News: Seeking to Form a Government
In Bkerké, a “Frank and Clear” Meeting with Patriarch Rai
“These corrupt people persist in obstructing the work of the political, constitutional and administrative institutions, and destroy the hopes of the Lebanese youth to remain in their homeland and build their future in it.” — Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, speaking on corrupt government officials in Lebanon, during his Easter message from his seat at the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate in Beirut
“With the glimmer of hope looming on the horizon heralding the openness of Syria regionally and internationally, we ask God to protect it from terrorism and evils, and to bring together citizens with sincere reconciliation so that together they can achieve reconstruction, peace and stability… Let’s throw off the weight of our human worries … renew our complete trust in Jesus … and become faithful witnesses to His Resurrection.” — Patriarch Younan, who is a native of Hassake, Syria, speaking on the end of the civil war in Syria during his Easter message. There are estimated to be 1.2 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon
Suleiman Frangieh By Saroufim1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, (link)
A surprise meeting took place this past month in Bkerké, Lebanon, the residence of Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi (“Al-Rahi” is often spelled simply as “Rai” in English).
The meeting was between Patriarch Rai and Suleiman Frangieh (sometimes spelled as “Sleiman Frangieh”), 57, the leader of the Marada Movement political party and a politician whom many are speculating may be the next president of Lebanon.
Hezbollah has supported Frangieh’s candidacy, and he has also received support from the government of France while being opposed by rival factions within the Maronite community. Patriarch Rai, on the other hand, has supported the presidential candidacy of Joseph Aoun, the chief General of the Lebanese Army.
Rai has grown increasingly vocal in his criticism of Hezbollah over the past several years. He called for Hezbollah to cease launching rockets from its territory in southern Lebanon into Israel in 2021 and more broadly has advanced a “Lebanon Neutrality” initiative, seeking to establish a truly “non-aligned” status for Lebanon amid its more powerful neighbors in the region. Part of this initiative would almost certainly include the disarmament and demilitarization of Hezbollah, which currently controls much of the territory of southern Lebanon and maintains its own powerful militia forces independently of the Lebanese Army.
Frangieh said that his meeting with the Patriarch was “extremely frank and clear.” In a series of comments made following his meeting with Patriarch Rai, Frangieh addressed several of the urgent questions facing Lebanon.
On the topic of pursuing some form of lasting reconciliation between the various factions in Lebanon, Frangieh stated that it was necessary for Lebanon to “join the settlement train in the region and not [be] outside it, unlike what happened in 1989-1990 when some [politicians] remained outside the settlement and the Christians paid the price.”
Here Frangieh is referring to the Taif Agreement, which ended Lebanon’s civil war in 1989 but which ultimately did not result in the complete disarmament and demilitarization of all of the militias active in the country. One of the individuals who did not recognize the agreement was Michel Aoun, who headed a military government as the commander of the Lebanese Army from 1988-1990. A Maronite Christian, Aoun did not accept the political concessions that had been made to Lebanon’s Muslim communities in the agreement. However, he was removed from office by a Syrian military intervention in 1990 and only was able to return to Lebanon after the 2005 Cedar Revolution. In the intervening 15 years, during which Syria was the dominant political force in Lebanon, Hezbollah was permitted not to disarm, becoming the primary military force in southern Lebanon.
On the topic of securing the funds necessary to alleviate Lebanon’s economic collapse, Frangieh stated: “I was asked about supporting reforms and the relationship with the International Monetary Fund — and they are in contact with Saudi Arabia — and I confirmed that it is obvious that we proceed with reforms, support the agreement with the IMF and any government that has a reform program.” Frangieh likely mentioned Saudi Arabia specifically because the country was one of Lebanon’s major economic and trading partners until recent years, and it is seen as one of the most likely candidates to eventually provide the massive funding for Lebanon’s economic reconstruction.
On the relationship between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, which reached a historic low in 2021 after comments from Lebanon’s Information Minister, George Kordahi, criticizing Saudi Arabia’s war against Houthi rebels in Yemen: “I heard the veto on my name from the Lebanese media, but I never heard it from Saudi Arabia or its friends and allies… I am ready for dialogue with everyone, and we must join the settlement train in the region. I call on all politicians to understand how things are moving. We only want the best for the Arabs and Saudi Arabia… I was born in a pan-Arab home, and I did not have any hostile view of any country that is friendly with Lebanon, especially Saudi Arabia. We want the best for the Arabs and we do not accept that anyone attacks the Arab countries.”
On Lebanon’s status vis-à-vis the other countries in the region: “We are in favor of discussing a defense strategy that is in the interests of Lebanon and removes everyone’s concerns.”
And finally, on the possibility of the refugees from the Syrian civil war leaving Lebanon and returning to Syria: “The obstruction of the return of the Syrian refugees was never Syrian, but European and Western… [Syrian] President Assad was never against their return.”
More information on Frangieh’s visit with the Patriarch can be found here.