Special to The Daily Star
The Qornet Shehwan Gathering warned security agencies on Thursday against fabricating accusations of treason to intimidate opposition groups and their supporters, but extended a hand of reconciliation to the president in an effort to avert a total breakdown of the political system.
The grouping of prominent MPs and politicians called for an end to the intervention of intelligence services in all aspects of life and said it would request a meeting with President Emile Lahoud, who has openly backed the military and security establishment, his bedrock of support.
The group had been pressing for the punishment of security personnel accused of violating the law and using excessive force in the crackdown on anti-Syrian activists. Some of its members had been reluctant to engage in dialogue with the president before these demands have been met, a split that surfaced Wednesday during a meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir in Diman.
But Thursdays meeting at the Qornet Shehwan Monastery produced a consensus to seize the initiative. Warning against the transformation of Lebanon into a police state, the gathering said in a statement that it has been the target of a systematic and ferocious onslaught. Aspersions about the groups affiliations were being cast to undermine its credibility, it said.
The smear campaign climaxed on Aug. 12 when the alleged confessions of Tawfiq Hindi, a Lebanese Forces official accused of links to Israel, were made public and referred to Qornet Shehwans launch coinciding with alleged contacts between Hindi and an Israeli official, encouraging anti-Syrian activities and unrest in the country.
Born on April 13 with Sfeirs blessings, Qornet Shehwans membership was open to Christian politicians from both ends of the political spectrum. Hindi, who was arrested on Aug. 7, represented the LF in the group, and Batroun MP Butros Harb has suggested his detention was a deliberate attempt to intimidate and muzzle the coalition, which
has been steadily gaining grassroots support and political clout.
In Thursdays statement, the group decried treason insinuations, saying these were aimed at eliminating the democratic system, which is based on the will of the people and the concept of checks and balances.
The recent security sweep, it noted, came hard on the heels of Sfeirs historic trek through the Chouf and Jezzine to seal reconciliation with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, suggesting the arrests were intended to eclipse the successful effort.
The crackdown, it said, was only the first step in a campaign which soon widened to strike at the core of the three constitutional powers: the executive, legislative and judicial authorities. It left the country on the verge of total collapse, endangered monetary stability and damaged Lebanons image abroad.
Qornet Shehwan paid tribute to an emerging alliance of democratic forces in support of liberties that began with a conference at the Carlton Hotel last week, pledging to build on this momentum that brought together groups with diverse ideologies.
The statement reiterated the objectives of the group: national reconciliation; liberating all territory, including the Shebaa Farms, from Israeli occupation; upholding democracy and implementing the Taif Accord; and supporting Palestinian rights. As for Syria, the group called for balanced relations to achieve a historic accord that would ensure cooperation and protect both countries independence and sovereignty.
Implementation of Taif, it said, required fulfilling the clause calling for a withdrawal of Syrian forces within a specific timetable, an issue at the core of the crackdown.
At Thursdays meeting, members appeared united over disinformation campaigns.
Enough is enough, snapped Zghorta MP Nayla Mouawad. Its been six months that we are under assault. Let no one give us lessons in patriotism. We are capable of giving them all lessons, and we also have files that we can one day make public.
Dialogue, not the arrest of Tawfiq Hindi, is the only way to solve the crisis, she said.
Metn MP Nassib Lahoud said: No dialogue would succeed before a thorough examination of recent developments has been concluded and blame accordingly apportioned.
Gebran Tueni, general manager of An-Nahar newspaper, said the security sweeps were aimed at creating a one-color country, where anyone with a view that is different from that of the regime is considered a Zionist or an imperialist.