BEIRUT, Lebanon — The leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, General Michel Aoun, has announced that he is dropping what many believed to be the principal obstacle to the Lebanese cabinet formation: the demand that his son-in-law Gebran Bassil be appointed Telecommunications Minister.
Anticipation was high in Beirut today that this development would pave the way for the formation of a new cabinet after three months of fruitless negotiations between the majority March 14 coalition and the Lebanese opposition.
Hopes of a breakthrough have fizzled, however, as a new complicating factor emerged within a few hours of Aoun’s announcement. The opposition has reportedly added a new member to its ranks, an obscure figure who goes by the name of Abu Tanjara the Oracle of Mashmoushi, and who claims to be the last living adherent of an ancient sect that worshipped the Phoenician god Baal.
At a crowded press conference organized by the FPM at a posh Beirut hotel, reporters were surprised to see an unusual-looking person taking the podium, instead of the FPM spokesman or an executive committee member.
Abu Tanjara read a lengthy statement to the assembled audience, recounting the history of his community’s travails at the hands of the ancient Persians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and “the barbarians who followed them.” This was followed by a diatribe against monotheism and a fifteen-minute rain dance. Finally, the Oracle announced his decision to join the Lebanese opposition, rejecting the majority’s “arrogant monopolization of the country’s decision-making.”
When asked by a reporter if he had any specific demands of Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, Abu Tanjara replied: “I’m glad you asked. The following are my demands, which are not really even demands, to be perfectly frank — they are my natural rights as a full member of the confessional mosaic that is Lebanon.”
Abu Tanjara continued: “I am demanding the Defense and Foreign Policy ministries, so that Lebanon may finally shed its parochial standing in the region and grow to its natural boundaries, which encompass all of Greater Phoenicia. I am also demanding one hundred and seventy virgins — ten from each of Lebanon’s seventeen official sects — to be delivered to the entrance of my cave, at the top of Mount Sannine. The virgins will serve as the Mothers of the Rebirth of the Baalist Church. Finally, I am demanding two hundred and fifty million dollars. Any questions?”
In response to a question from the an-Nahar reporter about the consequences of the majority rebuffing his demands, Abu Tanjara had this to say: “Well, if they want to try to rule this country all alone, let them go ahead. But I warn them: my pet dragon Lulu doesn’t like majority cabinets, and if she wakes up and goes on one of her rampages, not even I will be able to stop her,” he said, pulling out a picture of a fearsome-looking dragon and passing it around the room.
Representatives of the FPM, Hizbullah, and Amal have declined to comment on Abu Tanjara’s specific demands, only saying that “the opposition welcomes the Oracle with brotherly affection, and will adopt a unified stance.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri has promised to review the Oracle’s remarks carefully, expressing hope that “a cabinet representing all of Lebanon will soon see the light of day.”