Lebanon News

Stage set for faceoff over Qabbani ruling

File - Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani leaves after attending a press conference in Dar al-Fatwa in Beirut, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam and former premiers will meet Wednesday to discuss a controversial decision by Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani to expand the electoral body that picks his replacement.

The meeting Wednesday will also be attended by members of former Minister Omar Miskawi’s Higher Islamic Council.

Since the end of 2012, disputes between Qabbani and Saad Hariri’s Future Movement have split the council into two. One is chaired by Miskawi and is considered to be close to the Future Movement, while the other is headed by Qabbani. Each of the councils considers the other illegitimate.

During a meeting under Qabbani Saturday, the body decided to expand the electoral body from more than 100 members to around 2,800.

Prior to the amendment, those electing the grand mufti were prominent figures of the Sunni sect, including the prime minister, former prime ministers, ministers, MPs and religious judges currently in service.

The amendment, however, would allow any holder of an Islamic Shariah degree from an Islamic university acknowledged by Dar al-Fatwa to take part.

Qabbani justified the move by pointing out that this was the size of the electoral body between 1955 and 1996, the year he was elected the mufti, when Decree 18 of 1955, which regulates the affairs of Dar al-Fatwa, was amended to reduce the size of the electoral body.

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.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Miskawi said he did not acknowledge Qabbani’s decision.

“This decision was not officially approved and it will not be published in the official Gazette,” said the former transport minister.

“I believe that the aim of this decision is to prevent the holding of an election to pick a mufti so that Qabbani will remain in his post after his term expires.”

Qabbani’s term expires Sept. 15.

The former minister also accused Qabbani of getting closer to the March 8 coalition.

Miskawi said that although up until 1996 Decree 18 also stipulated that any holder of an Islamic Shariah degree could participate in the election, this was never implemented.

“How could it be implemented now in the absence of voting lists [the names of those who can vote]? It is also unacceptable that everyone who carries an Islamic Shariah degree can elect a grand mufti. These are not municipal or parliamentary elections,” Miskawi said.

However, Maher Saqqal, the deputy head of the council chaired by Qabbani, dismissed Miskawi’s claims, stressing that the mufti would leave his post once his term expired in September.

“You cannot judge by intentions. The grand mufti said that Sept. 15 will be a different day. He will not remain in his post after that day,” Saqqal said.

“All that we are doing is implementing articles that were present from 1955 up till 1996.”

Saqqal said the council Qabbani chaired was preparing voting lists as a prelude to electing a new mufti.

“The voting lists will be prepared based on who comprises the electoral body,” he said.

Saqqal said Miskawi’s council was picturing the election process after the amendment as “very complicated” to serve its own agenda.

He also accused Miskawi’s council of wanting to keep the electoral body small because most of its members were currently loyal to it and thus it could elect the grand mufti it wanted.

Saqqal explained that late Grand Mufti Sheikh Hasan Khaled won unopposed in 1966, which was the reason the article of Decree 18 on the electoral body was not implemented back then.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 11, 2014, on page 4.




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