Lebanese army chief's term extended, but not ratified

Lebanese army chief's term extended, but not ratified
Lebanon's defence minister has said he wants to extend the term of army chief Jean Kahwaji but the country's parliament has failed to convene and approve the appointment
2 min read
29 September, 2016
Lebanon's Defence Minister Samir Moqbel said that he would extend the term of Lebanese Armed Forces chief Jean Kahwaji in order to prevent yet another power vacuum in the country. 

"It isn't possible or logical, and nobody could accept it, that the military establishment and the army continue without a leader," Moqbel said in a statement broadcast live on television.

Lebanon has been without a president - a position constitutionally prescribed to a Maronite Christian - for more than two years. It comes amid ongoing political infighting between the March 14 parliamentary bloc, led by the majority Sunni Future Movement, and the March 14 group led by Hizballah.

Such divisions are in part related to the ongoing war in Syria with the March 14 block supportive of the Syrian opposition and the March 8 block - led by Hezbollah - backing the President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Lebanon has accepted more than 1 million Syrian refugees, while the country’s army and security forces have deployed along its frontier with Syria.

This followed events in the Bekaa town of Arsal in August 2014 when gunmen affiliated with the Islamic State group and the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front temporarily overran the border town.

At least 20 Lebanese military personnel were taken hostage during ensuing battles. Although the majority were released, some were executed.

At some stages over the last two years Kahwaji's name has been suggested as a potential suit for the vacant presidential seat, a natural progression for the head of the Lebanese military within the field of Lebanese politics.

Various names have been put forward and tossed aside by the rival March 14 and 8 political blocs.

The Lebanese army regularly tops opinion polls in Lebanon as the most respected public institution in a country plagued by sectarian divisions.

However, leadership of the military remains a point of strong contention between rival political groups in the country.

Despite some movement, Kahwaji's extention has not yet been ratified.

On Wednesday disagreements over the potential election of Kahwaji saw a parliament session at the Grand Serail in Beirut boycotted, and the cabinet fail to meet.

Moqbel has said that his decision could be overturned at any time by the cabinet. 

Kahwaji was appointed army commander by the cabinet in 2008 and his term has been extended twice before. He joined the Lebanese army in 1973 and has also trained abroad in countries including the United States, Italy, Sweden, and Germany.