Former Prime minister Saad Hariri announced in a speech delivered on Thursday evening at the "Center House" his support for the candidacy of the head of the "Change and Reform" bloc, MP Michel Aoun, for the presidency of the Republic, in the presence of deputy speaker Farid Makari, head of the "Future Parliamentary Bloc" Fouad Siniora, Ministers Nouhad Machnouk and Nabil de Freige, members of the "Future Parliamentary Bloc", MPs Mohamad Safadi and Khaled al-Daher and a number of dignitaries and media figures.

Hariri said: "Since the assassination of Premier Rafic Hariri on that tragic day, I held the responsibility of the big void that was left by a man the size of a country. Since that moment, my guide in political work, and my national and ethical compass, was one question: What would Rafic Hariri have done in such a situation or regarding such a decision?

What would Rafic Hariri have done after February 14, 2005?

What would he have done after March 14, 2005?

What would he have done after the July 2006 assault?

What would he have done regarding the terrorism sent from the dungeons of the Syrian regime to Nahr al-Bared?

What would he have done after May 7, 2008?

What would he have done after the 2009 elections?

What would he have done after the S-S initiative?

What would he have done after the toppling of the Cabinet in 2011?

What would he have done after the assassination of Martyr Major General Wissam al-Hassan? And Martyr Minister Mohammad Chatah?

What would he have done regarding the engagement of Hezbollah in the Syrian blood and the reckless choices that faced it in Abra, Tripoli and other areas? Or regarding the terrorist aggression and national injustice inflicted on our people in Arsal?

What would he have done at the end of President Michel Suleiman's term?

What do you think Rafic Hariri would have done? Would he have screamed? Would he have incited in a sectarian and religious way? Would he have told us to carry arms on May 7? Would he have left the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague and said "I do not want to dialogue with anyone in the country"? Would he have stopped the dialogue? Would he have said: let the presidential vacuum last forever?

I am sure that each one of you knows the answer: Rafic Hariri would have asked himself: How do we protect Lebanon and its people? He would have relied on you, after God, and he would have taken many initiatives until reaching a settlement!

Today, a question rises again. I turn to you on this delicate and important moment, which requires us to face things realistically and frankly, and take initiatives to save our country and future rather than surrender to the risks of stagnation and vacancy and stay captive of the past.

Two and a half years ago, the term of President Michel Suleiman ended and Lebanon entered the presidential vacancy.

Since that moment, and even before that, we warned of the risks of this vacuum and did all we can to protect Lebanon from these dangers.

The first protective step was the formation of Prime Minister Tamam Salam's government, to avoid the complete vacuum in the executive authority, which is the absence of a President and government at the same time.

After that, we spared no attempt to elect a President.

We started by working to bring March 14 candidate, Dr. Samir Geagea, to the Presidency, but this was not achieved.

We then put forward consensual names for the presidency, but there was no favourable response from the allies and adversaries.

We started a dialogue with General Michel Aoun, during which I asked him to agree with Dr. Samir Geagea but I did not succeed in bringing them together.

After a year and a half of vacuum and after restricting the candidates to the four that agreed together in Bkerki, we supported the candidacy of Minister Sleiman Frangieh, hoping that his candidacy would bring his boycotting allies to attend the election session.

We adhered one whole year to this stance, but unfortunately without any result.

In the meantime, all the Lebanese and those who did not see what we meant when we talked about the dangers of the presidential vacuum, are realising today what this vacuum really mean.

All the Lebanese saw how Cabinet was paralysed, how the legislation in parliament has become an exception, and how the state and institutions began to collapse and became incapable of providing even the most basic services.

No one disagrees on the economic, financial and monetary crises in Lebanon and its private sector, the bankruptcy cases, the laying off thousands of workers from companies and the corruption in the institutions. But the most dangerous of all this is that everybody is witnessing the return of the "old new" language and its terms that destroy national identity and contradict coexistence, civil peace and stability. The language of: "We don't want to live together anymore, and we can't live with them anymore!"

The question is spreading, or being spread, publicly and privately, about the failure of the system, the failure of Taef and the need to dismantle the system and rebuild it, at a time when the militias are showing off on screens and social media.

Yes, frankness obliges me to say: the situation today is much more dangerous and difficult than it might appear to many of you. Such language and such propositions can lead to civil war. Even if we continue to refuse civil struggles, this monster would find people who would outbid us, all of us, and adopt it.

