BEIRUT: Lebanese political leaders called Monday on Arab states to outline a united strategy to promote the role of Christians across the Arab world, with the head of the Kataeb (Phalange) Party describing extremist attacks against Middle Eastern Christians as “genocide.”
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said New Year’s suicide bombing of a Coptic church in Egypt that killed 21 people was part of a larger plot to divide the Arab world.
Jumblatt called on Egypt to boost the political participation of Christians in state institutions in a bid to counter attempts to spark strife and tamper with civil peace.
“This a criminal act that aims to shake stability with suspicious fingerprints seeking to foment strife and spread organized chaos,” Jumblatt said.
A delegation from the Future Movement visited the seat of the Coptic Church in the Beirut’s suburb of Jisr al-Basha and met Father Louis Orshalimi, to whom they offered their condolences.
Secretary General of the Future Movement Ahmad Hariri condemned the attack and added that terrorist acts served the interests of the Arab world’s enemies. Hariri warned that Lebanon was not too far away from strife. “We should unite to preserve our national coexistence,” he said.
Gemayel, meanwhile, said the promotion of the Christians’ role in state affairs would boost cooperation among the Arab world’s different religious factions and put in place an appropriate framework to end violence.
Lebanon’s former president, who condemned the attack that targeted Alexandria’s Al-Qiddissin Church as a “massacre,” urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to call for a large-scale gathering of Arab and Islamic leaders to contain the repercussions of the incident.
“Massacres are taking place for no reason and without any justification against Christians. It is only because they are Christians,” said Gemayel.
“What is happening to Christians is a genocide,” Gemayel said, adding that the Middle East will lose its identity if Christians left it.
Gemayel said in addition to bolstering the role of Christians, cooperation and fusion between the Arab world’s factions was a pre-requisite to avoid what he described as “further tragedies.”
He also warned that the impact of sectarian incidents in Egypt would reflect on Lebanon.
Lebanon, which experienced a bloody 15-year Civil War between 1975 and 1990, in part between Muslims and Christians is deeply divided along sectarian lines.
Christians make up about 40 percent of Lebanon’s 4 million people and the country is the only Arab nation with a Christian head of state.
Echoing Gemayel, Jbeil Maronite Archbishop Bchara al-Raii called for a Muslim summit to condemn attacks carried out by radical movements against Christians under the guise of Islam.
Raii urged the Egyptian government to protect Christians and ensure equal treatment for them.
“No one can regard Christians as second degree citizens,” said the Jbeil bishop. “There are dangers threatening Christians in the Middle East and Arab regimes should assume their responsibility.”
Meanwhile, upon the request of Speaker Nabih Berri, the Organization of the Islamic Conference has included on the agenda of its upcoming meeting the discussion of the situation of Christians in the Middle East in a bid to guarantee their political and civil rights.
Berri is to head Lebanon’s delegation to the summit set to convene in Abu Dhabi on January 19, the speaker’s office said in a statement.
The Lebanese Islamic-Christian dialogue committee said rather than blaming the terrorist acts on foreign powers – whether the “Israeli enemy” or other players – Arab counties should shoulder their responsibility and engage in self-criticism of attempts to instigate strife.
Endorsing calls for a united Arab stance, former Prime Minister Salim Hoss said the attack in Egypt should drive all Arab states to assume a common position against attempts to instigate strife among Arab ranks.
Using stronger language, Hizbullah and its allies accused the US and Israel of standing behind attacks on Christians in Iraq and Egypt, as well as sparking inter-Muslim conflicts to divide Arab states.
Hizbullah’s Sheikh Naim Qassem said the attack against Egyptian Copts was part of a Zionist-American conspiracy targeting Muslims and Christians in Iraq.
Qassem called on Arabs and the Lebanese to confront the Israeli-US plots, which he said aimed to deal a blow to national coexistence.
Berri’s Development and Liberation parliamentary bloc MP Ayoub Hmayed said terrorism hitting Iraq, Egypt, Sudan and Arab states benefits Israel.
“Israel wants to damage national coexistence and inter-religious openness to serve the Zionist-US project aimed at dividing our nations to justify the establishment of a Jewish state in occupied Palestine and obtain international recognition for it,” he added.