Beirut (AsiaNews) - Sectarian strife and obscurantism are increasingly casting their shadow on the Arab Spring's democratic potential, at least in Syria, and threaten to spread to some Lebanese regions, this according to Maronite Patriarch Card Bechara Raï. He spoke on the eve of a visit to France next Monday, further distancing himself from a movement that had generated so much hope
"Dark forces are working to undermine states and institutions," he said in a grave tone in front of the French Ambassador Patrice Paoli. "They seek tirelessly to sow 'fitna' (chaos) between different religious denominations that have until now coexisted peacefully and this, ironically, in the name of democracy and the Arab Spring."
The patriarch's misgivings about the Arab revolt, especially in Syria, which the head of the Maronite Church as clearly singled out, seem to have been better understood than when he had expressed them during his first visit to the French capital, in September 2011.
In the past 18 months in fact, many things have become clearer for both Lebanese and French leaders. Indeed, "have the latter not given up on the idea of arming the Free Syrian Army, fearful that the weapons might fall into the hands of fundamentalist groups?"
The patriarch's opinion also goes for the fundamentalism of Jabhat al-Nusra jihadists, who are consolidating their hold on some areas in Syria, as well as the political fundamentalism of the Muslim Brotherhood with regards to the (bad ) Egyptian model. The fact that he speaks of "dark" forces suggests that such groups are manipulated.
"France, the country of the enlightenment, cannot be indifferent . . . vis-à-vis the rise of radicalism, fundamentalism and obscurantism, boosted by growing political contradictions and regional and international interferences," the head of the Maronite Church said in front of Ambassador Paoli.
As secular as it may be, France, he said, must be forward-looking and not ignore the role played by Christians in the "democratic ferment" of Arab societies.
"The growth of Islamic fundamentalism threatens moderate Muslims, who are the majority. They are likely to fall into fundamentalist mindset if Christians lose their place and beneficial influence in Arab societies."
In stressing this point, the patriarch goes against currents of thought that have tried, for political reasons, to demonise Islam and lump together moderate and extremist Muslims. For this reason too, the cardinal warns the West about the possible consequences of a region without Christians.
In view of this and with the support of all Christian religious leaders, Catholic and Orthodox, the patriarch is calling again, as he did in September 2011, for an immediate end to the violence in Syria and for a political solution to the conflict.
Although he has never expressed this openly, for him it was never a question of supporting a regime, but of promoting a political solution that reduced the risk of Christian exodus from Syria.
For the Maronite leadership in Bkerke, Christians have no choice, caught as they are between a rock and hard place, concerned more about the impact of the current fighting, which could last a long time or even go on indefinitely, than by long-term historical consequences.
For a Lebanese who knows what is at stake, this is a matter of self-defence. In several Lebanese regions, starting with Tripoli, sporadic clashes have already broken out between Sunni fundamentalists and pro-Syrian forces. At the national level, the Sunni-Shia divide has been exacerbated. Have we not seen Shia thugs shave off the beard of a Sunni cleric they had stopped in a Beirut neighbourhood?
Of course, a jihadist danger exists in Lebanon. Some 2,700 armed men, loyal to different groups, are scattered across the country. For now, they are not that important. But this is no reason to neglect the potential danger of a possible radicalisation of the Sunni community, one that could lead to unacceptable violence. Latent radicalisation could bloom at the first incident.
Fortunately, so far the army has not been contaminated by this. Instead, it has been able to keep in check outbreaks of violence. But can we ask soldiers, already stretched thin across the land according to specialists, to be everywhere at the same time?