BEIRUT: Maronite bishops lashed out Thursday at MPs who are boycotting Parliament sessions to elect a new president, saying such a move placed the country at a “great risk,” amid worrying developments in the region.
“The stance by some parliamentarians to refrain from entering Parliament and casting their ballot in the presidential election ... is unacceptable and places the country at great risk, particularly amid the regional developments that threaten to change the map of the Middle East and dismantle the states, which will have repercussions on Lebanon,” said a statement by the bishops, who held their annual spiritual summit under Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki.
“The absence of a president ... represents the absence of a state, and it poses a danger to the unity of the country as well as its security and economy,” the statement added.
Lebanon has been without a president since May 25, when the term of President Michel Sleiman expired.
Parliament has failed to elect Sleiman’s successor seven times since April 23 due to a lack of quorum.
March 8 lawmakers have boycotted all seven sessions, saying they would only attend when there was an agreement ahead of time on a consensus candidate.
The bishops also said Rai’s visit to the Holy Land last month had revived hopes of resolving the case of ex-members of the South Lebanon Army who fought alongside Israel during its occupation of south Lebanon and fled to the Jewish state following its withdrawal in 2000.
“The visit of the patriarch to the Holy Land on pastoral level was unprecedented, and it was aimed at checking on a community whose members live in enforced isolation from their brethren, and their churches in the region,” the statement said.
“[Rai’s] visit also gave hope to a resolution to the issue of the Lebanese exiled in Israel, [showing] that the spirit of reconciliation between the country’s citizens is possible, and so is the ability to turn the page on the war.”
Rai’s visit to Israel stirred controversy in Lebanon, especially among Hezbollah officials and southern Lebanese. His subsequent meeting with ex-SLA members provoked further ire.
Hezbollah and many residents in south Lebanon consider those who fled “traitors,” in light of their collaboration with Israel during the 22-year occupation of the region. But the Maronite Church in Lebanon argues that many of them were forced to fight alongside Israel.
The bishops deplored events in Iraq and Syria and “what innocent people are suffering from, Christians and non-Christians alike, as a result of the conflicts.”