Mikati warns against Sunni divisions

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Prime Minister Najib Mikati warned Friday against divisions within the Sunni community, saying that controversial elections in the Higher Islamic Council should be held even if there was some delay.

Responding to repeated March 14 calls for the resignation of his government, Mikati vowed to stay in office in order to preserve stability in Lebanon as it faces the threat of instability as a result of the reverberations of the war in neighboring Syria.

“These [Islamic Council’s] elections are a normal event that should have been held before. I support holding them. But the call for elections should be made according to rules [stipulated] in Legislative Decree No. 18,” Mikati said during a meeting with Muslim religious figures at his residence in Tripoli.

Referring to the Shura Council’s decision to suspend a call by Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani to hold the Islamic Council’s elections on Dec. 30, Mikati said: “We are committed to holding the elections according to the rules. The elections cannot be held amid divisions within the [Sunni] community. The stance I have taken emanated from my concern for the Muslim and national interest and the unity of the Sunni community.”

However, he stressed that his call for elections to be held within constitutional norms of the council did not necessarily mean that he had dropped his support for Qabbani.

“I will not abandon [Qabbani] in any form. He is the mufti of the Lebanese Republic. We are all duty-bound to respect him and we have full confidence in him,” Mikati said.

“The elections will be held even if there is some delay. What’s important is to respect the rules so that the elections won’t be challenged in the future,” he added.

Mikati’s remarks came as the Shura Council this week suspended Qabbani’s call to hold elections on Dec. 30 for members of the Higher Islamic Council, the Sunni community’s highest administrative body. The Islamic Council elects the mufti and organizes the affairs of Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon’s top Sunni religious authority.

Members of the Council close to the Future Movement had filed a challenge against Qabbani’s call for the elections before the Shura Council, widening the rift within the community.

A source close to Qabbani said the mufti had not yet received any official notification from the Shura Council.

Council members who oppose Qabbani argued that Decree 18 stipulates that Dar al-Fatwa itself should issue a list of eligible voters on the first day of an election year. After issuing the list, a judicial committee from the council should then review the list and correct any errors. They have also argued that such a regulation cannot be implemented in one month.

Ties between Qabbani and the Future Movement have chilled in recent months after the mufti met with Hezbollah officials on the same day that the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted four party members in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The two sides are also at odds over implementing reforms at Dar al-Fatwa.

Mikati said the Shura Council’s decision to suspend Qabbani’s call is “no one’s victory.”

“We should not divide the Sunni house and we should not accept any divisions,” he added.

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