BEIRUT: Future bloc MP Samir Jisr said Tuesday that the security situation in Tripoli was stable, adding that the presence of ISIS flags at a demonstration last week did not reflect the general mood of Lebanon’s second-biggest city.
Speaking to The Daily Star in a wide-ranging interview at his office, Jisr dismissed an argument by the March 8 coalition that holding parliamentary elections on time, even during a presidential void, would generate a new balance of power inside the legislature that might help elect a president.
“I believe the security situation [in Tripoli] is under control in principle, particularly after the implementation of the security plan,” said Jisr, a Tripoli lawmaker.
A security plan imposed by the Army in April ended sporadic clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad which intensified in Tripoli with the start of the civil war in Lebanon’s neighbor in March 2011.
“I don’t think there is anything worrying,” Jisr added.
One of the most explosive factors in the city was no longer present, Jisr said, referring to Arab Democratic Party senior official Rifaat Eid, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He left Tripoli with the start of the security crackdown.
Fears of a significant deterioration in Tripoli’s security have heightened in recent weeks, with an increase in shooting incidents targeting the Army and residents of the city. The attacks left three dead including an Army soldier.
The latest security incidents have been linked to notorious local Islamists Shadi al-Mawlawi and Osama Mansour, both of whom are wanted by Lebanese authorities and are believed to be forming a group in Tripoli with ties to ISIS or the Nusra Front.
But Jisr said that media outlets were blowing the events in Tripoli out of proportion by focusing on these two individuals.
“Two people don’t speak for the entire city. There are also religious authorities, civil society groups, unions and political leaders,” the lawmaker said.
Tensions in Tripoli have also been raised by demonstrations in the Qibbeh and Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhoods last Friday which saw participants raising ISIS flags and chanting slogans in support of the extremist Islamist group.
However, Jisr said the protests were very small.
“In both places, most of the participants were Syrian,” he said. “These don’t represent the general situation in Tripoli, just a special case in a certain area.”
“Honestly, people of Bab al-Tabbaneh and these areas want to live. People want calm and stability, no one needs chaos.”
Commenting on the Army, Jisr, who heads Parliament’s Defense, Interior and Municipalities committee, said two Saudi grants along with U.S. military aid were enough to help the military meet its pressing need for more weapons.
But he also highlighted that the Army and the Internal Security Forces were in need of additional recruits.
Facing a myriad of security challenges, mainly to do with spillover from Syria’s crisis, the underequipped Army has beefed up its presence in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley at the expense of other areas.
The military fought deadly battles with militants from ISIS and the Nusra Front in August after they briefly took over the northeastern border town of Arsal. The gunmen pulled out of the town under a cease-fire agreement, but are still holding at least 21 soldiers and policemen they captured during the fighting.
In August, the Cabinet agreed to recruit more than 11,000 additional security personnel, but implementation of this measure is conditional on securing the required funds.
Jisr explained that a draft law to provide weapons and new buildings for the Army worth $1.6 billion was approved by Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee last week and would be discussed during a legislative session scheduled for Wednesday or another one expected to be held next week.
He added that a $3 billion Saudi grant that was announced last year to help the Army buy French weapons had not materialized yet due to technical reasons.
“Not all arms are available, some need to be manufactured and this takes time. It was a bit late but things are proceeding and there is no problem,” he said.
Jisr added that in the meantime, another $1 billion Saudi grant, declared in August, would meet the short-term needs of Lebanon’s security services.
“I was informed that lists of arms the U.S. will provide under [the second Saudi grant] were prepared. Weapons will also be provided by France, Britain and Italy,” Jisr said.
He highlighted that a separate U.S. grant had already begun to materialize in the form of shipments of American arms and ammunition received recently.
“I believe investing in security is the best type of investment,” he said.
Separately, Jisr said holding parliamentary polls on time, even during a presidential void, as suggested by the March 8 coalition, would not produce a new balance of power that could end the presidential deadlock.
“What new balance of power are they talking about? The outcome will be almost the same, with three or four additional MPs to this or that side,” he added.
He maintained that holding parliamentary elections before presidential polls would further complicate things.
“According to the Constitution, once a new Parliament is elected, the government will resign. This means that you will be moving from a full-fledged Cabinet governing in a presidential vacuum to a caretaker Cabinet,” he added.
But he said he opposed extending Parliament’s term, though he noted that his bloc had yet to decide its final stance on the issue.
He added that contrary to the mechanism to elect a president agreed upon by rival political factions, the Constitution did not stipulate that a two-thirds quorum was needed during the election session. Neither of the March 8 or March 14 coalitions can achieve a two-thirds quorum alone.
Parliament has failed for 12 times to elect a president due to the lack of quorum.
“This means a group can paralyze Parliament ... we need to get used to the fact that in a democracy, a candidate will win and the other will lose,” Jisr said.