Lebanese Maronite patriarch calls for end to Hezbollah’s diktat

“The stage we have reached compels us to appeal to the President of the Republic to work to lift the siege on legitimacy and free national decision,” said al-Rahi.
Monday 06/07/2020
A file picture of Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros al-Rahi during a meeting with the Lebanese community abroad. (AFP)
A file picture of Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros al-Rahi during a meeting with the Lebanese community abroad. (AFP)

BEIRUT–Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Moran Mor Bechara Boutros al-Rahi broke his usual political reserve and called on President Michel Aoun to work on “lifting the siege on legitimacy in Lebanon and the free national decision” and ensure Lebanon’s “neutrality.”

Lebanese political sources considered the patriarch’s words as a first since he succeeded the late Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir as head of the Maronite Church in 2011.

The sources indicated that “the Patriarch was in fact accusing Hezbollah without naming it, in order to lift its hegemony over the institutions of the Lebanese state, including over the presidency of the republic and the presidency of the Lebanese government headed by Hassan Diab, which is controlled by the party.”

Unlike his predecessor, Patriarch al-Rahi is not especially popular among Lebanese Christians as he has frequently taken stances seen as in alignment with Hezbollah.

A prominent Lebanese politician saw that by demanding Lebanon’s “neutrality,” in other words pushing the country away from the alliance wanted by Hezbollah, Patriarch al-Rahi has gone far in an indirect campaign against the Shia group. Al-Rahi made his statements at Sunday Mass in his summer residence in Diman, North Lebanon.

“The worst thing that we are witnessing today is that most of those who deal with political life (in Lebanon) are concerned only with their petty gains, interests and calculations,” the patriarch said, adding that “these politicians want to cover up their responsibility in depleting the state treasury, and not undertaking any structural and sectoral reforms.”

He pointed out that the country’s political officials, regardless of their positions, do not have the courage and internal freedom to meet and find ways to stop the political suffering, which are the basis of economic, financial, monetary and living crises.

Lebanese political circles viewed the stance of the Maronite patriarch, who usually avoids taking sharp positions, as confirmation that the country has no choice but to disengage from regional conflicts, go back to taking a neutral position and move away from positions that make it an ally of Iran as Hezbollah desires.

“The stage we have reached compels us to appeal to the President of the Republic to work to lift the siege on legitimacy and free national decision, and we ask friendly countries to hurry to Lebanon’s rescue as they used to do whenever it was exposed to danger,” said the patriarch, without specifying who the friendly countries are, although he was clearly referring to Arab countries. Al-Rahi pointed out that “the revolution of our hungry people, who are deprived of their most basic rights, deserves protection, not repression.”

“Lebanon’s young men and women are not its enemy to deserve being repressed and arrested. They are our daughters and our sons, and they are the momentum of change and hope for the future,” al-Rahi added.

Lebanon is experiencing its worst economic crisis since the end of the civil war (1975-1990), which has triggered since last October popular protests demanding economic and political reforms.The protesters are demanding the departure of the political class, which they hold responsible for rampant corruption in state institutions that is seen as the main cause of the country’s financial and economic collapse.

In addition to its economic crisis, Lebanon is suffering from severe political division and polarisation, especially since the formation of the current government, headed by Hassan Diab, last February to succeed the Saad Hariri government, which resigned last October under pressure from the popular protest movement.