08/19/2020, 10.19
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Maronite Patriarch: 'active neutrality' to unite and save Lebanon

by Fady Noun

Card Raï writes that the nation’s very existence in this period of political and geographical changes is in danger. The "Switzerland of the East" and the conflicts that afflict the nation and the region. The UN and the international community must solve the problem of Palestinian and Syrian refugees.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Is Lebanese unity threatened? This is what the Maronite patriarch, Card Beshara Raï, strongly affirms, in a nine-page "Memorandum on Lebanon and active neutrality" published yesterday, August 18, in which he declares himself in favour of this "non-alignment" which he considers essential for the survival of the country and its historical vocation. The "various and deep seated conflicts threaten not only the State but the very being of the nation", or rather its raison d'etre and its very existence amid “radical changes that continue to shape the present and future of the entire region".

"Lebanon’s neutrality is indeed the guarantee of the country’s unity and its historical role, especially in this period characterized by geopolitical and constitutional transformations," the patriarch writes in the preamble of his memorandum, recalling that in a homily on 5 July he asked the 'UN "to work for the consolidation of Lebanon's independence and unity, for the application of the United Nations resolutions concerning it and to recognize its neutrality".

This request had won the support of some and raised the reservations of others, he admits in substance. In his memorandum, the patriarch tries to explain the "why" of his request and to dispel some of the ambiguities he had raised. The patriarchal document explicitly cites the preponderant and disproportionate place taken by Hezbollah in the life of the nation as the raison d'être of the campaign in favour of "active neutrality".

But before arriving at this, he begins by specifying that this neutrality, although it did not assume the aspect of "constitutional rank", was no less present in the spirit of the founders of the State of Greater Lebanon (1920), "it certainly proved to be the driving force behind Lebanon’s foreign relations and defense policy that this small and emergent nation adopted to assert its right to self-determination and to preserve its independence, unity and identity”.

He adds “this political constitutional framework was confirmed in 1943 when the government, which secured independence, declared that Lebanon was committed to “neutrality between East and West".

"Lebanon’s relative distancing from regional conflicts—between 1943 and 1975—created prosperity, wealth, growth, and rising individual income, as well as declining unemployment, which has earned Lebanon the title of “Switzerland of the East," assures the patriarch. Thanks to this policy, he stresses, "Lebanon has managed to preserve the unity of its territory, despite plans for Arab unity, and the many Arab-Israeli wars".

The first, serious departure from this policy of non-alignment occurs "with the ascendency of the Palestine Liberation organization as a military power in its armed struggle against Israel. This destabilizing factor divided the Lebanese into two camps: those who supported the PLO and those who opposed it. A situation that led to the outbreak of the civil war in 1975” the memorandum continues.

"Under pressure from internal divisions and external interference, the Lebanese government made crucial concessions and signed the Cairo Accord in 1969, compromising its sovereignty. The Cairo Accord authorized Palestinian groups to carry out military operations against Israel from Lebanese territory, especially in the southern region of the country". This is, in some ways, the original sin.

From that moment on, “these events caused the Lebanese government and various ideological and political groups to be drawn into regional conflicts, which were mostly aligned along political, religious, ideological, and military considerations. As a consequence, Israel occupied Lebanon (1978-2000); Palestinian organizations controlled most of southern territory, reaching as far as central Beirut (1969-2005); Syrian army entered Lebanon (1976-2005); and continuing the same trend of outside interference and dominance, Hezbollah was established and molded religiously, ideologically, and militarily to be the instrument that spreads the ideas of the revolution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (1981-…).”. In doing so, the Maronite patriarch accuses the pro-Iranian party and the policies that follow from it of being a factor in the disintegration of Lebanon, which must be corrected with a return to "active neutrality".

"All these events took place because of the country’s deviation from the policy of neutrality, which was tacitly recognized but without a supporting constitutional text" continues the memorandum. In this way the state has lost its internal authority, the country its territorial sovereignty, the nation its political role, the formula of governance its balance and society its specificity at the level of civilians.

This imbalance has also produced secondary internal conflicts, but just as violent as the main conflicts. And so Lebanon, in this way, today finds itself oscillating “between unity and division”.

"The experience of one hundred years (1920-2020) of the life of the State of Greater Lebanon has shown that it is difficult for Lebanon to be the country-message without adopting the politics of neutrality. Alignment with the conflicts of the Middle East and its peoples has affected the principle of partnership between Christians and Muslims, in its spiritual, national, and human aspects. Lebanon has thus entered a state of disintegration, and the various attempts at a solution and compromise have failed. This is why nothing would save its unity, its independence, and its stability except neutrality, knowing that these various and deep seated conflicts threaten not only the State but the very being of the nation.”

"The declaration of the neutrality of Lebanon is a founding act, like the declaration of the State of Greater Lebanon in 1920, and the declaration of independence in 1943. The creation of Greater Lebanon as an independent State prevented the Lebanese from being absorbed by various attempts at Arab - Islamic unity and gave them a democratic system of governance which allowed them to peacefully coexist together. The independence of Lebanon legitimized its existence as a sovereign nation with a central authority to protect its citizens from internal and external threats. Political neutrality, which is yet to be achieved, prevents the division of Lebanon, protects it from wars and retains its specificity. Neutrality is thus the “pact of stability”, after the two pacts of existence and sovereignty". 

But what exactly does Lebanon ask of the UN?

In addition to the historical account that becomes an argument in favour of neutrality, the document calls on "the United Nations, along the countries concerned, find a solution for the half a million Palestinian refugees and almost one and a half million displace Syrians present on its territory ". And, in general, that the resolutions of the Security Council that concern it are applied. In this way it dispels the confusion surrounding a request for "international recognition of Lebanon's neutrality", to which the interpretation of the homily cited at the beginning of the article lent itself. What the patriarch seeks is a greater understanding of what makes Lebanon's historic vocation "a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for the East, as well as for the West" as Pope John Paul II affirmed with unforgettable words in his Apostolic Letter to all the bishops of the Catholic Church on the situation in Lebanon (1989). “If this country - the pope warned - were to fail, the very cause of freedom would suffer a dramatic setback (…) The disappearance of Lebanon would undoubtedly become one of the greatest remorse in the world. Its safeguard is one of the most urgent and noblest tasks that the contemporary world must undertake”. There could be no greater plea.

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