BEIRUT: Egypt offered Wednesday to mediate a solution for the political crisis in Lebanon sparked by last month’s assassination of the country’s top intelligence chief if all the Lebanese parties agreed. The declaration by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammad Kamel Amr following talks with Lebanon’s top leaders reflected Egypt’s attempts to regain its leading role in the Arab world following last year’s popular upheaval that ousted President Hosni Mubarak and brought the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammad Mursi to the presidency.
Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman said the visits of foreign officials to Lebanon, including French President Francois Hollande’s trip over the weekend, were not aimed at meddling in internal Lebanese affairs.
Describing the visits as “useful,” Sleiman told a Cabinet meeting he chaired at the Baabda Palace: “These visits are exploratory and [designed] to ask about Lebanon’s needs. We don’t ask them [foreign officials] to intervene and they do not want to interfere in our internal affairs.”
Sleiman said he would continue his consultations with rival leaders in an attempt to convene a National Dialogue session to explore a solution for the political crisis, including the possibility of forming a new government.
“Dialogue must not stop,” he said.
The Oct. 19 assassination of police intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan has thrown Lebanon into a serious political crisis following the opposition March 14 coalition’s calls for the resignation of the government and the formation of a new Cabinet.
The coalition has called on Prime Minister Najib Mikati to step aside after accusing his government of complicity with the Syrian regime in Hasan’s assassination. The coalition has also announced a total boycott of the government and all Cabinet-related meetings in Parliament as part of its moves to pressure the government to resign.
In addition to Hollande and the Egyptian foreign minister, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Jones also visited Beirut last week during which she renewed Washington’s call for the formation of a new government that would bolster Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty and independence.
Amr met on the second day of his visit to Beirut with Sleiman, Mikati, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt to discuss bilateral relations and the political crisis in Lebanon. The talks also covered the 20-month-old bloody conflict in neighboring Syria and its repercussions on Lebanon. Amr met Tuesday with Speaker Nabih Berri and some March 14 leaders.
Amr conveyed Mursi’s greetings to Sleiman, saying that Egypt has always stood on Lebanon’s side.
He praised Sleiman’s efforts to preserve stability in Lebanon, saying that Egypt is ready to help in any Lebanese demand, according to a statement released by the president’s office.
Amr also called for combined Arab and international efforts to end the conflict in Syria and find a solution to restore stability to the country.
For his part, Sleiman praised stability in Egypt and the country’s shift to democracy following the popular uprising against the Mubarak regime.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Mansour, Amr said he carried a message to all Lebanese leaders from Mursi and the Egyptian government and people that Egypt stood on Lebanon’s side.
“Egypt is present here with you. Anything which the Lebanese people, the Lebanese leadership and the Lebanese parties see that Egypt is capable of doing, we are always ready to serve Lebanon’s interest,” Amr said.
“As we have always said, Egypt is returning to its normal position as before,” he added.
Asked how Egypt translate could translate its support for Lebanon to resolving the Cabinet crisis and tension following Hasan’s assassination, Amr said: “Any attempt to deal with the internal situation in Lebanon should come from inside Lebanon and by all segments of the Lebanese people. We have been accustomed [to seeing] Lebanon overcome any crisis it faces. If Egypt’s role is sought and accepted by all the parties in Lebanon, we are fully ready to play such a role.”
The Egyptian minister, whose president has strongly supported the uprising against the Syrian regime, said the conflict in Syria would definitely leave repercussions not only on Lebanon, but also on all neighboring countries.
He called for a quick solution for the Syrian crisis that would meet “the legitimate demands of the Syrian people for freedom, democracy and human rights.”
Meanwhile, the March 14 coalition reiterated its call for the government’s resignation and the formation of a neutral salvation Cabinet to oversee next year’s parliamentary elections.
“A new Cabinet should be formed and its members should be from outside the March 14 and March 8 parties,” said a statement issued after a meeting of the March 14 Secretariat-General.
It said the new government should work to move the country from “the state of despair, bloody incidents and explosive social crises to an acceptable state of normal life.”
Responding to their repeated calls for a Cabinet change, Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad accused the March 14 parties of paralyzing the work of state institutions with their boycott.
“It is not a Cabinet matter. It is a matter of power. Those who want to bring down the government are seeking power for themselves. Their most sacred goal is to return to power,” Raad said. “If their boycott persisted in this negative manner, they [March 14] would not only thwart holding the elections, but also all state utilities,” he added.
Maronite Bishops stressed the need to uphold national unity, saying that dialogue was the only way to resolve the political crisis.
A statement issued after a meeting of the Council of Maronite Bishops held in Bkirki called on rival political leaders to accept Sleiman’s call for dialogue in order “to confront crises and internal and regional challenges and prepare for holding the parliamentary elections on time.”
The statement also called on the various leaders to commit to the “Baabda Declaration” that calls for neutralizing Lebanon from regional conflicts.