BEIRUT: A law proposal drafted by Labor Minister Butros Harb to prevent inter-religious property and land sale in Lebanon drew criticism over the weekend from a number of figures, while a Hizbullah official said the proposal failed to address the actual reasons behind the emigration of Lebanese, particularly Christians.
Hizbullah’s Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish told The Daily Star Sunday that though he empathized with concerns over rising emigration rates among the Lebanese and particularly Christians, such a proposal would fail to accomplish said goals.
“We should look for the reasons behind the emigration of Lebanese and particularly Christians and act accordingly,” said Fneish.
“Among these reasons is the lack of stability, destructive political ventures and economic recession,” he said.
He added that Harb’s proposal was a political maneuver that contradicted calls by some parties for the strengthening of the state’s role and its institutions.
Harb’s draft law would prevent Christians and Muslims from selling property to each other for a period of 15 years. The proposed legislation was said to be a response to fears that the demographic balance in Lebanon would be affected by a recent, quasi-organized trend in land sales from members of one religion to another.
“The purchase of property on Lebanese territories is leading to the expulsion of certain religions and sects at the expense of others,” Harb said.
Criticizing the draft law, former Prime Minister Salim Hoss said Harb’s proposal would deepen sectarian divisions rather than safeguard national coexistence.
“The proposal contradicts the Constitution’s introduction, which stipulates that Lebanon’s land is one for all Lebanese,” Hoss said.
“Thus every Lebanese has the right to reside on any part of it and benefit from it under the rule of law,” he added.
Hoss also challenged Harb’s contentious proposal from a legal perspective as one that imposes illegitimate restrictions on the freedom of property ownership and trade.
“This proposal is absolutely unacceptable because it is illegitimate and unjustified when it comes to the freedom of handling properties by their owners,” Hoss said.
Echoing Hoss, Beirut MP Tamam Salam said Harb’s proposal was a step toward dividing the population.
“This is a divisionary step that splits the Lebanese and classifies them by imposing barriers and later walls to separate them in a bid to achieve what years of civil war failed to accomplish,” the Lebanon First bloc MP said.
“It is not required that every religion seizes a part from Lebanon but rather that Lebanon seizes a part from every religion,” Salam said.
But the labor minister then responded that parties opposed to his proposal would be actively cooperating in the expulsion of Christians unless they come forward with an alternative proposal to end emigration.
“Many politicians have put pressure on owners to refrain from selling their land and urged the Maronite Patriarchate to preserve territories, particularly ones owned by Christians,” Harb said.
The Maronite church and the Maronite League have been active of late, warning of the phenomenon of land sales and making attempts to reverse recent transactions.