05/31/2023, 12.08
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From the Vatican to Paris, Card. Raï seeks a 'consensus' president

by Fady Noun

The cardinal is on a diplomatic tour to break the "deadlock" around the election of the Lebanese head of state. The Frangié option, supported by Hezbollah but considered too polarising, is declining. On the other hand, consensus is growing around the name of Jihad Azour. For Macron, Christians must remain a "central" element in the confessional and institutional balance of the Land of the Cedars.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - French President Emmanuel Macron met yesterday in Paris with Maronite Patriarch Card. Beshara Raï, confirming his support for the "efforts" made so far by the cardinal in the face of the "political stalemate" in Lebanon, which has been without a president for seven months.

According to AFP, the head of the Elysée also appealed to all parliamentary forces to reach an agreement "without further delay". He finally recalled the 'necessity' for Lebanese Christians to 'remain central in the confessional and institutional balance' of the cedar country. 

Sources close to the delegation accompanying the head of the Maronite Church report that the cardinal reiterated the need for a presidential candidate capable of "generating consensus".

This is why he also asked Paris to renounce support for the candidacy of former minister Sleiman Frangié, close to Hezbollah, and to back that of a politically "neutral" candidate. A figure capable of inspiring confidence in the international community and helping Lebanon to undertake the reforms necessary to emerge from the economic crisis. At the same time, the Maronite primate asked France to use diplomatic channels and credit with Tehran to soften Hezbollah's position. 

Among the candidates put forward by the Maronite patriarch is Jihad Azour, director of the Middle East and Central Asia of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). An agreement in principle has recently emerged between the Lebanese Forces, Kataëb and the Free Patriotic Movement - all parties largely representative of the Christian electorate - around this nomination, although there is still no formal commitment from the Cpl leader. 

In his homily on Sunday 28 May, a moment always charged with political significance and Bkerké's orientations, the Patriarch had welcomed the choice of certain parliamentary blocs on the proximity of an understanding.

The convergence candidacy responds to a figure 'capable of taking charge of Lebanon's problems and inspiring confidence in the country and abroad'. For its part, France assures that it does not favour any candidate, although implicit support has emerged in recent months - thanks also to the tacit agreement with Tehran - for the election of Frangié, associated with the choice of a reformist prime minister close to the opposition. This solution is considered shaky by all and incapable of ensuring stability.

In a note at the end of the meeting, the Elysée Palace reiterated the president's support for Patriarch Raï's "efforts" and called for "the commitment" of all political forces to break "the deadlock".

Of course, it will take time to understand whether the head of the Maronite Church has convinced the French president, also considering the regionally based economic and strategic dimensions that lead Paris to support Frangié's name. Also at stake are the land borders between Syria and Lebanon and their control, as well as the fight against drug trafficking and the reconstruction of the port destroyed by the 4 August explosion. 

The veto on Frangié

According to a Maronite Episcopal source requesting anonymity, the Church is, until further notice, opposing an "unshakable veto" on the election of Frangié, who is disliked by some of the bishops, although this hostility is not made explicit in the name of a facade of impartiality.

Before going to the Elysée Palace and meeting President Marcon for an hour, Card. Raï had stopped at the Vatican for a face-to-face meeting with the Secretary of State, Card. Pietro Parolin.

"The Vatican and Paris are traditionally guarantors of Lebanon's independence" the episcopal source explained to AsiaNews. "The manoeuvres of the Maronite patriarch, reflect the importance of the challenge represented by the presidential elections for our Church' he added, .

"Hezbollah has not yet realised that the agreement between the Iranians and the Saudis, concluded under the aegis of China, has shifted the entire region from the policy of opposing fronts and satellite states, to that of understanding and non-interference," Salim Sayegh, vice-president of the Kataëb party, explained to AsiaNews.

Moreover, Hezbollah does not have the necessary majority in parliament (85 votes out of 128 in the first round, 65 in the second) to impose its candidate (Frangié). The same applies to his opponents, unable to obtain a broad consensus around the name of Michel Moawad. This therefore opens the way for a 'consensus-building candidate' as the Maronite patriarch hopes.

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