Friday, March 30, 2007

Sfeir Spells it Out (Updated)

"The main interference comes from the neighbors ... Syria left Lebanon, but maintains its existence in it through its (intelligence) agencies and pressures … Syria did not accept what has happened and seeks a return to Lebanon."

So spoke Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, the head of Lebanon's Christian Maronite Church, in an interview with the Kuwaiti daily Al Raii al Aam published this morning. The prelate's comments come at the start of what promises to be an aggressive fight to establish the International Tribunal under a joint UN-Lebanese mandate, ahead of a looming deadline to pass it under a UNSC Chapter 7 mandate. A fight, the current phase [background: I, II] of which was, officially launched by the pro-Syrian Speaker of Parliament's refusal to convene the year's first constitutionally-stipulated parliamentary session, and now brought to a head by the Speaker's refusal to receive the international tribunal's draft bill frorm the office of the Prime Minister.

But apart from serving as a much needed breath of fresh air, from a source that is fundamentally essential to the success of Lebanon's campaing to rid it of its clandestine Syrian infestation, the Patriarch's comments will act to sever any claims to legitimacy over Christian interests Syria's allies in that community have been using to continuously cripple the formation of the International Tribunal. Claims propagated through base sectarian fears and the allotment of political favours.

Speaking to that effect, the Patriarch told of his efforts to avert a national crisis and preserve his community's highest ranking political seat, that of the Presidency of the Republic,

"I told the president who was sitting next to me here during Christmas that the country needs a salvation step, even at the expense of your term (in office). Later I sent him a written message with one of my aides urging him to abdicate...

...What does he [Lahoud] do? He spends his day with political wrangling and countering remarks made by his critics. This, certainly, hurts the image of the presidency."

Yet despite the prelate's efforts to mitigate the divisions that have coursed through his community (and of course the country as a whole). Syria, according to Sfeir,

"continues to place huge pressures on those groups and factions aligned with it, in order to hamper the creation of the International Tribunal and prevent the reaching of an internal entente."

On the subject of Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and a primary backer of pro-Syrian efforts to bring down the government of Fouad Seniora, Sfeir added,

"He [Michel Aoun] has an understanding with Hizbullah, assuming that he will have the party's backing to be chosen president."

The Christians, continued the prelate, "are not united like the rest of the (Lebanese) communities. Some of them support the government and are allied with the majority and others are with the other side (opposition). They are the ones who aspire to return to power and rule Lebanon again, as it used to be ruled during the era of [Syria's] hegemony."

"[If we are to work ourselves out of this crisis], there is no doubt that the International Court is need, as well as an election law on the basis of the smaller districts that preserve the health of representation and fairness, that is where we need to start."

Several days after the publication of the above interview, Naharnet amended its 'exclusive' sneak-peak coverage of the Kuwaiti daily's interview with the prelate by noting that the Maronite secretariat has labeled Al Rai el Aam's publication of the interview as "inaccurate". Apparently, the Patriarch had not "mention[ed] specific names."

In statements clarifying the position outlined by the Maronite Patriarch, and then allegedly misrepresented by the Kuwaiti daily Al Raii el Aam, the Maronite Bishop's Council released a statement on Wednesday, April 4th, calling on the pro-Syrian opposition to end its paralysis of Parliament and any attempts to sabotage the presidential elections scheduled for November of this year.

Naharnet provides the following summary of the statement:

It [the statement] called for "halting any attempt to deactivate democracy and replacing it by non democratic practices."

The church called for "activating dialogue within constitutional institutions, especially the parliament which represents all political factions." To avoid escalating political differences into violence "we call on parliament to practice its constitutional and national roles … by deliberating the crisis and finding solutions to it through sound-democratic dialogue."

The statement warned that "disabling constitutional institutions is a harbinger to the collapse of the democratic regime." It urged all the parties "to resume dialogued with the aim of finding a settlement to this crisis and breathing life into the executive authority (government)."

The Maronite church "adheres to holding presidential elections as constitutionally scheduled." It warned that attempts by any faction to prevent quorum at the parliamentary session that would elect the new president would be an anti-constitutional attempt.

The statement was apparently referring to threats by the Hizbullah-led opposition to refrain from taking part in a parliamentary session to elect a new head of state, which would strip the legislature of a two-third quorum set by the constitution for the session. The Parliamentary majority which backs Premier Fouad Saniora's government does not control two thirds of the 128-seat parliament, but does have enough votes to elect a new head of state in the second round of balloting.

The statement also stressed that Lebanon "should adhere to the international legitimacy (U.N.) and all resolutions issued by its institutions." The Maronite Church called all concerned parties to "refrain from blocking" efforts by the United Nations to create an international tribunal "to try culprits in the serious crimes committed in Lebanon since October 2004."

