Lebanon News

Long-standing Islamic council row finally over

Rival Sunni politicians have agreed on backing Derian as the new grand mufti. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian is set to be elected Lebanon’s new grand mufti Sunday after a 3-year-old dispute between Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani and the Future Movement was finally resolved.

Under the deal brokered by Egypt and backed by Saudi Arabia, consensus was achieved between March 8 and March 14 Sunni politicians on backing Derian, currently the head of the Higher Sunni Religious Court. Qabbani’s term expires in September.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Sheikh Mohammad Anis Arwadi, a member of the Higher Islamic Council, said that talks to resolve the crisis had begun earlier this year.

He explained that indirect negotiations had taken place between former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Nader Hariri, the director of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s office, on one side, and Qabbani on the other.

“Talks began two months ago and there were some obstacles. But the Saudi-Egyptian alliance and March 8 [Sunni officials] have facilitated the mission,” Arwadi said.

Arwadi added that an initiative led by Egypt’s consul in Lebanon, Sharif Bahrawi, helped resolve a crisis that could have resulted in Lebanon having two grand muftis.

Mounting disputes between the Future Movement and Qabbani over the past years had split the Higher Islamic Council into two branches. One is headed by Qabbani and the other by former Minister Omar Miskawi. Each council considered the other illegitimate and set a separate date to elect a new grand mufti.

The council, set up in 1930, supervises the financial and administrative affairs of the institutions of Dar al-Fatwa, the top Sunni religious authority in Lebanon.

The agreement states that Qabbani will allow the election of a new grand mufti at Dar al-Fatwa, and that each council will retract lawsuits filed against the other. Miskawi’s council will now be considered the only legitimate body and its term will expire by the end of the year.

In return, the powers of the grand mufti will not be reduced by any reforms set to be introduced to Dar al-Fatwa, a longtime demand by Qabbani. “All parties agreed that the six main articles of Legislative Decree 18 [which regulates Dar al-Fatwa] will not be touched,” Arwadi said.

The electorate body which will elect the new grand mufti will comprise around 103 religious figures and prominent officials of the Sunni sect, including the current and former prime ministers. The decision made by Qabbani’s council in June to expand the electorate body will not be taken into consideration.

Arwadi said he believed that turbulence in the region and the rise of extremist groups might have been an incentive for Sunni politicians to finally ink the deal.

“The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria has reached our border ... the Sunni sect is in need of unity and stability,” Arwadi said, adding that Saudi Arabia and Egypt supported the stability of Lebanon and the Sunni sect.

The agreement was backed by most Sunni politicians, including Prime Minister Tammam Salam, and former prime ministers Fouad Siniora, Najib Mikati and Omar Karami. March 8 Sunni politicians meeting at the house of former Minister Abdel-Rahim Mrad earlier this week also voiced their backing for the deal.

The only group to voice their opposition was the Muslim Scholars Committee, who said Sunni preachers should choose their representative rather than politicians.

In expression of its irritation, the committee announced the candidacy of one of its members, Sheikh Ahmad Kurdi, for the post of grand mufti.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 08, 2014, on page 3.




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