Attempts to calm recent political tension will pick up this week when President Emile Lahoud holds separate encounters with the Maronite patriarch and Walid Jumblatt, the head of the Progressive Socialist Party.
On Tuesday, Lahoud is expected to visit Diman, the summer residence of Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, and to host Jumblatt for lunch at Baabda Palace two days later.
A Baabda Palace source said the meetings would provide an opportunity for Lahoud to “evaluate” the events of recent weeks, which saw the round-up of scores of Christian opponents of Syria’s presence in Lebanon and Parliament’s controversial approval of an amended criminal procedures law, against the convictions of MPs and ministers, as well as of Premier Rafik Hariri.
“It will be an opportunity to evaluate various topics, and the president never halted his contacts with politicians. These visits will follow-up results of previous meetings.
“These are not low profile encounters. The president wants to explain his position to politicians and the public,” the source added.
“He will discuss the critical regional situation and the need for everyone to assume his responsibility during this period.”
The source rejected criticism that Lebanon was headed toward becoming a police state. He argued that the convening of a conference on public freedoms at the Carlton Hotel last week and a continuous stream of anti-government criticism in the media demonstrated the opposite, that an atmosphere of freedom was not in danger.
Samir Franjieh, a member of the Qornet Shehwan Gathering, told The Daily Star the week’s meetings were a “last chance” for the authorities to rescue the country from political crisis.
Franjieh said Lahoud’s meeting with the patriarch would be discussed when the Qornet Shehwan members travel to Diman on Wednesday for lunch with Sfeir.
“This is an important week. It’s the last chance for the state to get itself out of a crisis that was of its own making, and the Lahoud-Sfeir meeting will affect Walid Jumblatt’s meeting with the president later in the week,” Franjieh said.
“In his Sunday sermon, the patriarch was very clear,” Franjieh said, referring to the prelate’s criticism that the arrests had harmed Lebanon’s reputation and helped derail the reconciliation resulting from Sfeir’s trip to the Chouf and Jezzine at the beginning of the month.
“I reject the way all those detained, whatever their affiliation, were taken into custody and the way that they were questioned,” Franjieh said.
He stressed that the authorities had to do more than admit that mistakes were made, demanding criminal prosecution or administrative disciplinary steps be taken for those found guilty of wrongdoing.
“The crisis has hurt all institutions, with the government in a state of ‘unannounced resignation,’” he said, referring to Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s decision to go ahead with a 10-day vacation in Sardinia.
One Christian politician critical of both the opposition and the authorities’ performance said that Lahoud would likely have little to offer Sfeir or Jumblatt.
“What can Lahoud talk about? With Jumblatt, perhaps he could float the idea of establishing a senate,” the politician speculated.
He was referring to a perennial demand by the Druze community, which is expected to provide a president for the new body should it be created.
“But when we see this type of meeting, its effectiveness disappears a few days later,” the politician continued, citing Lahoud’s hosting Berri and Hariri for lunch last week at his Baabda residence.
He pointed out that the next day, four of Hariri’s MPs attended the Carlton conference on freedoms, with Bassem Sabaa taking the lead in criticizing the authorities for the crackdown.