BETH KERKE, Lebanon — Thousands of people gathered outside the seat of the Syriac Maronite Church in Beth Kerke (Bkerke), Lebanon to support Syriac Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros al-Raï in his call for the country to adopt a policy of neutrality in the region as a path towards political and economic rejuvenation.
“You came from all over Lebanon … to support two things: neutrality and an international conference for Lebanon under the auspices of the United Nations,” said Patriarch al-Raï to the gathered crowd. “In one word, you came here to save Lebanon.”
Although he did not explicitly mention Iranian-backed Hezbollah in his address, he alluded to the groups undermining of the state in Lebanon.
“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.”
Those gathered, however, were more direct, chanting “Hezbollah terrorist, Hezbollah out, Iran out”.
On 7 August, Patriarch al-Raï penned a memorandum proposing Lebanon adopt a policy of “active neutrality” and extract itself from regional and international conflicts and, given the ethnic and religious diversity of its population, act as a mediator in the region.
Patriarch al-Raï has called for greater international intervention in Lebanese political and economic decision-making given the country’s endemic corruption.
The formation of a new Lebanese government seems a near impossibility due to the deadlock between Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri. The pair recently exchanged accusations of obstructing the government formation.
The Media Office of the Lebanese Presidency accused Hariri of refusing to take into account President Aoun’s remarks about the partnership in forming the government.
“The statement issued by Hariri’s media office contained false responses and information,” read a statement by Aoun’s media office, referring to a statement released by Hariri where he stated that the presidential palace departments want to direct the government clash towards sectarian paths.
Hariri directed a veiled criticism of President Aoun by asking him why the Lebanese Army did not intervene to protect government buildings and facilities during protests in Tripoli.
Aoun responded to those accusations by calling Minister of Defense Zeina Aker to conduct an urgent investigation into what happened in Tripoli and to strictly pursue the perpetrators who had infiltrated the ranks of the peaceful demonstrators and carried out acts of sabotage.
The Patriarch has also called for an international investigation to be conducted over the Beirut port explosion.
In February, the Lebanese court of cassation dismissed the judge presiding over the investigation, Fadi Sawan, following a request by two former government ministers charged with negligence.
The removal of Judge Fadi Sawan from the probe, said Patriarch al-Raï, has brought the investigation back to step one, proving the need for cooperation with international investigators.
Patriarch al-Raï stated that the Lebanese people have been waiting for the results of the Beirut port explosion investigation for more than six months.
Below is a summation of Patriarch al-Raï’s address:
- You have come from all over Lebanon, from all ages, women and men, despite the coronavirus risk. You came to support the proposal of neutrality and the international conference on Lebanon, asking to save Lebanon. We together will save Lebanon.
- You came to support the demand for declaring the neutrality of a positive and active Lebanon. The aim of establishing the state of Greater Lebanon is to create a neutral entity in the East that forms a link between the peoples of the region and its civilizations, as well as a bridge of communication between East and West. Choosing a system of neutrality is to preserve the state of Lebanon in its current entity.
- You came to support the demand for an international conference on Lebanon. We, like you, did not demand an international conference until all other solutions reached a dead end. We were unable, internally, to agree on the destiny of our country.
- We want the international conference to stabilize the Lebanese entity that is seriously at risk, to re- stabilize its international borders, and renew support for the democratic system that expresses the Lebanese’s adherence to freedom, justice and equality.
- All that we are proposing today, in terms of declaring Lebanon’s neutrality and holding an international conference, is for the renewal of our free, sovereign, independent and stable existence. All we are proposing is to revive the scattered and confiscated Lebanese state.
- We present, for all Lebanon, solutions not problems. The real solution is a solution for all the components, not just for certain groups. The Lebanese are called to address ideas in a positive spirit.
- All of you attendees, here and overseas, are the source of our confidence in the future. You are the future of Lebanon. Your coming confirms that the rights will be obtained only when claimed by citizens, fighters, revolutionaries and people.
- I fully understand your cry, anger and uprising. Do not remain silent about the multiplicity of loyalties, do not remain silent about corruption, do not remain silent about your money, do not remain silent about uncontrolled borders, do not remain silent about the breach of our atmosphere, do not remain silent about politicians failures, do not remain silent wrong choices and prejudices, do not be silent about the chaos in the Beirut Port investigation, do not remain silent about the politicization of the judiciary, do not remain silent about illegal and non-Lebanese weapons, do not be silent about imprisoning the innocent and releasing the guilty, do not remain silent about the Palestinians’ settlement and refugee integration, do not remain silent about overthrowing state and the regime, do not remain silent about not forming a government, do not remain silent about the failure to make reforms and do not remain silent about forgetting the martyrs.
- Lebanon is a people, not individuals and you are the people of Lebanon. You are Lebanon’s message, values and spirit, as well as cultural and religious pluralism. The Patriarch does not differentiate between one Lebanese and another, because solidarity is the basis of our unity and our unity is our historical project.
- Oh dear who came from different Lebanese regions, denominations and parties, we are united by one color, which is Lebanon, to which we belong in citizenship not religion. Lebanon is the civil state that separates religion and state, let us preserve it, Lebanon is our pride.