Land ownership and civil service posts top Maronite leaders’ agenda
June 03, 2011 By Hussein Dakroub
(Retrieved from the Daily Star on June 04, 2011)
BEIRUT: Rival Maronite leaders and lawmakers wound up their one-day talks in Bkirki Thursday with a call to safeguard Lebanese land, preserve Lebanon’s special identity and its diversified society, and achieve an equal division of civil service posts between Christians and Muslims.
Thursday’s meeting was the second to be sponsored by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in less than two months in an attempt to end political divisions within the Maronite community.
On April 19, Rai sponsored a high-profile and ice-breaking meeting at the seat of the Maronite patriarchate in Bkirki, north of Beirut, of the country’s top Maronite leaders: Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Marada Movement chief Suleiman Franjieh.
The four Christian leaders were among the 37 Maronite lawmakers and figures who attended the meeting chaired by Rai.
Lebanon’s leading Maronite parties are divided between the March 14 coalition led by caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance. Rai described Thursday’s meeting as “excellent.” Speaking to reporters at the end of the meeting, Rai said, “How beautiful they are when they meet. There are no longer divisive issues.”
Opening the meeting, Rai stressed the need for the Christians to strengthen their links of partnership and unity and their commitment to the Bible’s teachings.
A statement issued at the end of the meeting said the participants examined three major topics: 1) Commitment to the principle of partnership among the Maronites as a first step toward reviving this partnership with all Lebanese spiritual sects and cooperation to build the state and develop the Lebanese society. 2) Preservation of the Lebanese land as a means to consolidate existence and identity and preserve Lebanon’s special plurality and its diversified society within unity. 3) Restoration of balance to public administrations through an effective participation of Christians in serving the state and citizens on the basis of the respect of the principles of competence and an equal division [of civil service posts].
During the meeting, the Maronite Documentation and Research Center presented a summary of its survey on the issue of land sales and foreign ownership of land, according to the statement.
The participants reviewed a study by a private company on the imbalance in Christian participation in the public sector. Everyone joined in the discussions and proposed practical solutions for this problem.
“The participants agreed on the need to follow up the discussion of all issues that concern the Lebanese homeland and the Christians’ effective role in preserving it and its special identity as a message and a model of plurality, democracy and freedom through their commitment to exercising their right and duty as good citizens,” the statement said. It added that the participants formed a coordinating committee to follow up the issues that have been discussed.
Bishop Samir Mazloum, who read the statement to reporters, described the atmosphere at the meeting as “very good and calm,” saying it was dominated by mutual respect and love among all the participants. He said more meetings of Maronite leaders and MPs will be held later and the committee will set dates for those meetings.
Issues of mutual concern among Lebanon’s Christian factions include high emigration rates among Christians, the inclusion of Christians in state administrative positions, as well as large-scale property and land sales to non-Christians.
Property sales and high emigration rates have raised fears over organized efforts to alter the country’s demographic balance, as Lebanon’s Christian community has fallen to almost 40 percent, threatening the continued viability of a power-sharing system based on equality between Muslims and Christians.
In his opening speech, Rai called on the participants to seek unity through commitment to the Bible’s teachings and adopt recommendations to improve the conditions of Christians in Lebanon regardless of their different political options.
“We, as Christians and Maronites, are committed to the Bible’s principles and the Church’s ideological and moral teachings when we exercise our spiritual and pastoral activities. Partnership and unity among Christians regardless of their various positions, responsibilities and activities, cannot be attained without this commitment,” Rai said.
He stressed that the Christians’ effective presence can be attained through their participation in state administrative posts. “The Lebanese common coexistence formula is based on an equal [division of civil service posts] between Christians and Muslims and on competence in technical jobs and the distribution of public responsibilities equally among all the sects with the aim of ensuring the country’s stability, achieving democracy and prosperity of the economy,” he said.
Rai called on the Christians to preserve the land, to the point of “martyrdom.”
“The land is the pillar of the cultural, social and political identity. Preserving it, protecting its environment, benefiting from its crops and not selling it to foreigners are a sacred duty,” he said.
He called for the separation of religion from the state and politics, on the condition of upholding “moral principles and national constants,” and work for the good of the citizens and the state.
A number of participants praised the meeting, voicing optimism about the work of the coordinating committee. Former President Amin Gemayel sounded optimistic about the coordinating committee which, he said, will address a number of issues that were not discussed at Thursday’s meeting.
Geagea praised the meeting as “positive and useful,” saying two important proposals were presented on the issues of land sales, public administrations and state institutions. He said a committee was formed to follow up the discussion of matters that were debated during the meeting.
Geagea scoffed at the theory that Christians in Lebanon were in danger. “No doubt, there are matters that need to be addressed. But I don’t agree for a minute that the Christians are in danger,” he said. “The Christians in Lebanon have been through 30 difficult years. They have all the components of presence and interaction in Lebanon and the Middle East as a whole.”
Caretaker Labor Minister Butros Harb from the March 14 coalition said “the aim of this meeting was to adjust the path in Lebanon in favor of preserving its unity. It can help defuse tension in Lebanon so that we can draw up a joint concept [to cope with] challenges facing Lebanon in the future.”
Metn MP Ibrahim Kenaan from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc said what matters is cooperation between Christian ministers and MPs in the Cabinet and Parliament.
Lebanon Christian leaders agree to study community’s needs June 02, 2011 By Dana Khraiche
(Retrieved from the Daily Star on June 04, 2011)
BEIRUT: Christian leaders agreed to form a committee Thursday to follow up on the issues of declining Christian participation in the public sector and property sales in Christian areas, following the second in a series of Christian meetings in Bkirki.
“Everyone agreed on the need to follow up on issues that are of concern to Lebanon... given that, the participants created a committee to follow up on the work and coordinate between them,” the final statement of the gathering, read by Bishop Samir Mazloum, said.
The meeting, a follow-up to a high profile icebreaker gathering in April between Christian leaders of various blocs, focused on the leaders’ commitment to bridging the gap between various Lebanese sects in order to build and develop the Lebanese community.
“[Under discussion was] the preservation of Lebanese territory as means to consolidate the presence [of Christians and their] identity and preserve Lebanon's plurality and diversity,” the statement said, emphasizing the need for Christians to boost their participation in state institutions.
"The Maronite Center for documentation and research revealed a study on land ownership and selling, and Labora [a Christian employment NGO] disclosed statistics about the imbalance regarding Christian participation in the public sector. Everyone participated in the discussion and gave their opinions and suggested practical solutions,” the statement said.
Mazloum described the atmosphere of the gathering as being constructive and calm.
"No conflicts occurred," Mazloum said.
Christian lawmakers and MPs began arriving in Bkirki during the early hours of the morning Thursday including and joined the country’s four key Christian leaders in the follow up meeting under the sponsorship of Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai.
Hours after the meeting, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the gathering was positive and beneficial, adding that he did not agree that the Christian presence in the country was threatened.
"I don't agree that Christians are in danger. The Christians have been through 30 years of difficulty but they have all the elements to remain [in Lebanon], interact, and work in Lebanon and the Middle East as a whole," Geagea said in a statement
Not under discussion at the meeting was the call by Rai to amend the Taif Accord in a bid to strengthen the president's powers, an issue which Geagea said needed further discussion among Lebanon’s various sects.
In his opening statement, Rai said that the attendees would tackle the reality of Christians in the country.
“We are today viewing our reality and taking [into consideration] suggestions to strengthen it and preserve it,” Rai said, adding that Lebanon’s covenant is based on the principle of coexistence and equality between Christians and Muslims.
The Maronite patriarch added that Lebanon’s stability and economic development depended on the equal distribution of public responsibility between various sects.