The Extension of Rifi’s Term: April’s Fool

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The Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah both categorically reject this bid, despite all that is being said about Hezbollah’s consent. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Hassan Illeik

Published Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The bid to extend the term of Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, the incumbent general director of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF), has not been an easy one. On 1 April 2013, Rifi will reach mandatory retirement age, yet certain political maneuverings behind obtaining an extension have not been favorably received.

Rifi’s statements on his term extension, published by Al-Akhbar on 18 December 2012, were met with objections by a number of Sunni officers, particularly the candidates vying to succeed him.

These officers were particularly infuriated by Rifi’s remark in which he quoted former prime minister Saad Hariri as saying, “the current stage requires you [Ashraf Rifi] to assume this responsibility by having your term extended for at least one year or two, until someone can be readied to replace you.”

Indeed, the officers in question believe that this means Hariri wants officers “to be graduates of his own palace in Koreitem, rather than of the military academy,” said one source.

Yet the same remark allows for another interpretation, one that involves a particular officer. In the view of the officers who objected to Rifi’s statements, Hariri wants to keep Rifi in his post until a later time when it becomes possible for Col. Imad Othman, the acting head of the ISF’s Information Branch, to be promoted to the rank of major general and then appointed as director general of the ISF.

If successful, such a ploy would deprive a large number of officers promotion opportunities while others may even be forced to resign because of seniority.

Beyond the administrative considerations associated with the objections of the ISF officers, senior political sources in the March 8 political alliance believe that the extension of Rifi’s term would never pass.

The Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah both categorically reject this bid, despite all that is being said about Hezbollah’s consent.

To date, both the FPM and Hezbollah like to separate the issue of Rifi’s extension from the bid to extend the term of army commander Brig. Gen. Jean Kahwaji.

While Rifi will reach mandatory retirement age on 1 April 2013, Kahwaji will be able to remain at his post until September 2013. Although there was no prior coordination in this regard between the FPM and Hezbollah on the one hand, and Speaker Nabih Berri on the other, the latter has made a move that pushes in the same direction.

An MP from Berri’s Liberation and Development parliamentary bloc thus introduced a bill proposing the extension of the term of Kahwaji exclusively, something that was implicit in the premise of the bill that recommended raising the retirement age for those with the rank of brigadier general. Meanwhile, the bill did not mention anything about those who hold the rank of major general, whether in the armed forces or the various security agencies of the state.

By making this distinction, the political forces opposed to extending Rifi’s term have bought themselves more time. To be sure, Rifi’s mandatory retirement on 1 April will not allow him to return to his post as a civilian director general. Rifi rejected such a scenario, but this decision would require the unlikely approval of two-thirds of the cabinet.

Until then, and in light of the decision by the March 14 alliance to boycott parliament sessions attended by the government, it will prove difficult to hold a legislative session in which a law extending Rifi’s term – as well as Kahwaji’s – can be passed. Particularly so when such a proposal faces radical opposition from Hezbollah and the FPM’s Change and Reform bloc.

Speaker Berri happens to share the same view as its allies, Hezbollah and the FPM, over refusing to extend the tenure of the ISF director general.

Furthermore, sources who have met with MP Walid Jumblatt recently surmised that he rejects extending the term of those who have reached the mandatory retirement age, and that he would not consent to a bid in this direction unless there was unanimous agreement.

High-level political sources in March 8 hold that it is unlikely that March 14 would end its boycott in order to extend Rifi’s term.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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