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Maronite patriarch’s interview on Syria stirs new criticism

Lebanon's Christian Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai, attends an interview with Reuters in Bkirki, north of Beirut, February 28, 2012. (REUTERS/Sharif Karim)

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s recent remarks on the ongoing developments in Syria and the challenges facing Christians in the region is drawing another round of criticism from March 14 figures.

In an interview with Reuters earlier in the week, Rai said he fears that the so-called Arab Spring could turn violent and result in more killings and destruction in the Arab world.

“All regimes in the Arab world have Islam as a state religion, except for Syria. It stands out for not saying it is an Islamic state ... The closest thing to democracy [in the Arab world] is Syria,” he added.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea took on Rai’s comments, asking “based on what measurement do they think that the closest thing to democracy is Syria?”

“In which country of the Arab world has there been this much bloodshed? If Syria was the most democratic in the region, then we should pack up our things and leave this region,” he added.

Speaking during a dinner at Baabda Thursday evening to honor local mayors and mukhtars, Geagea rejected the suggestion that change in Syria would pose a threat to the Christian presence in Lebanon.

“The question I ask is: What would happen to Christians if the Syrian regime stays?” said Geagea, in reference to the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad.

According to Geagea, Christians in Syria live under the worst circumstances and lack many rights, including freedom of expression.

“Where are Christians in Syria today? They are living without freedom and dignity, they are not allowed to organize politically ... who divided Christians in Lebanon?” Geagea said.

In an interview with Masira magazine published Friday, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari was also critical of Rai’s recent interview and called on Bkirki to be careful with its statements.

“I hope every word that comes out of Bkirki is measured well because Bkirki’s words are weighed on Christians,” he said.

While Makari refused to directly comment on Rai, he said that the daily bloodshed and massacres in Syria are themselves a response to Rai’s statements. He also said that Bkirki’s stances have become contradictory in the past few months.

“Such statements confuse people,” he added.

Previous statements by Rai on Syria have also stirred controversy. In an official visit to Paris last year, Rai said that Assad should have been given a chance to carry out reform in Syria and voiced concerns over the fate of Christians in the region should a civil war break out between Alawites and Sunnis.

Senior journalist May Chidiac weighed in on Rai’s most recent comments without naming the patriarch, saying that those who stand by the Assad regime do not represent her.

“A religious figure who speaks in defense of the Assad regime, which is killing its people, does not represent me,” Chidiac told Al-Arabiya television in an interview Thursday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 10, 2012, on page 3.

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