Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 10 December 2019

Former Lebanon finance minister Mohammad Safadi proposed as new prime minister

News of property billionaire's candidacy triggers more protests in home city of Tripoli

A Lebanese anti-government protester, draped in a national flag, sits on the rooftop of 'The Egg' buidling overlooking the Mohammed Al Amin mosque and Martyrs square in Beirut. AFP
A Lebanese anti-government protester, draped in a national flag, sits on the rooftop of 'The Egg' buidling overlooking the Mohammed Al Amin mosque and Martyrs square in Beirut. AFP

Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Friday confirmed reports that property tycoon and former finance Mohammad Safadi was being considered to take the post of prime minister in a new government of technocrats demanded by protesters.

The move, first reported on Thursday night, prompted protests in the billionaire's home city of Tripoli and was dismissed as unlikely by a member of caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri's party.

Mr Bassil told the broadcaster MTV that Mr Safadi had agreed to accept the post if he won the support of major parties, and that the process to formally appoint him should begin on Monday.

"If matters move normally, the consultations should begin on Monday with Safadi named at the end of them, otherwise we will continue to go in circles waiting to agree on a name," MTV quoted Mr Bassil as saying.

Mohammad Safadi pictured on October 20, 2010. Reuters / File photo
Mohammad Safadi pictured on October 20, 2010. Reuters / File photo

The nomination of Mr Safadi, 75, was agreed at a meeting between Mr Hariri, Lebanon's leading Sunni politician, and senior representatives of the Shiite groups Amal and Hezbollah, according to sources quoted in Lebanese media.

However, Moustapha Allouche, a political bureau member in Mr Hariri's Future Movement party, said there were several factors that made Mr Safadi's nomination unlikely, including his age and the challenges he would face amid the country's acute economic crisis.

"He’s outside the country now and he’s old and his health is not good enough," Mr Allouche told The National. "At the same time, he’s not ready for this type of government where he has to fight with everyone around."

Mr Allouche suggested Mr Safadi's was name "was just thrown among people as a test".

The reaction was immediate in the northern city Tripoli, a Sunni stronghold that Mr Safadi has represented in parliament. Demonstrators gathered in front of one of his properties to protest against his nomination, which they said was the opposite of the changes demanded in a month of protests across the country.

As a business tycoon and former minister, Mr Safadi is an embodiment of the kind of political class the protest movement wants to remove, Samer Anous, a university professor, told AFP.

"He's an integral part of this leadership's fabric. Safadi does not meet the aspirations of the popular uprising in Lebanon," he said.

Another protester, 60-year-old Jamal Badawi, said: "Choosing Mohammed Safadi for prime minister proves that the politicians who rule us are in a deep coma, as if they were on another planet."

A protest was planned on Friday afternoon at Zaytuna Bay, a luxury marina in central Beirut which is run by a company Mr Safadi chairs.

Mr Safadi has courted controversy in the past and was once investigated as part of the UK's Serious Fraud Office's controversial arms deal inquiry.

His property firms have previously received contracts from the British arms company BAE.

Mr Hariri quit as premier on October 29 in response to protesters' demands for sweeping change in Lebanon's political system and an end to corruption and sectarian cronyism but politicians had been unable to agree on a new cabinet.

Lebanon’s caretaker Defence Minister, Elias Bou Saab, said on Thursday that the country was in a “very dangerous situation” and compared recent street unrest to the start of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Rallies have been overwhelmingly peaceful but a protester was shot dead in an altercation with soldiers on Tuesday.

A funeral was held for the protester, a follower of Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, while the soldier who shot him has been detained.

Mr Bou Saab said tension on the street and road closures “have reminded us of the civil war, what happened in 1975. And this situation is very dangerous".

An ally of President Michel Aoun, he said demonstrators had the right to protest and to be protected, but the army and security services could not tolerate violence.

Mr Aoun had said he hoped a government could be soon formed to meet the demands of the protesters.

Updated: November 15, 2019 04:28 PM

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