08/29/2006, 00.00
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EU must generously help Lebanon rebuilding to avoid Christian flight

by Samir Khalil Samir, sj

After its timid diplomatic manoeuvres, Europe has the chance to regain lost ground through reconstruction at the donor countries conference in Stockholm. This could save an inter-denominational Lebanon.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – In two days time, on 31 August, an international donor conference will be held in Stockholm with the goal of helping Lebanon to rebuild homes, roads and lives crushed by the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. The United States, Japan, several Gulf states and European states like Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and so on are on the list of invited countries.

During the five weeks of war, Europe did not have a big say in diplomacy under way. Perhaps it will try to stake a claim in Lebanon's reconstruction. The United Nations Development Programme estimates the damage done to amount to more than 15 billion dollars (12 billion euros). More than 15,000 homes, 80 bridges and 94 roads were destroyed. Thousands of businesses were shut down and the economy has reached an all time low. Further, Lebanon is already burdened by loans taken to rebuild the country of the cedars after the war between 1975 and 1990. It needed to take out 38 billion dollars in international loans for this purpose, that is, 200% of the Gross Domestic Product. It is time that Europe comes to Lebanon's aid, if we do not want to see this economic disaster pushing people in difficulties into the arms of Hezbollah and other integralist movements. It has been said that Hezbollah is giving every family in the south and Beirut that have lost their home 12,000 dollars in cash: an able political tactic, which is very dangerous for Lebanon's future.

One consequence is the departure – not to say the flight – of Christians. This is for religious reasons first and foremost: they no longer feel "at home" and fear Islamisation. Then there are political reasons (the wars continue), economic (the economy is at a standstill), and moral ones (they do not share the manipulations of global, Arab and middle-eastern policies). Since the vast majority of Lebanese émigrés in America, Europe and Australia are Christian, it is clear they have more of a tendency than Muslims to migrate to the West for good. The instability of the Middle East weighs more heavily on Christians than it does on Muslims. They no longer feel at home, not in Lebanon (where they are still relatively listened to) but in the Middle East. A terrible anecdote is making its way around young Christian circles: the Lebanese flag (two red stripes, a wide white band in between with the green cedar in the centre) has been modified: there is a luggage in the cedar's place! So the youth are leaving!

Thursday 31 August, at the invitation of Sweden, donor countries will meet for Lebanon. We hope the EU is among the strongest investors to prevent Lebanon from losing its uniqueness in the Middle East.

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