Former Lebanese finance minister Mohammed Safadi withdraws candidacy for prime minister

Former Lebanese finance minister Mohammed Safadi, pictured in poster, decided to withdraw following consultations with political parties. (AFP file)
Updated 17 November 2019

Former Lebanese finance minister Mohammed Safadi withdraws candidacy for prime minister

  • His decision to withdraw throws Lebanon’s push to form a government needed to enact urgent reforms back to square one
  • Mohamad Safadi decided to withdraw following consultations with political parties

BEIRUT: Former Lebanese finance minister Mohammed Safadi withdrew his candidacy to be the next prime minister on Saturday, saying that he saw that it would have been difficult to form a “harmonious” cabinet supported by all parties.
Safadi, 75, emerged as a candidate on Thursday when political sources and Lebanese media said three major parties had agreed to support him for the position.
His decision to withdraw throws Lebanon’s push to form a government needed to enact urgent reforms back to square one in the face of unprecedented protests that prompted prime minister Saad Hariri to resign last month.
Safadi said in a statement that he had decided to withdraw following consultations with political parties and a meeting on Saturday with Hariri.
“It is difficult to form a harmonious government supported by all political sides that could take the immediate salvation steps needed to halt the country’s economic and financial deterioration and respond to the aspirations of people in the street,” the statement said.
Protesters who took to the streets on Saturday denounced Safadi’s potential nomination, saying it ran counter to nationwide calls to oust a political elite they see him as part and parcel of.
In the statement, Safadi thanked President Michel Aoun and Hariri for supporting his candidacy, and said he hoped Hariri would return as premier to form a new government.
Shiite group Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Amal had agreed to back Safadi following a meeting with Hariri late on Thursday, according to Lebanese media and political sources, but no political party had since formally endorsed his candidacy.
The two Shiite groups, along with Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier but have demanded the inclusion of both technocrats and politicians in the new cabinet, while Hariri has insisted on a cabinet composed entirely of specialist ministers.
The process for choosing a new premier requires Aoun to formally consult members of parliament on their choice for prime minister. He must designate whoever gets the most votes.
Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.


Syria pistachio farmers return to orchards after years of war

Updated 28 min 58 sec ago

Syria pistachio farmers return to orchards after years of war

  • Many farmers hope this season would mark the revival of what was once a leading industry

MAAN: Pruning scissors in hand, Syrian pistachio farmer Fadi Al-Mahmoud inspected his orchard, hoping for his first harvest after years of war, as nearby army de-miners swept the ground for buried explosives.
“I will be fine as long as my orchard is fine,” said the 40-year-old, who returned to his village of Maan in the north of battle-scarred Hama province only months ago, after years of displacement.
The region, long a center of Syria’s famed pistachio production, was controlled for years by extremists and rebels, but it fell to President Bashar Assad’s government forces early this year.
After the violence subsided, many farmers like Mahmoud returned, hoping this season would mark the revival of what was once a leading industry, its produce beloved across the Middle East.
“The pistachio tree is the lung that allows the villages of the Hama countryside to breathe,” Mahmoud told AFP during a break from pruning the trees with shears and a small saw.
Parting the green leaves, he examined the pistachios, looking for the purple hue on their greenish cream-colored outer casing that indicates they are ready to be picked.
Syria was once a top exporter of the green nut that is widely used in sweets and sprinkled on ice cream across the Middle East.
The country produced up to 80,000 tons a year before the start of the conflict in 2011, mostly for export to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Europe.
In 2013, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Syria was still the world’s fourth largest pistachio producer after Iran, the United States and Turkey.
But years of bitter fighting blocked access to Syria’s best pistachio regions in Hama, Aleppo and Idlib provinces, leading production to plunge by more than half during the war, according to the agriculture ministry.
Of more than 70,000 hectares (170,000 acres) of farm land alloted for pistachio growing in the northwest, a quarter has been damaged by war, said Hassan Ibrahim, director of the ministry’s pistachio department.
Mahmoud said that on his farm, “some tree branches had withered, and there were trenches and land mines scattered all around.”
“I hope I can start to make up for the losses during the war,” he said.
He explained that pistachio orchards “require a lot of care.”
“They must be plowed four times a year and sprayed with pesticides twice annually or more.”
Although the battles have died down, danger still lurks in the soil in the form of anti-personnel mines and other unexploded ordnance left behind by rebels and jihadists.
The authorities “have sent teams to sweep the area,” Ibrahim told AFP.
Outside the village, where the skeleton of a charred vehicle sits in an arid field, Syrian army de-miners swept the rust-brown earth with metal detectors for remnants of war.
A loud blast echoed across the land as they detonated a land mine.
Another local pistachio farmer, Ibrahim Ibrahim, recalled harvests before the war.
“We used to pluck tons from our trees every year and distribute them in local markets or export them,” said the 55-year-old.
The nuts “make up our main source of income.”
“This is the first year that farmers re-enter their lands without fear,” he said.
“I hope... this year we will see production rise to pre-war levels.”