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Lebanon: Ministerial Race over 'Social Affairs' Portfolio

May 17

 Lebanon: Ministerial Race over 'Social Affairs' Portfolio

In the current ministerial race among political parties, ahead of forming the new Cabinet, the issue of Syrian refugees returned to Lebanon’s forefront from the door of the Social Affairs Ministry, considered the main guardian of this file.

After President Michel Aoun said he would attempt to find a solution to the Syrian refugee crisis independently, regardless of the opinion of the United Nations and the European Union, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said from Brussels last Monday, “this time, the Social Affairs Ministry should only be given to a party which has a clear policy on the refugees file. Lebanon would adopt a new policy in dealing with this issue.”

Bassil’s comments presented an indirect attack against the Lebanese Forces (LF), whose representative Pierre Abu Assi, currently heads the ministry.

LF sources said the current FPM campaign launched against the party is a response to the LF criticisms over the FPM’s performance at the Energy Ministry.

The sources warned from using the Syrian refugees file as a pretext to normalize relations with the Syrian regime through the Social Affairs ministry.

“We are determined not to politicize the issue of refugees, particularly that some parties try to use this file to normalize relations with the Syrian regime,” the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

They explained that no decision could be taken in the current Cabinet regarding this issue because parties were divided between two camps: one team trying to solve the file by protecting the safety of refugees while another team was heading towards normalizing relations with the Syrian regime.

FPM newly elected deputy Salim Aoun told Asharq Al-Awsat it was essential to place a clear policy capable of dealing with the issue of Syrian refugees at the Social Affairs ministry.
“No party can act on its own without the approval of the Cabinet,” he said.

On Tuesday, LF leader, Samir Geagea, sternly rejected any plan allowing the settlement of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon, whether provisionally or permanently.

'Lebanon is not a land without people; we flatly reject any step towards keeping the displaced Syrians in Lebanon, even temporarily,' Geagea said.