02/06/2014, 00.00
LEBANON
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For Patriarch Al-Rahi, "Either Lebanon will be built together, or it will not be built at all"

by Fady Noun
The prelate addresses a memorandum to Lebanon's political elites at a "most crucial" moment in the country's history. Bemoaning the de facto loss of understanding of the National Pact, the prelate looks at the value of neutrality, the war in Syria, Israel, and offers a list of "priorities".

Beirut (AsiaNews) - "Either Lebanon will be built together, or it will not be built at all," said Maronite Patriarch in a "memorandum" addressed to the country's political elites. In it, he warns his fellow countrymen and women against weakening the pact by which they live together. He also calls on them set their priorities straight.

Yesterday, at the end of the monthly meeting of Lebanon's Maronite bishops, the patriarch issued a beautiful letter, a sincere memorandum, addressed to Lebanese political leaders to remind them that "they built Lebanon together," starting with the founding of Greater Lebanon in 1920, and "whose existence they must preserve together".

If the patriarch opted for a serious tone in his address it is because Lebanon is at a critical phase of its existence, "the most critical one" in his words, and it has to call on all of its historical legacy to overcome it. Hence, the idea that "Either Lebanon will be built together, or it will not be built at all "(17), which the patriarch presents in this deep and well articulated statement.

As obvious as these words may be, they are also a necessary reminder that today, Lebanon's communities are more or less deeply polarised along regional political lines.

At this crucial moment in its history, Lebanon is indeed split between those who are in favour of Syria and Iran, and those who are in favour of Saudi Arabia.

What is more, the country has been dragged into Syria's civil war, becoming an intersection of regional and international alliances, a place where much of the future of the Middle East will be played out.

At the local level, this struggle has turned into a bitter zero-sum game that has widely distorted the role of government institutions to the "point of paralysis," as the memorandum points out.

The Maronite patriarch as Lebanon's custodian

Conscious of this danger, and aware of the historic role played by Maronite patriarchs as Lebanon's founders and "custodians," Patriarch al-Rahi felt the need to tell everyone about the historical bases that ought to prevent Lebanon from splitting and allow it instead to live in accordance with its vocation. Citing Pope John Paul II's felicitous words, the patriarch signed off the memorandum noting that "Lebanon is more than a country. Lebanon is a message of reconciliation and dialogue and conviviality for both East and West."

In order to make his point, the patriarch delved back into the origins of an independent Lebanon, back to the unwritten "National Pact" (Mithaq), which was itself based on "pre-existing (Muslim-Christian) coexistence."

Hence, in the memorandum, he pleaded again with the Lebanese to rediscover and boost the nation's understanding of this "pact", deploring its de facto demise among political elites in favour of a ferocious struggle for power.

Formula and Constitution

The founding pact is embodied in a "formula" (Sigha) and a constitution, the patriarch said. The formula is expressed by a "double negative," 'Neither East, nor West', embodying an agreement and a desire to live together. When it was first agreed to, "neither . . . nor" meant no union with Syria nor any allegiance to France, the patriarch explained. Today, the Lebanese must go back to the "essence of the formula", which is coexistence without foreign ties, rather than the letter of the pact.

After the "pact" and "formula" comes "the Constitution." The latter embodies a desire to share power and build government institutions on the principle of Muslim-Christian equality in parliament, government and top administrative positions.

Positive neutrality

For the patriarch, "positive neutrality" is a fundamental part of the aforementioned formula. This neutrality, in his view, exists in relation to the broader issues that draw Lebanon's communities, not to mention Lebanon's commitment to other great Arab causes, starting with that of Palestine.

On the issue of neutrality, he noted that "far from isolating Lebanon from regional commitments, as some may fear, it [neutrality] is the best way to defend pluralism in heterogenous societies" (15) like Lebanon's.

It goes without saying that for many Lebanese the greatest breach of the country's neutrality is Hizbollah's military involvement in Syria and the reprisals it has brought to the country, like suicide bombings.

Without naming Hizbollah, the patriarch's statement noted that it is important for the country "to avoid becoming a point of transit or departure for activities that might plunge it into regional or international conflicts".

Expressing hope for a peaceful solution to the war in Syria, the Patriarch calls for a "national defence strategy" that would enable Lebanon to "recover land (seized by Israel) and protect its borders."

Priorities

Ultimately, the Patriarchate has a duty to take into account the consequences of the real dangers that threaten Lebanon and remind everyone of the priorities that it considers important, namely:

  • Building institutions (whilst maintaining those that already exist) to help the central government stand on its own and impose its rule.
  • Electing a new head of state and promoting a national dialogue.
  • Drafting a new election law and organising fresh elections.
  • Forming a new government.
  • Carrying out administrative decentralisation.
  • Continuing the implementation of the Taif Agreement (which includes the creation of a Senate) and correcting its flaws.
  • Focusing on young people.
  • Promoting the role of women.
  • Implementing administrative reform and fighting against everything that undermines the state apparatus (i.e. corruption and cronyism)
  • Opening up to the world, especially to migrants, and adopting a law to facilitate the reacquisition of Lebanese citizenship.
  • Furthering Lebanon's role in a genuine renewal of the Arab world, as well as greater openness and loyalty to Lebanon's traditional friends.
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