بيانات صحفية / مواقف
Lebanese Christians need to shift stance for safer future 05/09/2013
That this is odd should be understandable to any observer of Lebanon's recent history.
Unlike their brethren in Syria, most Lebanese Christians have long opposed the regimes of Hafez Al Assad and then his son Bashar. Syria's 29-year military presence in Lebanon, which ended in 2005, was characterised by the systematic dismantling of Christian power, the assassination of Christian leaders and the marginalisation of Christian electorates.
And yet today, fearing the triumph in Syria of an Islamist-dominated opposition, many Lebanese Christians, though very far from all of them, side with Mr Al Assad. They believe that as bad as the Syrian regime is, it is dominated by an Alawite minority that will always be antagonistic to the rule of Sunni Islamists and Salafists.
This rationale is based on false premises. The number of jihadists in the Syrian opposition is exaggerated and Mr Al Assad's suspicious former ties with the jihadists ignored. But many Christians in Syria and Lebanon have bought into the narrative of the regime, which holds that the Syrian uprising is the work of Salafist jihadists, not an initially peaceful revolt by Syrians seeking to overthrow a dictator.
Many Christians today are reacting solely out of fear. In the last three decades, they have become a minority in decline. Christian power in Lebanon was substantially reduced by the Taef agreement of 1989. Amendments to the constitution redistributed political power away from the Maronite Christian president to the Sunni prime minister and Shia parliament speaker.
Demographically, Christians in Lebanon are estimated today to make up around a third of the population. While no census has been taken since 1932, when Christians were 54 per cent of the total, the broader community (which is made up of the Maronites, the Greek Orthodox, the Greek Catholics, and more than half a dozen other sects) long ago lost its numerical advantage, with Sunnis and Shias each believed to represent a third of the population.
A sign of the times, the dynamics of Lebanese politics are being largely driven by Sunni-Shia interactions, and more disturbingly the growing hostility between the two Muslim communities.
The Christians, particularly the Maronites, have been divided, with their two most prominent leaders, Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun, respectively siding with the Sunni-dominated Future Movement and the Shia Hizbollah. This has covered the Christians politically, but it has also highlighted the subordinate role they have come to play.
The situation in Syria may well shift the demographics of Lebanon further, in some cases to the Christians' disadvantage. There are an estimated one million Syrian refugees in the country, most of them Sunni and many from the Homs and Damascus districts, both highly strategic for the regime. There are fears that, in order to maintain its grip on those districts, the regime may block the return of the refugees, effectively pursuing a policy of de facto ethnic cleansing.
By the same token, the refugees themselves may hesitate to return while the regime still controls their areas. From the Lebanese perspective, any delay in the refugees' return home poses the threat of making their presence in Lebanon permanent. While the situation was somewhat different for Palestinians, those who fled to Lebanon in 1948 have become a permanent fixture of Lebanon's landscape, and in the 1960s and 1970s created great instability in the country.