LEBANON: Syriac and Armenian Patriarchs meet on ongoing economic and political crisis

DIMAN, Lebanon – His Holiness Syriac Maronite Patriarch Mor Béchara Boutros Raï hosted a meeting of Syriac and Armenian patriarchs on Thursday at the Patriarchal summer residence in Diman, North Lebanon. The patriarchs discussed the worsening general conditions in Lebanon in light of the severe political, economic, and social crisis.

The meeting was initiated and hosted by His Holiness Mor Béchara Boutros Raï and attended by the Syriac Catholic Patriarch Mor Ignatius Jospeh III Younan, the Syriac Melkite Catholic Patriarch Mor Youssef al-Absi, the Armenian Catholic Patriarch of Cilicia His Holiness Krikor Bedros XX. The Armenian Orthodox of Cilicia Patriarch Aram I Keshishian sent a bishop to the meeting. The Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II and Greek Orthodox patriarchs were not present at the meeting.

The meeting comes in times of Lebanon going through one of the biggest political and economic crises in its existence, all aggravated by the Coronavirus pandemic. The financial system has melted down, the national currency has collapsed and there is a political deadlock. Joblessness is sky-high, the middle class is wiped out, and the number of Lebanese falling in poverty increases every day. In the words of MEMRI-Vice President Alberto M. Fernandez: “As the worst effects of the country’s poverty are felt in 2020, the desire of many Lebanese, including formerly middle class and now poor Christians, to leave the country will only intensify. In 2019 already the percentage of Lebanese emigrating rose by 42% and research showed that 60% of Lebanese Christians are now interested in emigrating. Lebanon’s Christian population, which is already down to a third of the country’s population as of 2018, may be on the verge of cratering.”

In this context, the patriarchs addressed aid and relief work carried out by each of the churches and how to cooperate and coordinate their efforts. Special focus was on the needs of the youth, how to provide them with job opportunities and counter them emigrating – which would be a major effect on the countries’ demographics and cause a brain drain.

One of the points on the agenda was also Lebanese (geo-)political neutrality. Patriarch Raï recently has made statements that Lebanon’s historical stance of neutrality in regional and international politics, since it has become an independent country, is to be reaffirmed, continued and propagated by all Lebanese political actors. And external powers should not interfere in this neutrality.

Photo taken on January 28, 2020 during a previous spiritual summit in Bkerké. Image: L’Orient le Jour

In highly sectarian Lebanon, neutrality is an important factor to mitigate decades-long domestic issues and external conflicts in the Middle East; “Since we adopted the 1943 pact, Lebanon has committed itself to a policy of neutrality and non-alignment.” The Syriac Maronite Patriarch stressed that no domestic actor or outside power should try to violate Lebanon’s principles of neutrality and non-alignment but rather leave Lebanon to it’s sovereign, free and independent status at all time.

The patriarchs appealed to all Lebanese leaders to refrain from political calculations and overcome the sectarian and factional differences, enact on solidarity in word and deed and work with the constitutional institutions towards a national rescue pack. The patriarchs called on the Lebanese government for more urgent measures to mitigate the severity of the economic crisis and implement effective reforms which would make real contributions to restoring the economic life cycle and attracting domestic and external financial support.

For his part, His Holiness Ignatius Jospeh III Younan stressed the importance of preserving Christian unity in these difficult and dangerous times and safeguard a future for Christians in Lebanon.

Also read: A Tale of Two Patriarchs