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Nabih Berri: Lebanon’s longest-serving Arab parliament speaker

May 31, 2022 at 4:22 pm

Billboards depicting the leaders of Lebanon’s Shiite groups Amal, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (L), and Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, hang on a main road in the capital Beirut, on May 14, 2022 [LOUAI BESHARA/AFP via Getty Images]

Veteran politician, Nabih Berri, has been re-elected Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker for the seventh time in a row, holding on to his record as the longest-serving head of a legislative assembly in the Arab world.

Berri, a member of Lebanon’s Shia community, has maintained the position, thanks to the 1989 Taif Agreement, which established a power-sharing deal among the country’s largest religious sects, the Christians, Sunnis, and Shias.

Under the Agreement, Christians hold the country’s presidency, Sunnis take the prime ministry, while Shias get the parliament speakership.

Berri, 84, the Head of the Amal Movement, was the only candidate for the position. His re-election was backed by a vote of 65-23 in the 128-seat Parliament.

Berri’s re-election was backed by representatives of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party led by Walid Jumblatt and some independent lawmakers close to the March 8 alliance.

In 2018, Berri got 98 votes for the post.

Early life

Berri studied law at the state-run Lebanese University, from which he graduated in 1963, before completing his higher education at Paris’ Sorbonne.

At one point, Berri met Imam Musa Al-Sadr, a Lebanese Shia cleric who founded the Al-Mahroomeen (“deprived”) Movement, later known as the Amal Movement.

Berri rose through Amal’s ranks before eventually leading the Movement after Al-Sadr’s abrupt disappearance in Libya in 1978, for which the Movement blamed Libyan strongman, Muammar Gaddafi.

Under Berri, Amal played an active role in the country’s civil war, which erupted in 1975. During the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), Berri joined leftist forces in repelling Israeli forces.

An ally of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, Berri is also close to the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

 Key posts

During his lengthy political career, Berri has held six different cabinet portfolios in successive Lebanese governments.

From 1984 to 1988, he served as Justice Minister and Water Resources Minister under Prime Minister Rashid Karami.

From 1989 to 1990, he held the portfolios of water resources and housing under Prime Minister Salim Hoss.

From 1990 to 1992, he served as Minister of State under Prime Minister Omar Karami.

And in 1992, Berri served as Minister of State for Southern Affairs and Reconstruction under Prime Minister Rachid Solh.

Besides ministerial posts, he chaired the Union of Parliamentarians of Lebanese Origin in 1993. Since 1999, he has also chaired the Arab Parliamentary Committee to Expose Israeli Crimes Against Arab Civilians.

In 2003, Berri was elected President of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, and in 2004 was elected chair of the Council of the Union of Councils of Member States of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (currently the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) in Dakar, Senegal.

After the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Berri established the National Dialogue Committee in 2006, with the aim of easing tensions between Lebanon’s various political forces.

Seven-time parliament speaker

Berri was elected Parliament Speaker for the first time in 1992. He contested the same post in consecutive elections in 1996, 2000, 2005, 2009, 2018, and 2022, winning them all.

The veteran politician maintains good relations with all Lebanese parties while also enjoying the support of the Shias for his election as Speaker.

After his re-election, the ball will now be in the court of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who must set a date for consultations with the deputies to choose the Prime Minister for the next government.

READ: Nabih Berri re-elected as Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker