Politics

Patriarch's call for neutrality gains traction in Lebanon

By Tamer Abu Zaid in Beirut

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Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Beshara Boutros al-Rahi meets with France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Bekerke on July 23rd. [AFP]

In a message delivered in recent Sunday sermons, and reinforced in meetings with various lawmakers, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Boutros al-Rahi has called for Lebanon to return to its policy of neutrality and restore its national unity.

His call has garnered widespread support, but has met with fierce criticism from Hizbullah, as it has been widely interpreted as a condemnation of Hizbullah's continued involvement in regional wars.

Hizbullah has deployed forces to fight in Syria in violation of the policy of dissociation adopted by successive Lebanese governments, and also has provided military training to Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah).

In their response to the Maronite patriarch's message, Hizbullah supporters went as far as accusing him of treason, describing him as an agent of foreign powers.

With his message, al-Rahi seeks to bring renewed attention to the policy of dissociation Lebanon has previously adopted and to promote national unity in order to help the country pull through the current economic and political crisis.

A return to these values would help Lebanon meet the conditions that are preventing it from accessing full international help.

Lebanon at 'breaking point'

Al-Rahi's call for the neutrality of Lebanon is appropriate and timely because the financial crisis has reached a breaking point, said Lebanese MP and Future Bloc member Mohammed al-Hajjar.

"Matters in the country have reached a point [beyond which we] cannot continue," he told Al-Mashareq.

The international community will not engage with Lebanon as long as it allows Hizbullah to interfere in countries of the region under the direction of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), he said.

It also will not engage with Lebanon to help it out of its current crisis as long as Lebanon fails to implement the required reforms, he added.

The policy of dissociation is important as it ensures Lebanon does not become an arena for regional conflicts, al-Hajjar said, noting that Lebanese factions adopted this policy in the 2012 Baabda Declaration, which Hizbullah later reneged on.

Al-Hajjar criticized Hizbullah for ignoring the patriarch's call, saying the party "did not listen to anything" he said.

"We Lebanese have to think about our national interest and distance ourselves from all these conflicts," he said, adding that Hizbullah must cease its involvement in other countries, as these actions ultimately harm Lebanon.

Neutrality is the solution

Any hopes of getting out of the current predicament are pinned on international recognition of Lebanon's legal neutrality, Shia dissident Mona Fayyad told Al-Mashareq.

Hizbullah has no right to hold on to its weapons, she said, accusing the party of engaging in terrorism through the "unlawful use of violence".

The Lebanese people "have a simple set of demands", said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a July 15th news conference.

"It is really very straightforward," he said. "They do not want corruption. They want a government that is responsive to the people. They want a government that is not subject to the influence from designated terrorist group, Hizbullah."

"They want what people all across the world want," he said.

"That is what they are in the streets marching and asking for; they want basic economic activity restored; they want taxes to be collected in a fair way," Pompeo said.

"These are the things that the people of Lebanon are demanding. They should continue to demand them," he said.

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