit began to cut the necessary account to achieve the auditing bureau according to the rules, in addition to the organization of the diplomatic body and the procedure Diplomatic placements, launching projects to construct water dams, many roads, highways, and other developmental achievements”.
With regard to the file of demarcation of the maritime borders, the President of the Republic stressed that “the position that I have defined since the first day is that Lebanon has water borders in which the exclusive economic zone contains oil and gas wealth. We are now in the process of relaunching the path, and in similar cases the wealth is hidden and the borders are not known, and sharing is adopted in such a case.. We demanded amendments to the negotiation lines and in negotiating for each party to make a concession to reach a solution”.
Regarding the date of the parliamentary elections, President Aoun considered that “there is no logical reason to bring the election date closer, and all the pretexts presented do not justify bringing it closer, so I decided to exercise my constitutional rights. Determining the date of the elections is the responsibility of the executive authority, not the legislative authority, and to the issue of powers is added the huge constitutional violation represented in incorrectly calculating the number of deputies that constitute the absolute majority during the voting process. The number should be 65 out of 128, but the vote took place with only 59 votes. If the parliamentary elections take place in the month of March, some of the Lebanese will lose their right to vote, and some will be unable to move to the mountainous areas due to the cold weather at that period and the high fuel prices, and therefore we will be in this case before a council of the wealthy, and we have counted 17 heirs who joined the movement Al-Madani presenting themselves with new faces!”.
Hezbollah, the government and the judiciary:
As for the issue of the judiciary and the problems that have emerged, President Aoun said: “Our constitution clearly speaks of the separation of powers, that is, a separation between the executive authority, the legislative authority, and the judicial authority. And if it is ordered to decide on lawsuits against the state, it is left to the judiciary and its appreciation of the laws in force. I basically do not interfere in the work of the judiciary and respect its independence. What is said about Amal and Hezbollah linking a conflict between the government and the judiciary, the link is not in place. It is not within the power of the Council of Ministers to decide on the issue of Judge Tariq Al-Bitar, and this matter is left to the judiciary exclusively. I wrote a tweet in which I cited a statement by Imam Ali saying, “Whoever puts himself in charge, does not blame the one who thinks badly of him.” The question is: Why do they put themselves in the position of the accused? There is no justification for their fear of the judiciary. Hezbollah is not yet concerned, because those summoned to the investigation do not belong to its ranks, and its sensitivity on the matter is due to the interdependence of paths between the two parties”.
As for the responsibilities, President Aoun replied that he did not see the investigation and therefore “I cannot address any detail in light of my lack of knowledge of the file, and I preferred not to contact any judge so as not to be placed within the framework of my interference. The case of the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion file is one of the most difficult and complex issues, and the limits of my authority is to ensure that things are going properly and not to interfere in the work of the judiciary, and despite my immutable immunity, I put myself at the disposal of the judiciary to present a good example to the ministers and representatives who upheld their immunities. I asked President Putin for satellite images of the port and he responded. The pictures arrived in a secret and closed envelope. I refused to receive it and demanded that it be handed over to the Minister of Justice, who in turn handed it over to the judiciary, and we cannot determine in advance what the pictures might reveal, nor can we rely on speculation. The case is before the judiciary and the investigation shows whether it was Israel or someone else”.
Regarding Australia’s inclusion of Hezbollah on the list of terrorism, the President of the Republic asked whether Australia had taken this step by self-determination?! He pointed out that Hezbollah is almost besieged, and this external siege of it may generate an internal explosion if it exceeds this limit, and the security explosion inside – if it happens, God forbid – is a sign of the outbreak of a civil war. We are currently bearing the bad consequences of the siege, but this situation, despite its disadvantages, is much better than the civil war, which is unlikely to happen because no one can enter this losing adventure”