Is it useful to remind that every time a presidential vacuum occurs in Lebanon, and no one initiates a settlement, things end in devastation and tragedy and in settlements moulded with death, blood and tears? This happened in 1958, and in 1988. In 2007 this started and could have grown were it not for Rafic Hariri's compass that led us to the right decision after the tragedy of May 7th.

Is it beneficial to remind that in 1975, which is the last time some Lebanese told some others that they don't want to live together, or that they want to dismantle the system and restructure it, we all suffered from civil war, Israeli invasions, Syrian occupation, two hundred thousand dead, wounded people who are still disabled, and kidnapped people whose parents are still looking for, total destruction, ruined economy, a failed state and 17 years during which Lebanon and the Lebanese were on the margin of geography, history, civilization, progress, morality, science and the world

Nobody should lie and say that any new war, God forbids, would be more merciful, faster or shorter. Let's look around us at Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, whose peoples became homeless if not floating bodies in the Mediterranean!

I did not assume the political leadership so that my country and its people reach this situation. I am the son of Rafic Hariri who spent half of his political life trying to put an end to the civil war and the other half to erase its disastrous effects!

If we want to surrender to the instincts and reckless reactions that our adversaries, before the outbidders, wish and bet on, we would have entered a bloody civil clash on May 7, 2008.

But I refused on that day just as I refuse today even to think of this probability because I always thought and will continue to think about the people, the Lebanese, their children, lives and future.

No one should doubt that if we had picked the road of civil war on May 7, we would still be today, after eight years, drowning in it and in its tragedies!

We are from a school whose history, present and future are based on the sacrifice for people's sake not on sacrificing them! Actually, I did not get into politics to be an MP or the head of a parliamentary bloc or a prime minister. I chose to continue the path of Rafic Hariri, with all that it means of love for Lebanon, of will for reconstruction, and keenness on the dignity of the Lebanese, their social security and stability, of cherishing science, education, and culture and refusal of sectarianism and economic, political and cultural degeneration.

My choice was to continue this legacy as an embodiment of the will of more than one million Lebanese who took to the streets to say: We will continue the path of Rafic Hariri, despite the killers. Until now and despite all the disputes and struggles, the Lebanese from all sects, religions and political affiliations, and in light of the miserable situation of the state, politics, economy, and services in our country, are still nostalgic of the golden era that Lebanon witnessed before the assassination of Martyr Premier Rafic Hariri.

If I wanted wealth, I would not have entered political life and spent in it all my heritage in defending the dream of the man whom I inherited. Rafic Hariri is a fortune and a revolution. The fortune was spent to protect the revolution. The revolution against violence, maliciousness, grudges and those who want to convince us that Lebanon is impossible.

I know very well that some will say that we are capable until now of protecting our country from the fires of the wars surrounding us. This is true, but the real question is: Until when we will be able to do so if the state continues to fade away?

Did anyone think about what will happen after a few months, when the parliamentary elections will take place and the government will be considered a resigned one and there will be no president to make consultations to name a prime minister? Then we will be without president and government! And what will happen when half the MPs in the new parliament will refuse to elect a Speaker before electing a president? What will happen to the Republic, without a President, a Prime Minister and a Speaker? What will happen to the state, the institutions, the economy, the security and the people?

Lebanon is an island of relative security and stability in a sea of destruction and blood that is engulfing the whole region. This cannot continue by chance or prayers but by our clear will and our solid determination to preserve peace, with our explicit recognition of the fact that sliding into war is easier than maintaining peace.

The completion of our constitutional system and electing a president is the key element for stability and maintaining it. The economic, financial and monetary crises we are experiencing and the security risks that lie ahead can only be resolved, even if momentarily, through completing the constitutional institutions, starting with the presidency. Just as the vacuum in the presidency is the door to harm the state, the system, the economy, the institutions and the people, filling the vacuum at the presidency is the only way to preserve the state, the system, the economy, the institutions and the people.

This question does not have 20 answers. The ones who want to continue the path of Rafic Hariri, preserve the state and the country, and gives the people the chance to live, eat, work and advance, should put an end to the presidential vacuum, today and not tomorrow.

Those who want to give the state the opportunity of reaching an equilibrium with the forces that possess illegal weapons should put an end to the presidential vacuum today and not tomorrow.

Those who want to give Lebanon a chance to put an end to the indifference of the international community and decision makers around the world should put an end to the presidential vacuum today and not tomorrow.

Those who want to give Lebanon a chance to benefit from any international contributions to cope with the burdens of more than one million Syrian refugees should put an end to the presidential vacuum today and not tomorrow.

