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Calls to Declare State of Emergency in Lebanon Spark Political Disputes

Calls to Declare State of Emergency in Lebanon Spark Political Disputes

Wednesday, 25 March, 2020 - 09:00
Lebanese soldiers patrol at a seaside area during curfew lockdown in Beirut. (EPA)
Beirut - Khalil Fleihan and Asharq Al-Awsat

Political tensions emerged in Lebanon amid criticism by some party leaders over how the government has responded to the coronavirus outbreak, driving many officials to call on authorities to declare a state of emergency.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri advocates the need to impose a state of emergency and had pressed Prime Minister Hassan Diab to announce it. However, Diab refused. Instead, his cabinet declared a general mobilization, including the increase of army patrols, as part of its containment measures.

Contacted by Asharq Al-Awsat, sources from the government refused to comment in what was interpreted as Diab’s refusal to become embroiled in an open dispute with Berri. They instead implied that the constitution does not necessitate declaring a state of emergency to confront health crises, no matter how severe they are.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and member of the parliamentary health committee MP Qassem Araji had also called for a state of emergency.

Constitutional experts explained that major differences exist between a state of emergency and general mobilization. They said that the national defense law stipulates that the government may declare general mobilization when a threat is endangering the population.

“A state of emergency is completely different from a general mobilization mainly because it has a military nature,” former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud told Asharq Al-Awsat. A state of emergency ultimately means that control of the country would be transferred to the army.

On Monday, demands to declare a state of emergency increased amid President Michel Aoun’s continued refusal. He denied claims that his rejection is driven by political reasons, after some media said he does not want to hand over control of the country to the army.

A statement from the presidency said such allegations were aimed at driving a wedge between the president and military. The government’s decision to announce general mobilization was based on the Higher Defense Council recommendations and an objective assessment of the situation in Lebanon amid the virus outbreak.

Opposition sources said that the Army Command has never proposed, directly or indirectly, the issue of the state of emergency. “The army is not part of the political dispute in the country,” they said.

The sources warned that the general mobilization contributed to the return of the phenomenon of regions adopting their own security measures whereby some municipalities set up checkpoints to control the movement of citizens, prompting the army to interfere and remove them.

Jumblatt wrote Tuesday on his twitter account: “Some municipalities have been blocking roads and setting up barriers, which is a form of self-security; however, this may cause many problems. The best solution is for the security forces and Lebanese army to take over these roads and implement the necessary measures against those who violate the curfew.”

He also reiterated calls for declaring a state of emergency and ensuring the basic needs of citizens.

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