Maronite bishops note that without a president in its current crisis Lebanon will spiral downward
by Fady Noun

Divisions and personal interests endanger the uniqueness "of Lebanon’s experience ". inflation and the public debt are increasing. The Maronite patriarchate calls for a rediscovery of the Taif "historic compromise". Hariri’s support might prove decisive for an Aoun presidency.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Meeting in Bkerke, as it does every first Wednesday of the month, the Assembly of Maronite Bishops, exceptionally, issued a plea instead of a simple statement. At a time when former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is about to go along with the Michel Aoun option and the chances of the latter’s election as President of the Republic comes closer to reality, the bishops wanted to draw the attention of the country’s leaders to the seriousness of its political, economic, social, environmental and moral situation. The crisis is closely linked to the presidential vacancy, which requires a decisive vote after two years and five months of stalemate.

The assembly reiterated its support for the Maronite patriarch who recently criticised a proposed reform package related to the presidential election, making it a matter of "dignity". House Speaker Nabih Berry had laid down these preconditions, which include an agreement on a new electoral law.

The bishops’ assembly did not simply draw the attention of political leaders to the seriousness of the institutional crisis, but want them to analyse closely its economic consequences. Politically, the assembly called for "national reconciliation" to put Lebanon on the path of the "historic compromise" reached in Taif, which ended Lebanon’s civil war.

"It is imperative,” the bishops’ appeal says, “to start national reconciliation, turn the page, and move towards the historic compromise sanctioned by the Taif Accord.” “It is necessary,” the statement goes on to say, “to live together in an inclusive State, and not on the basis of conditions set by one section of the Lebanese people.” “Reconciliation should enable the Lebanese to go back to mutual friendship, far from factional politics, knowing that this model of coexistence is becoming increasingly important in a region where a wind of madness threatens everyone.”

“We must therefore emphasise the uniqueness of the Lebanese experience,” the bishops’ assembly notes, “both generally in terms of Christian-Muslim partnership in the management of the state, as well as in terms of the purely Islamic partnership between Sunnis and Shias in the management of the same State. This is Lebanon's contribution to dowsing the fire of sectarian strife and tearing down the wall between majorities and minorities on its territory." It is important to note that Shias are a minority (18%) compared to the Sunni majority.

In terms of the economy, the assembly warned, without mentioning the term, about the danger of inflation caused by the excessively ambitious spending proposed in 2017 budget and of the social impact of many planned new taxes by the finance minister, who is close to house speaker.

Planned expenditures include coverage of new public sector wages and salaries against the will of the entire business community and many economic experts, who warn against their inflationary effect.

"Political struggles,” the bishops add, “have caused a frightening economic decline in all sectors, especially industry and agriculture. On top of that, we must count the burden of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who, altogether, represent more than half of the Lebanese population, as well as the winds of change blowing through the region."

"The results are there for all to see: no economic growth, rising unemployment, closure of many commercial, industrial and tourist businesses, falling exports, declining state revenues, more expenditures and public servants, higher public debt, neglect of vital sectors, squandering government money in contracts and bribes, virtually no accountability, sanitation crisis with its health consequences, anarchy in manufacturing and plants that pollute and distort the environment, causing air, river and groundwater pollution."

Lastly, the prelates wonder on what principle, “political leaders insist on burdening the economy . . . despite the warnings of international financial institutions? How are we to ensure the funds to pay for wages and salaries as garbage piles up and the debt gets worse?” “Are political forces aware of the dangers of the new proposed budget, which calls for scores of new taxes and increases for old ones, both for companies and ordinary people, against all economic rules that, in times of crisis, call for stimuli for the private sector and lower production costs, to encourage new investments, growth and job creation?"