If we agree that the continued vacancy is not a choice, and that entering a civil clash is not a choice, and that the only choice is to elect a president, then reality and realism oblige me to tell you that the choices today are not numerous.

Our first choice, our first candidate Dr. Samir Geagea or President Amin Gemayel or any representative of March 14, did not secure the election of a president. Our second choice, a consensual candidate, a centrist, also did not get a president. Our third choice, our friend, because he has really become a friend and will remain a friend, Sleiman Frangieh, also did not get a president. There was no quorum and no real attempt from any party but us to elect him.

One option remained: General Michel Aoun. Clearly and frankly. Especially after our allies in the Lebanese Forces supported his candidacy.

But more importantly, we and General Michel Aoun finally reached in our dialogue a common place, called the state and the system. He does not want the state and the system to fall, nor do we. And we agreed that no one will request any modification of the system before a national consensus of all Lebanese on this proposal.

This stems from our unanimity, that we engraved in our Constitution, the Taif Constitution, that Lebanon is a final nation for all its citizens, has an Arab identity and belonging, and that all the Lebanese refuse partition and resettlement.

In our dialogue, we also agreed on reactivating the state institutions, the economy, the basic services and employment opportunities, and give Lebanon and the Lebanese the chance to lead a normal life.

Last, but not least, we reached an agreement to keep our state, the Lebanese state, totally neutral from the crisis in Syria.

This is a crisis we want to protect our country from, isolate our state from, so that when the crisis is over and the Syrians agree on their system, their country and their state, we return to normal relations with them.

Based on the points of the agreement we have reached, I announce today in front of you my decision to support the candidacy of General Michel Aoun for the presidency of the Republic.

This decision stems from the need to protect Lebanon, protect the system, protect the state and protect the people, but once again the decision is based on our agreement to preserve together the system, strengthen the state, relaunch the economy and remain neutral concerning the Syrian crisis.

This agreement allows me to announce my optimism, that after the election of the President of the Republic, will be able to rejoin hands together to achieve accomplishments benefiting every citizen, strengthen our internal security and national unity in the face of all the fires raging around us, and make Lebanon again a model for the successful nation and real coexistence in our region and the world.

General Michel Aoun, according to the rules that we agreed on, is candidate to be the president of all the Lebanese, and guardian of their sovereignty, freedom, independence and decisions they unanimously adopt, not the choices that divide them, whether they come from his ally or his adversary. He will be keen, as we will, to open up to all political forces able to support the process of building the state.

Dear Lebanese,

What we are dealing with today is a political settlement in every sense of the word. But I will not hide behind my finger, I know that many of you are not convinced of what I am doing, and some of you fear its risks on me, personally and politically, and doubt, based on past experiences, the real intentions of Hezbollah after this announcement. The sceptics tell me: This is not a settlement, this is a sacrifice of your person, your popularity, and perhaps of the voices of your electors in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

To all these, I say: Yes it is a great political risk, but I am ready to take risks on myself, my popularity and my political future a thousand times to protect you all, and am not ready to put any one of you in danger to protect myself, my popularity or my political future. All of us, you and me, when we say "Lebanon First", we mean it. "Lebanon First" means Lebanon First, not Saad Hariri First!

It means the Lebanese First, not the Future Movement First! It means the dignity of the citizens first, their daily bread first, their security and stability first, the future of their kids first, the protection of the state and the system first, and the protection of Lebanon ... First and second and third and last.

Yes, I am taking risks without any fear, because I only fear for Lebanon, for you, for the future of our children. If my aim was popularity, it would have been much easier. I could raise my voice, wave my finger and inflame the street with cheap sectarian incitement.

Yes, it will not be the first time nor the last that we sacrifice our political and popular interest for the nation, the state, and stability.

The out bidders, even before the adversaries, will say: Yet another sacrifice. But each time we sacrificed for the state, the system, the nation and the people, we only asked for God's benediction and let history judge us.

We rely on the fact that history and the Lebanese people did justice to Prime Minister Rafic Hariri for all his sacrifices, leading to the biggest and last one, for the nation. When you are the son of the man who sacrificed his life for his nation and his people, you do not ask about the price of sacrifices, no matter how large or numerous. Like martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri used to say: It is not important, who comes and who leaves, what matters is that the country remains

My decision stems from my fear for Lebanon? ...Yes.

My decision is based on the hope for Lebanon and the Lebanese people? ... Yes and a thousand times yes!"

Source: National News Agency.

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