Lebanon News

Maronite charter to urge coexistence, timely elections

File - Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, center, attends the 45th conference of the Council of Catholic Bishops in Bkirki, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. (The Daily Star/Elie Mansour)

BEIRUT: The Maronite Church will issue a National Charter next week, Patriarch Beshara Rai said Tuesday, with sources saying the document would call for coexistence in Lebanon and highlight the need to hold presidential polls on time.

“It [the charter] is based on three factors: national principles, concerns and priorities,” Rai told visitors at Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite patriarchate.

“It includes around 10 pages. Work on it began last August after a series of meetings with Lebanese officials on all levels and after listening and discussing their concerns and aspirations.”

The head of the Maronite Church said the charter would be announced next Wednesday following the monthly meeting of the Council of Maronite Bishops at Bkirki.

Former Minister Wadih al-Khazen, who heads the General Maronite Council, described the document as “a road map for Lebanese politicians to build a state in the full sense of the term.”

Speaking to The Daily Star, Khazen added that the document aimed to revive the role of Christians in Lebanon and was the beginning of a series of events to mark 100 years since the establishment of Greater Lebanon in 1920.

Khazen said the charter would emphasize the need to hold presidential elections and parliamentary elections on time, and would highlight the need for a Cabinet and the revival of state institutions.

The constitutional period for electing Lebanon’s new president begins on March 25, two months before the term of President Michel Sleiman officially expires.

There are fears that Parliament will fail to elect a president amid sharp divisions between the March 8 and the March 14 coalitions.

Conditions and counterconditions by both camps have prevented Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam from putting together a government in the months since he was nominated last April.

Uncertainty also surrounds the fate of parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for November.

Last June, the legislature extended its term for 17 months after rival parties failed to agree on a new electoral law.

Bishop Bulos Sayyah, a senior official at the Maronite church, said only that the charter was “comprehensive and important” without further elaboration. He added that the current situation in Lebanon had prompted the document’s release.

Other sources from Bkirki said the charter would update the principles announced by the Maronite Conclave in 2006.

The Conclave’s statement underscored the importance of coexistence, freedom, equality and diversity in Lebanon and stressed the need for “creative interaction” between Muslims and Christians.

The sources said the new charter would touch on the regional situation and the plight of Christians in Syria and Iraq as well as highlight the need for coexistence between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon.

With regard to the political crisis in Lebanon, the document is expected to stress that depriving Christians of fair representation in the new Cabinet violates the National Pact.

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun is insisting that his group retain the Energy Ministry as a condition for joining an all-embracing government.

If the FPM, like the Lebanese Forces, chooses not to participate in the Cabinet, the new government would not have representatives from either of the two major Christian parties.

The Maronite Church has played an important role in the modern history of Lebanon.

In September 2000, following a meeting under Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, the Council of Maronite Bishops called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and for Hezbollah to hand over its weapons arsenal to the state.

The statement was followed by a growing chorus of demands by Lebanese politicians for Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon, culminating in a massive demonstration in Downtown Beirut on March 14, 2005, one month after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Syrian army pulled out from Lebanon just over a month later.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 29, 2014, on page 3.




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