Patriarch Al-Rahi and the Saudi alliance: Riyadh ‘has never violated sovereignty of Lebanon’
by Fady Noun

A book celebrates one hundred years of relations between the Maronite patriarchate and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The book launch brought together Card Beshara al-Rahi, Apostolic Nuncio Joseph Spiteri, and Saudi ambassador Walid Boukhari. The Patriarch stressed the link between the two countries and Riyadh's support for Lebanese independence, and attacked Hezbollah without naming.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – A ceremony marking one hundred years of relations between the Maronite Patriarchate and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was held yesterday under the dome of the church which stands in the outer courtyard of the patriarchal seat in Bkerké.

The event was organised to coincide with the publication of a book that traces the history of those relations, written by Father Antoine Daou, a member of the Antonine order.

Publisher Naufal Daou noted that the tome was written on an idea from Saudi Arabia, and is meant to show the historical depth of relationship between the two sides, which date back almost to Lebanon’s founding years, in a country that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is trying to link to a different geopolitical space.

The head of the Maronite Church took this opportunity to vigorously criticise Hezbollah, without naming it, stressing in particular that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “has never violated the sovereignty of Lebanon”, while clearly noting that the Shia party and its backer did not refrain from “violating its independence”, “flouting its borders”, “dragging it into wars,” paralysing its democracy, “and” ignoring its state”.

The ceremony was held in the presence of the Saudi Ambassador, Walid Boukhari, the Apostolic Nuncio Bishop Joseph Spiteri, and a large and varied group of political and religious officials, including a representative of Lebanese President Michel Aoun. The Future Movement, generally shunned by the Saudi diplomat, was represented by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The head of the Maronite Church centred his address on three aspects. He spoke about the relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, the relations between this Kingdom and the Maronite Church, and finally the Kingdom's relations with the people of Lebanon.

“History shows that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has understood the meaning and value of the existence of Lebanon in the heart of the Arab world,” said the Patriarch at the start of his speech.

“Who can forget the words of the founder of the Al-Saud dynasty, King Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman, who said: ‘Lebanon is an intrinsic part of us. I shall protect its independence myself, and I shall not allow anyone to lay hands on it.’ Who can forget the promise by King Abdel Aziz ben Saoud on 12 April 1953: ‘I will defend the independence of Lebanon as I defend the independence of my Kingdom!’ Who can forget the mediations undertaken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during the war in Lebanon! Who can forget the sponsorship, by the Kingdom, of the Taif Conference (1989), which led to the Document of National Understanding, which we saw as an extension of the National Pact!

“Let us not forget, in particular, that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was the first Arab country to recognise the independence of Lebanon in 1943. It is on the basis of these wishes and promises that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has dealt with Lebanon, that it has respected the choice of the Lebanese, their identity, their pluralism, their ways, their traditions and their way of life.

“In fact,” the patriarch added, “Saudi Arabia has not undermined the sovereignty of Lebanon or violated its independence. It has not flouted its borders, nor drawn it into wars. It has not paralysed its democracy or ignored its state.

“Saudi Arabia has supported Lebanon in Arab and international fora and provided it with financial aid. It has invested in its economic recovery and reconstruction projects. It has sponsored reconciliations and settlements; it has welcomed the Lebanese and provided them with opportunities to live and work” in the kingdom.

Beyond state-to-state relations

“The relationship between the Maronite Patriarchate and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia goes beyond the considerations that govern relations between states,” said Patriarch Al-Rahi regarding the relationship between the Maronite Patriarchate and the Kingdom.

“For this patriarchal see, Saudi Arabia is Saudi Arabia. We love it the way it is. We do not assess it through its political choices, its national positions, its Arab and international relations. Our relationship goes beyond these bases, towards a global relationship, which is the partnership between Christians and Muslims.

“One of the reasons that led the Maronites to found Greater Lebanon in its pluralistic richness is that it may be an extension of its environment, without being its imitation, nor dissolved into it. This is our story and our approach, and this is our promise to the Lebanese, Saudi Arabia, Arabs and the world. This is the promise made in Lebanon by the Kingdom.”

In concluding, the Patriarch said: “Father Antoine Daou’s book, historical in essence, thus opens windows onto the future, full of fraternity, solidarity and respect [. . .]. To the sounds of the bells and the calls of the muezzin, Lebanon walks in this East as a brother to the Arabs and a supporter of the truth.”

To this end, al-Rahi urged the Lebanese who work in Saudi Arabia to show their upmost loyalty to their host country. “Our children go to Arabia for work. They are messengers from Lebanon to there, not those from another country or another project,” he added.

No to the concept of minority

For his part, Saudi Ambassador Walid Boukhari expressed his attachment to Lebanon’s national unity as well as to preserving Lebanon as a message, free, sovereign and independent.

“We hope that [the country’s] political parties will prioritise the interests of Lebanon,” he said, a reference to the partisan demands that are blocking the formation of Lebanon’s government.

For the Saudi diplomat, “someone is trying to undermine the relationship between Lebanon and the Arab world and involve it in an axis that undermines its Arab identity.”

“In the face of Islamic-Christian legitimacy, the concept of minority has no place,” the ambassador said in a global approach towards the Arab and Islamic world. “We do not allow the Lebanese identity to be compromised under any pretext whatsoever. Christians and Muslims alike are essential components of the Levantine Arab identity,” going so far as to quote similar remarks by Imam Mohammad Mehdi Shamseddine, one of the most illustrious Shia opponents of Hezbollah.

Finally, Mr Boukhari noted that removing Lebanon from its Arab environment is against the constitution, which enshrines Lebanon's “Arab identity and membership” in its Preamble.

Pictured from left to right: journalist and editor Naufal Daou, Patriarch Al-Rahi, Ambassador Walid Boukhari and Fr Antoine Daou.