Lebanese Maronite patriarch reiterates criticism of Hezbollah, confirms shift

Al-Rai’s last two sermons have reflected a more openly critical stance against the Iran-backed party and its ally President Michel Aoun.
Sunday 12/07/2020
A file photo of Lebanon’s Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rai. (AFP)
A file photo of Lebanon’s Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rai. (AFP)

BEIRUT - Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai stepped up criticism of the Iran-backed radical Shia group Hezbollah and its political allies without directly naming them, on Sunday, saying Lebanese rejected the maneuvres by a “parliamentary majority” that is isolating the country and driving it “from prosperity to decline”.

The last two sermons of the Maronite patriarch have been seen to mark a shift to a more openly critical stance against the policies of both Hezbollah and its ally President Michel Aoun.

For the second sermon in a row, Bechara Boutros Al-Rai stressed the importance of Lebanon’s neutrality and expressed again his implicit criticism of the heavily armed Hezbollah over its support for Iran in regional conflicts.

Al-Rai carries weight as the head of the Maronite church, the Christian community from which the president must be drawn in a sectarian system of government.

Hezbollah and President Aoun back the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab as Lebanon faces a financial meltdown which marks the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war.

“The intervention was seen as a shift in his politics away from supporting the president and more into criticising the political position of the country, regionally and internationally,” Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Centre said.

Al-Rai, in a copy of the sermon sent by email, said Lebanese “rejected any … parliamentary majority messing with the constitution … and Lebanon’s model of civilisation, and that it isolate it from its brothers and friends … and that it move it from abundance to want and from prosperity to decline”.

Experts say Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in decades of state corruption and bad governance by the sectarian ruling elite.

Hezbollah’s is perceived as sharing a large share of the blame in the current situation of the country as its alliance with Iran has led key Western nations and Gulf Arab states, which have been traditional supporters of Lebanon, to keep their distance, closing off most sources of aid that the small Arab country badly needs.

Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah has in recent weeks called on Lebanon to look east and strike an oil-for-Lebanese pounds deal with Iran as a means to fix the economy.  The Lebanese government said such a deal is not under consideration.

“Political groups should not run in the affairs of the country and citizens irresponsibly, and in the same spirit that brought our country to rock bottom,” the Maronite patriarch said in a previous sermon.