BEIRUT Lebanese gathered at the seat of the Maronite church on Saturday to support calls by its leader for the country to be neutral in regional conflicts as a way to lead it out of political and economic crisis.
Lebanon has been in financial meltdown since 2019 and feuding politicians have been unable to form a government since the last one quit in the aftermath of an Aug. 4 explosion in the capital, leaving the country rudderless.
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai has repeatedly urged political rivals to agree a new administration, and recently called for a U.N.-sponsored international conference to help break the deadlock.
“You came from all over Lebanon … to support two things: neutrality and an international conference for Lebanon under the auspices of the United Nations. In one word you came here to save Lebanon,” Rai, who is Lebanon’s most senior Christian cleric, told the crowd at the church’s seat in Bkirki.
“Through an international conference we want to announce the neutrality of Lebanon so that it does not return to become a victim of conflicts and wars and divisions,” he said. “There are no two states in one land and no two armies in one state.”
Rai did not specifically refer to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, but several people in the crowd shouted “Iran, get out” in reference to the Shi’ite group.
Heavily armed Hezbollah has supported Iran in its power struggle with Sunni-led Arab Gulf states in the region.
Opponents of the group say its alliance with Tehran has led Gulf Arabs – who once supported Lebanon – to steer clear, closing off an important source of aid.
Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri was given the task of forming a government in October but is struggling to cobble together a cabinet to share power with all Lebanese parties, including Hezbollah.
Hariri said earlier in February there was no way out of the crisis without the support of Arab countries.
Rai urged the Lebanese to seek their rightful rights to live in dignity.
“No right shall be wasted. I understand your pain and anger well. I understand your revolt. Do not stay silent about politicizing the judiciary. Do not stay silent about illegal arms. Do not stay silent about innocents kept in prisons, or the naturalization of Palestinians. Do not stay silent about the coup against the state and system. Do not stay silent about the delayed government formation, or about reforms or our martyrs. Do not stay silent about illegal arms.”
“We liberated the land, so let us liberate the state from everything that hinders its authority and its performance. The greatness of the liberation and resistance movements in the world fall in the interest of the state and its legitimacy,” he concluded.
Shiite scholar calls for supporting Rai
Prominent Lebanese Shiite scholar Al-Amin wrote on his Twitter account: “Patriarch Al-Rai’s stances regarding the neutrality of Lebanon, the state’s sovereignty, and the exclusivity of arms in it express the interest of the Lebanese in all their sects, including the Shiite community, whose aspirations for establishing a state of institutions and law do not differ from the aspirations of the rest Lebanese sects. “
سماحة العلامة #السيد_علي_الأمين: مواقف #البطريرك_الراعي عن حياد لبنان وسيادة الدولة وحصرية السلاح فيه، تعبّر عن مصلحة اللبنانيين بكل طوائفهم، بما في ذلك الطائفة الشيعية، التي لا تختلف في تطلعاتها إلى قيام دولة المؤسسات والقانون، عن تطلعات بقية الطوائف اللبنانية. #لبنان— موقع العلاّمة السيد علي الأمين (@SayyedAliElAmin) February 27, 2021
Phalange party leader voices support for Rai’s call
The head of the Lebanese Phalange Party, Sami Gemayel, tweeted on his Twitter account : “The word of Patriarch Al-Rai today is historical and simulates our constants to save Lebanon and rebuild it on solid foundations for a new centenary.”
REUTERS/US NEWS & WORLD REPORT / Ya Libnan