(Emphasis added)

Although some may not find that the statement goes far enough in pointing the finger (it doesn't 'name names') it does, however, underline the major points of the Maronite church's position. Namely:

  • Its support for the establishment of the International Tribunal (only) through the Lebanese Parliament.
  • Its oppostion to efforts by pro-Syrian groups to block the functions of the legislative branch (Parliament) of government in all instances and especially after having already impeded the executive branch's functionality (Cabinet, Presidency).
  • Its support for the establishment of an electoral law with small (smaller than Mohafaza) electoral districts.
  • Its support for the replacement of Emil Lahoud as President of the Republic (only) through constitutional means.

Unfortunately for the bishops, the Patriarch, and all those fighting for the establishment of the rule of law - and not the rule of Bashar and Tehran - in Lebanon, those against whom they are fighting might not feel strongly about abiding by constituional means.


  1. A bit late your Holiness… as usual.

  2. He's in a tough spot; the Christians do not have anywhere close to a leader. They have not developed any credible alternative to the tandem Geagea/Aoun.

  3. I think that in all the Patriarch does, his strategy is to push towards one agenda - in this case the anti-Syrian agenda - while preventing any of the other sects (or politicians heading those sects) aligned with this push (in this instance Sunni and Druze intersts) from benefitting from any empowerment his stances or positions would entail.

    That is to say, he will support one side but not to the extent that he will severely hurt those Christians in opposition to his stance while benefitting those sects aligned with his stance.

    That is why, I feel, he has not used stronger, more explicit, language before, and why in every instance he allots so much time for alternative solutions that would preserve all his sect's interests, whether they be pro- or anti-Syrian, before finally supporting one that might damage some of those interests.

    Of course on a national level, there is a price extracted (the continuing crippling of country by pro-Syrian factions, for example), but I suppose in the prelate's calculations these are balanced by the cost of damage to those political leaders of his community.

    At the end of the day the man correctly recognizes what is at stake, who the bad guys are (so to speak) and what is in the country's best interests.

    But as with all those who dabble in politics, one can't expect him to not have his own agenda: The preservation of Christian interests in which ever Lebanon emerges from this confrontation.

  4. Even if we take into consideration the Christian community and not the whole country: Covering Lahoud in 2005 was a huge mistake and the Christian community is now paying the price.
    I’m not trying to bash the Batrak. I just wish he had more courage at such crucial moments.

  5. Anonymous12:28 AM

    didn't bkerke deny giving any statements to any Rai 3am kuwaiti newspaper?

    weird how the interview was released just after Daoud Sayegh made him a visit, expecting as usual Bkerke not to deny those statements..

    but this time, Bkerke went against their expectations and LBC broadcasted the denial from Bkerkeh..

    I think for the sake of objectivity and credibility to delete this blog entry....

    the whole article was a scam to begin with...

    good luck

  6. Hi Kappa,
    If you can get a source I'd be obliged, otherwise I didn't find any refutation of the interview.

  7. Anonymous1:53 AM

    Ya Omega..2asdeh Kappa...z3elit el batrak 3ayatlak 3a 3aounak?? 3aoun is disease.

  8. Anonymous4:16 PM

    the batrak needs to take a firm stance and STICK with it. he is going back and forth. didn't he say before that the chapter 7 cannot/should not be used? i believe you blogged about it..and now he says that it needs to?
    i understand he does not want to divide the christian community, but when you have that moron aoun with his head so far up syria's ass because he wants the presidency, that does not help the batrak's attempt at unification. he is a little guilty of keeping the sectarian view in the forefront in trying to unify. that is a fine line.

  9. Hi Guys,
    I found a reference to Kappa's reference to a revoking of the article and the statements it entailed by the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkirki.

    The source itself is the same Naharnet article that ran the story, now with a changed name and introductory paragraph that goes as following:

    The Maronite secretariat has marked as "inaccurate" an interview given by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir to the Kuwaiti al-Rai in which he purportedly accused President Emile Lahoud and Gen. Michel Aoun of trying to re-establish the era of Syrian hegemony in Lebanon.
    A statement released by the Maronite secretariat said the interview was marked by "inaccurate information. Besides, the Patriarch did not mention specific names."

    Thanks to Kappa for the headsup on the refutation. As for my comments in the post and the comments section itself...apparently I had hoped too much from the Patriarch.

  10. Anonymous8:00 PM

    The Patriarch's flip flops are destroying the Maronite presence in Lebanon, Aoun and Lahoud broke the back of Christians in Lebanon...bye bye

  11. I wouldn't call it flip-flopping. As far as his stance on the international tribunal are concerned, it hasn't changed: He is for the establishment of the Tribunal, as long as it is not under a Chapter 7 mandate. That much is certain.

    The point is that he is attempting to forward the anti-Syrian cause while trying to preserve the 'Christian' cause. The two are not unrelated, and even worse, they are not necessarily inversely related in all cases. A subject for another post...

    But as I have previously said, Sfeir is playing a dangerous game in trying to juggle two equally unstable fireballs, that of Lebanon's national interests and that of Christian interests within Lebanon.

    Yes, he is working towards a sectarian agenda, but then again he is a sectarian figure by definition, that is not totally unexpected.

    PS - Don't read this as a defence of his stance, just an attempt at a rational explanation!


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