BEIRUT: The Orthodox bishop of Beirut sounded the alarm Thursday over growing sectarianism and division in Lebanon, saying the country was going through “degradation upon degradation,” at a ceremony commemorating the assassination of the late publisher of An-Nahhar, Gebran Tueni.
Elias Aoudeh blasted ongoing political disputes in the country that he said had shifted to young students in universities, saying distance among the Lebanese only yields destruction.
During his sermon at the eighth anniversary of the assassination of Tueni, Aoudeh said college students should be the new foundation of a society which was “ruined by wars.”
“The Lebanese have not learned from the lessons of the Civil War and they have not realized that distance among the nation’s components can only bring destruction for everyone,” he said at the Greek Orthodox St. Georges Church in Downtown Beirut.
“The worst of what we are seeing is the transfer of the barricades from the streets to the doors of colleges and inside them,” he said.
“College students have brought in the disputes of their respective political parties to their colleges ... although what is needed is for the students to be the positive essence in a society ruined by war, arms and drugs,” Aoudeh added.
The bishop was referring to last month’s disputes at Université St. Joseph after several confrontations between students from Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces on campus led to the suspension of classes.
The publisher, who also was an MP, was assassinated in a car bomb on Dec. 12, 2005.
The journalist and editor-in-chief of An-Nahar daily was one of the leading activists of the so-called 2005 “Cedar Revolution” demonstrations against the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon.
Aoudeh also spoke about the recent quarrel between caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi and Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi, saying: “The dispute between ministers and the discovery of what is hidden [at ministries] is merely an episode in the series we have been witnessing.”
Speaking about the late journalist, Aoudeh said Lebanon was missing today “the courageous and honest stances of the late Gebran.”
“[His] stances involved love for Lebanon and loyalty to [the country] and its unity. You [Gebran] have resisted darkness and oppression and dreamed of a Lebanon where Muslims and Christians live in unity,” he said.
“You also dreamed of a Lebanon unharmed by cheap political disputes,” he added.
Tueni’s daughter, Michelle, also made a brief speech, criticizing the absence of progress in the investigation into her father’s assassination.
“I am sad to tell you that ... there has been no tangible progress in the investigation into your assassination,” Tueni said, addressing her late father.
“Lebanon is now the arena for the Syrian conflict [causing Lebanon’s] complete paralysis,” she added.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up primarily to investigate the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, can prosecute Tueni’s case if the court thinks it is connected to the attack that killed Hariri.
But so far, the court has only claimed jurisdiction over attacks that targeted MP Marwan Hamade, former minister Elias Murr and former head of the Lebanese Communist Party George Hawi.
Several top officials attended the Tueni ceremony, including Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and U.S. Ambassador David Hale. Other officials sent representatives.
Aoudeh decried what he said was Lebanon’s tendency toward decline rather than progress. He said the recent suicide bombings in Lebanon were a sign of this decline.
“Even suicide operations have found a path into our nation and ended the lives and livelihoods of innocents,” he said.
Two suicide bombers attacked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut in November, killing diplomatic staff, guards and civilians in the neighborhood.
Aoudeh said the country lacked statesmen, influential journalists and youth who were aware enough to avoid the pitfalls of sectarianism.
“University students are supposed to have obtained enough knowledge to have better vision than their peers, to use critical thinking instead of blind instinct,” he said.