BEIRUT: Amid expectations of full attendance and a split over a new election law, rival Maronite leaders and lawmakers will meet Friday under Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai despite the patriarch’s controversial statements on Syria and Hezbollah’s arms, officials said Thursday.
A new election law is the only topic to be discussed during the one-day meeting to be held at the patriarch’s seat at Bkirki, north of Beirut.
The meeting, the third of rival Maronite leaders to be hosted by Rai in an attempt to heal the inter-Christian split, comes amid a new schism within the Maronite community following Rai’s remarks in France which have jolted the Christian heartland.
March 14 Christian leaders, who were annoyed with Rai’s stances, have confirmed that they will attend the meeting. “I will attend the Bkirki meeting along with the party’s MPs,” former President Amin Gemayel, head of the Kataeb (Phalange) Party, told The Daily Star Thursday.
Asked if he has made any contact with Rai since the patriarch’s return from Paris on Sept. 11, Gemayel said: “We are in contact with the patriarch. Sami met the patriarch yesterday [Wednesday] and the atmosphere of the meeting was positive.”
He was referring to his son, Phalange MP Sami Gemayel who has lashed out at Rai’s critics, saying that anyone who has something to say against the patriarch should do so in Bkirki rather than through the media outlets.
Sami Gemayel did this himself when he met Rai Wednesday. Speaking by telephone to The Daily Star Thursday night, he described his meeting with Rai as “very good.” He, however, declined to give details of the discussions.
Asked about his expectations of the Bkirki meeting, Sami Gemayel said: “We are hoping for the best and for a common agreement over a new election law.”
Gemayel is a member of a four-man committee tasked with making proposals for a new election law. The other members are MP Alain Aoun, representing the Free Patriotic Movement led by MP Michel Aoun, MP George Adwan from the Lebanese Forces and Youssef Saadeh of the Marada Movement led by MP Suleiman Franjieh.
Gemayel said committee members will present their proposals to the Maronite leaders Friday with a view to reaching “a joint formula for a new election law.”
“We are seeking a correct representation of all the Lebanese groups,” he said. He added that his party supported declaring Lebanon as one electoral district whereby each sect will elect its own representatives on the basis of proportional representation.
However, Gemayel’s father said the committee has not yet reached “a final report” on an election law.
“The committee has not finished its work because [an election law] is a thorny issue,” he added.
Asked if March 14 leaders will bring up other topics for discussion, Gemayel said this matter is left to the patriarch to decide because he is the host.
Walid Ghayyad, the patriarch’s media adviser, said the top four Maronite leaders – Amin Gemayel, Aoun, LF leader Samir Geagea and Franjieh – along with 34 MPs from the March 8 and March 14 parties will attend Friday’s meeting.
On the eve of the meeting, Ghayyad told The Daily Star: “The atmosphere is very good. The four-party committee will submit its findings to the leaders.”
March 14 Batroun MP Butros Harb, who said he would attend the meeting, noted there are “different opinions” over an election law.
“I prefer a one-man, one-vote formula in a small electoral district,” Harb told The Daily Star. Harb said March 14 MPs will not bring up the issue of Rai’s statements in Paris during Friday’s meeting.
Rai has scrambled to contain the political storm sparked by his statements in Paris. He said his remarks that linked the fate of Hezbollah’s arms to an overall Middle East peace settlement and called for giving embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad a chance to carry out political reforms were taken out of context. Rai also warned that the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Syria would threaten the presence of Christians there.
Rai’s remarks drew harsh criticism from some March 14 politicians who said that the patriarch’s comments on the divisive issue of Hezbollah contradicted with the concept of state building and the Maronite Church’s position in support of state authority.