LEBANON: Syriac Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros Raï calls for early parliamentary elections, says “Lebanon today faces the greatest dangers”

BEIRUT – Syriac Maronite Patriarch Mar Béchara Boutros Raï today called for early elections after the Lebanese government resigned as a result of the August 4th, Beirut port explosion which costed 172 Lebanese their lives, injured thousands, and left large parts of the city in ruins. Many Members of Parliament also resigned but not enough to dissolve parliament.

Lebanon has been 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, joblessness is sky-high, the middle class is wiped out, and the number of Lebanese falling in poverty increases every day.

Many Lebanese see corruption, clientelism, and negligence of the government, and especially the ruling class, as the primary cause of the Beirut port explosion disaster. After the explosion. protesters took to the streets to demand Hezbollah and the ruling class to give up their grip over the country and asked for Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet resignation. In the case of the cabinet the protesters succeeded.

After earlier statements by the Syriac Maronite Patriarch, the most senior Christian authority in Lebanon, that Lebanon’s historical stance of neutrality in regional and international politics should be reaffirmed, continued and propagated by all Lebanese political actors, and that external powers should not interfere in this neutrality, His Holiness Mar Béchara Boutros Raï in his sermon this Sunday said that Lebanon today faces the greatest dangers and should hold early elections;

“Every settlement project at Lebanon’s expense is rejected and we will face it. This is what the Patriarchate has done every time Lebanon was in danger. Lebanon today faces the greatest dangers. We will not allow it to be a compromise card between countries that want to restore relations between them, at the expense of the pain of the Lebanese people.”

“We call upon the political authority to give way to the able, new and honest Lebanese energies to participate in the restoration of Lebanon’s national legitimacy and the world’s confidence in it.”

“Are political officials, parliamentary blocs, and parties aware of the danger of withholding international confidence from them in terms of legislative, procedural, administrative and justice authority, and the necessity to start the change immediately, hastening to hold early parliamentary elections, without distracting from the enactment of a new law, and to form the new government, as the people want it.”

“You destroy the past with national, moral and material corruption. It undermines performance, behavior and mentality. The people want a government to save Lebanon, not save the power and the political class. The people want a government that is compatible with it, not with the outside world, and that combines its components around a reform project. Reform as we understand is not only an administrative reform, but rather a national decision and encompassing its political, security and military dimensions.”

The Syriac Maronite Patriarch Raï also received at his summer residence Bkerké, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, David Hale, and the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea.

Under Secretary of State Hale met with several Lebanese leaders and pledged U.S. help to Lebanon in case of actual reforms. Where bankrupt Lebanon needs international financial help and the U.S. holds most single voting rights in the IMF, the Undersecretary made clear that U.S. financial help to Lebanon is conditional on reform.

Hale stated after his meetings.

“There is a huge work to be done, so that the Lebanese can reach what they are looking for, such as fighting corruption and making reforms on all levels. When we see Lebanese officials commit to actual change, the U.S. and its international partners will respond to these systemic reforms with continuous financial support.”

The U.S. is on a collision course with Iran and its Shia proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon over Iranian influence in the Middle East and its Shia agenda. The U.S. wants to curb Iran’s influence and has targeted the Iranian proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.