Druze council installs new sheikh aql

Chouf, lebanon - The Druze Religious Council officially installed the community's new spiritual leader, or sheikh aql, during a session at the body's headquarters in the Chouf on Sunday. Hassan's election by the council last month was unopposed. He succeeds the community's acting spiritual leader, Sheikh Bahjat Ghaith.

Hassan's election came in line with a new law that regulates the sect's affairs, whose ratification was strongly opposed by former Minister Talal Arslan and his allies.

The session was attended by the head of the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, MP Walid Jumblatt; Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh; Information Minister Ghazi Aridi and MPs Anwar Khalil, Akram Chehayeb and Wael Bou Faour.

Early last month, Arslan appointed his own spiritual leader, Sheikh Nasreddine al-Gharib, in violation of the law. Gharib was also recognized by President Emile Lahoud, leading to deep divisions in the Druze sect.

The law in question, which restructured the Druze sect's civil order, was passed by Parliament in June amid complaints from Arslan and his supporters that the legislation would divide the Druze community.

Lahoud refused to ratify the law due to these complaints, but Parliament passed the bill a second time, overriding the president and making the bill law.

Traditionally, council membership had been at the sole discretion of the highest Druze religious authority, the sheikh aql, and reached through an agreement between Jumblatt and Arslan.