04/06/2021, 15.14
LEBANON
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Patriarch Al-Rahi attacks 'plan to distort Lebanese identity'

by Fady Noun

In his Easter homily, the prelate expressed his outrage that half of the Lebanese people are hungry and living below the poverty line. He voiced his most serious accusations against the political establishment during a meeting with President Aoun, whom he criticised along with Hezbollah. He calls for an end to abuse, and supports neutrality and an international conference to save the country.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Al-Rahi, spoke again over the weekend about the government impasse, which is expected to continue, stressing that the situation is a sign that there is a “clear plan to change Lebanon's identity”.

In his Sunday homily, the patriarch cited the Psalms about exile in which the people of the Old Testament wondered “how to sing songs of joy in foreign lands.”

“How can we rejoice and celebrate when half of the Lebanese people are hungry and live below the poverty line, while our young graduates, doctors and engineers leave the country without looking back?” asked the patriarch, speaking out in behalf a large segment of the public.

However, Card al-Rahi levelled his harshest charges for the political establishment in his Easter message, delivered on Saturday, the same day that he met the head of state, who paid a ceremonial visit to the Patriarch to offer his wishes.

Changing Lebanon's identity

The head of the Maronite Church expressed his outrage over the political impasse that has developed in the past eight months as a result of the absence of a new government.

“What can be said about those who intentionally block the formation of the government and paralyse the state, who make the people believe that the problem is in the Constitution, when the Constitution is the solution?” he said, speaking at a time when the players of the Lebanese power game are fighting over the prerogatives of the head of state and the prime minister-designate in the formation of the cabinet.

While the patriarch did not name the politicians he criticised, his words about the interpretation of the constitution sound like a clear charge against President Michel Aoun and his camp. Mr Aoun had recently stated in an interview with the daily al-Joumhouria that the prime minister-designate had no right to appoint Christian ministers and that this task was the responsibility of the head of state.

“How painful it is for us to see those in power and those around them manipulate the country’s fate [. . .]. It is even more painful to see that some of them are loyal to a country other than Lebanon, at the expense of the nation and the Lebanese!” the patriarch bemoaned in a thinly veiled reference to Hezbollah, Iran's close ally.

It is in this dual background that Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi said that it was “now clear that we face a plan to change Lebanon, its system, identity, formula and traditions. Some parties are methodically seeking to destroy [the country’s] constitutional, financial, military and legal institutions. Some parties have chosen to create problems and prevent solutions,” he said.

“The life of the nation is not about quotas. It is the integration of values, the meeting of wills and shared advantages,” he noted. In his view, “the rights of denominations and their quotas should give way to citizens' right to security, food, education, health, work, prosperity and peace.”

Stop the abuse!

“I say to all those who are behind the failure to form a government and its financial, economic, monetary and social consequences: Stop the abuse! Stop the selfish and authoritarian behaviour! Stop sacrificing Lebanon and the Lebanese for the good of other peoples, other causes, and other countries! Stop personal interpretations of the constitution and the heresies in the interpretation of the National Pact (1943). Let decision-making and the Lebanese people be free!” the patriarch said in his message.

Neutrality and international conference

The head of the Maronite Church ended by reiterating, in a few words, his two main battle cries: Lebanon’s neutrality and the holding of an international conference to save the country.

“A neutral Lebanon is a Lebanon of stability and peace. As for the one-sided Lebanon, it is a Lebanon of turmoil and war. We want peace, not war. Neutrality is in everyone's interest and can save everyone,” he explained, conscious that his proposal is not unanimously welcomed, especially by Hezbollah, which is still armed, and engaged in Syria alongside the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“As for the international conference, it will give Lebanon a new life by stabilising its entity, its international borders, renewing the national partnership, strengthening its sovereignty, independence and army,” Patriarch al-Rahi said. “The United Nations and our Arab and international friends are ready to discuss this proposal because they want to help Lebanon remain a free and privileged place in the East.”

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