Support for Lebanese Maronite patriarch against Hezbollah widening

Lebanese political sources agree that al-Rai has taken a different political approach after sensing serious threats that Hezbollah poses to Lebanon and its Christian community in particular.
Wednesday 15/07/2020
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai speaks after meeting with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 15. (REUTERS)
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai speaks after meeting with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 15. (REUTERS)

BEIRUT--The political front opposing the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and supporting Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai’s position in favour of preserving the country’s “neutrality” appears to be growing.

Al-Rai, who has emerged as a strong critic of Hezbollah’s efforts to control state institutions, recently received support from Suleiman Frangieh, head of the Marada movement, who after visiting the Maronite patriarch in the patriarchal residence in Diman, said he is “ready for any national meeting that saves Lebanon and has a clear vision to change the status quo.”

 “We came to visit the patriarch al-Rai in Diman, which is a regular annual visit. The gentleness that we see here is a father’s gentleness, and we always come to give our opinion and listen to the view of our patriarch,” Frangieh said.

 Asked about the prospect of holding an inclusive national meeting, Frangieh said: “We are present in any initiative that could lead to saving Lebanon and includes a clear vision to change the current status quo.”

 The Marada leader said the patriarch’s concerns for the country and its future are widely shared. 

 He said the two held talks on the issue and that Marada agreed with the majority of al-Rai’s positions and concern for the country’s future. 

 Frangieh stressed that the priority is to bring Lebanon out of its stalemate and forge a solution that satisfies the Lebanese people. 

 “There must be national responsibility in these circumstances to get out of the current stalemate, and end the tense climate of retaliation, revenge and blame – a climate that won’t lead to a solution,” he said.

 Frangieh added that extensive effort would be required to bring Lebanon out of its economic crisis. 

 “The economic challenge is a national responsibility that everyone should bear, and it is a priority today to deal with this challenge so as to restore confidence and attract investments. We must all work together to overcome this crisis,” he said. 

Although Frangieh kept the door open to working with Hezbollah by saying that the crisis must be addressed without retaliation and blame, his statements were politically calculated, especially with talk of Hezbollah possibly abandoning the Marada leader in upcoming presidential elections in 2022.

Many Lebanese political sources say that Frangieh, who supports the Maronite patriarch’s initiative, is trying to compensate for political losses previously caused by a lack of support from Hezbollah, which favoured Gebran Bassil.

Hezbollah’s backing apparently helped Bassil, Frangieh’s rival, score important political gains that enabled him to garner more popular support.

However, the political class opposing Hezbollah, which has been divided in recent years, is now gaining strength with the Maronite Patriarch’s bold move. This could mean that Hezbollah’s influence over the government could be limited.

While Lebanon is having a hard time convincing allied and Western countries to provide financial aid, the Maronite patriarch’s statements indicate the possible creation of a united opposition front that could earn the country a vote of confidence. 

Political parties are betting on the patriarch’s ability to help create this front, taking into account his call for “Lebanon’s neutrality” that has been supported by Western countries.

The patriarch’s attempt to help create an opposition front was clear after he received a number of high-level visitors, including from leaders of Lebanese political parties and Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari in early July. 

 Media reports described these visits as an indication that al-Rai is no longer supporting President Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement party, which is allied with Hezbollah.

Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai meets with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 15. (Reuters)
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai meets with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 15. (Reuters)

Lebanese political sources agree that al-Rai has taken a different political approach after sensing serious threats that Hezbollah poses to Lebanon and its Christian community in particular. 

Since last week, the patriarch has called for Lebanon to maintain its “neutrality,” stressing the need for Aoun “to break the siege on political legitimacy.”

The statements are clear indications of the Maronite Church’s rejection of Hezbollah’s attempts to exert control over Lebanese state institutions.

“The Lebanese want to end their suffering from power monopoly and neglect. They want a free state that speaks in the name of the people. That being said, they don’t want a state that gives up its sovereignty and free will,” al-Rai said.

 “The Lebanese do not want any popular or representative majority to tamper with the constitution or the law and isolate the country from friendly nations and peoples. They don’t want Lebanon to go from growth to backwardness and from abundance to need,” he added.