Christians continue to slam criticism directed at Sfeir

By Elias Sakr
BEIRUT: Christian parties and figures are continuing to criticize “attacks” against the Maronite patriarch, saying they were aimed to weaken Christian-Muslim ties but would fail to shake the patriarch’s position.

After visiting Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir on Thursday, Koura MP Farid Habib stressed that parties criticizing the patriarch aimed to push the country to the brink of civil strife, adding that Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun had laid the groundwork for the criticism, given his attacks on the patriarch.

The Lebanese Forces MP expressed surprise that “some religious authorities that consider themselves “moderate circles in Hizbullah” had subjected Sfeir to criticism, adding that sectarian strife takes place due to pre-set plans as to initiate it.

Habib was responding to senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who on Tuesday said that “Lebanon’s glory has been given to struggling and resilient people.” The remark was taken as a retort to the popular saying that Lebanon’s glory belonged to the Maronite patriarch.

Habib said Sfeir’s position on the national level would not be weakened given the patriarchate’s leading role in establishing Lebanon’s independence and defending its sovereignty.

At Tuesday’s iftar, Fadlallah also criticized Sfeir’s call to form a majority cabinet if efforts to form a national unity government face obstacles.

“Why do you restrict the issue to the parliamentary majority?” Fadlallah had asked, responding to Sfeir’s demands for ditching the idea of a coalition government. “We call for a popular majority and popular referendum, so that people can have their say.”

However, Nabatieh MP Mohammad Raad said Thursday that Fadlallah was expressing his personal opinion, adding that Fadlallah was a religious and national spiritual authority.

Sfeir stressed that the previous cabinet’s experience had not been encouraging since it proved a government embracing the majority and the opposition was subject to obstruction.

The patriarch added that “if the majority governed and the minority opposed, matters would progress better.”

“A government based on a horse in the front and another in the rear would mean the wagon remains broken and at a standstill,” Sfeir said.

Visitors to the patriarch at his summer residence in Diman said that Sfeir had been surprised by the campaign against him, since he was devoted to preserving the country’s national unity and consensus.

Head of the Islamic-Christian dialogue committee, Hareth Shehab, stressed that Sfeir had always advocated consensus among the Lebanese as the best form of democracy.

Shehab said due to the failure to reach an agreement between the parliamentary majority and the opposition on the cabinet, Sfeir had concluded it was time for a majority to rule and a minority to be in opposition.

Separately, Syriac Union head Ibrahim Mrad said that organized attacks by opposition groups on Sfeir were aimed to weaken the Middle East’s leading Christian figure, since the patriarch stood against Syrian tutelage over Lebanon.

Mrad added that Sfeir had always urged the Lebanese to refrain from “wagering” on regional intervention, which led in the past to long years of devastating civil war, adding that “figures known for their moderation and modesty,” a reference to Fadlallah, were now attacking the patriarch.