Bassil Says ‘Happy’ to Be at Davos ‘Representing Lebanese President’
CNBC’s Hadley Gamble grilled Lebanese former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on the current crisis ravaging the country, putting him on the spot over a number of issues, including how he traveled to Davos.
“I know rumors and lies circulate always on issues like this, but I am used to this and this is the reality. On my own expenses,” he said at a panel discussion on “The return of Arab Unrest” held at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The claim failed to convince Gamble, who wondered how someone on a civil servant salary could charter a personal plane. Bassil added: “This was offered to me. You know I was invited here ... Not one Lebanese leader on the expense of the Lebanese treasury. Very simple.”
"We are not allowed to have friends like that when we are in government," witheringly pointed out Dutch Trade Minister Sigrid Kaag, who previously served as UN coordinator for Lebanon.
Bassil, the influential son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, has been a top target of protesters who see him as a symbol of a corrupt political order that has driven the country to the brink of collapse through mismanagement and waste of public funds.
His attendance at the global Davos forum sparked online petitions by some Lebanese who say he does not represent them.
Bassil rejected the accusations as a “generalization” of corruption charges against the country’s elite. “I personally am the only politician in Lebanon who revealed his account statements, and no one dared to do the same.”
He said he was invited to Davos in his capacity as foreign minister, but that he had informed the organizers that he would no longer be serving in the position when the panel is set to be held. “They still insisted on the invitation.”
“I am happy to be here and I did not want to miss the opportunity to come here and represent my country and the opportunities it has to offer,” Bassil said.
Gamble retorted by saying that since he is no loner foreign minister, he no longer represents Lebanon to which he responded that he heads the largest parliamentary bloc and was meeting a request by the president to represent him at the forum.
Commenting about the international community’s reluctance to support a Hezbollah-backed cabinet, he said: “I believe we have reached this point due to wrong financial, political and economic policies that were adopted 30 years ago.”
Asked if he still enjoys the support of the people, Bassil replied: “Of course. We are representing the people of Lebanon as of the last elections. When the Lebanese decide that we no longer represent them, then we will step aside.”
“Everyone knows that we oppose the Taif Accord and our party calls for the establishment of a secular system. When we came to the government … there was no electricity and no plan for electricity,” he said. “We presented a plan. We are against the fiscal and monetary policy that was adopted in Lebanon, but we were not able to change it until now.”
Gamble noted that Lebanon has a historic opportunity to diminish Hezbollah’s influence in the country as part of the United States’ maximum pressure campaign against Iran and its proxies. Bassil said: “It is our responsibility to fix this, but we do it internally and politically by our system … our system does not allow politically, whether it is Hezbollah or any other party in Lebanon, to have the say in our politics. No one can withhold everything in the country, because of our consensual democracy.”
“When we use what’s happening in Lebanon for regional or international benefits, we deviate the energy from the protesters into division. The problem becomes the position of the United Sates,” he said.