Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai to seek French help in ending presidential vacuum

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Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai to seek French help in ending presidential vacuum

Antoine Ghattas Saab/The Daily Star/Apr. 23, 2015

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai is expected to seek France’s help during his visit to Paris next week in accelerating the election of a Lebanese president, political sources said Wednesday, in the latest attempt by the influential Maronite Church to end the 11-month-old vacuum in the country’s top Christian post.

Rai arrived in Armenia Tuesday to attend a ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. He is scheduled to visit Paris on April 27 and meet French President Francois Hollande for talks centering on Parliament’s repeated failure to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure ended on May 25, the sources said. During a meeting to be held at the Elysee Palace next Monday, Rai is expected to hand Hollande a memorandum highlighting Lebanon’s role as “a cultural value, an ideal formula [for sectarian coexistence] and a place for a dialogue of cultures and religions,” according to the sources.

The memo stresses that Lebanon is poised to serve as “an international center for a dialogue of faiths in the region because it is the only democratic state in the Levant that has a model pluralistic system” which has been inspired by several Arab states.

The memo also seeks France’s help in speeding up the election of a president now that the vacuum in Lebanon’s highest Christian post has nearly reached a year, the sources said. The memo voices concern over the repercussions of the presidential vacuum on the country’s security and political and economic stability, especially since the vacuum is threatening the current political system, given the erosion besetting state institutions.

Parliament failed Wednesday in the 22nd abortive attempt since April 2014 to elect a president over a lack of quorum, prompting Speaker Nabih Berri to postpone the session until May 13. In addition to handing him the memo, Rai will discuss with Hollande the Lebanese political crisis, with the presidential vacancy being at the core of the talks, as well as the historic relations between France and the Maronite Church and ways of expanding them, the sources said.

They added that Rai and Hollande would also discuss the shipments of French weapons to the Lebanese Army and security forces funded by a $4 billion Saudi grant to help them in the battle against terrorism. The patriarch will reiterate his stance calling on the Lebanese to stand behind the Army in the battle to reassert Lebanon’s sovereignty, stressing that the military is the only institution around which the Lebanese of various trends and affiliations rally, the sources said.

During his visit to France, Rai is scheduled to deliver a speech on the role of the Christians in the Levant at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. He will also attend a ceremony honoring former deputy premier Issam Fares and confer on him a Vatican medal. Rai Sunday will inaugurate the recently built headquarters of the Maronite Archdiocese in Paris in the presence of the bishop for France and Europe Nasser Gemayel and a large number of Lebanese expatriates in France. He will also open a Lebanese Christian diaspora office in a suburb of Paris and announce the establishment of the Maronite House in the French town of Modon. Before returning to Beirut Tuesday, Rai is expected hold a news conference in Paris to talk about the results of his visits to Armenia and France and outline his position on Lebanese and regional developments.

Al-Rahi from Armenia: Lebanese United despite Political Rift
Naharnet/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi stressed on Wednesday that the Lebanese rivals are united concerning the necessity to safeguard the country’s coexistence and diversity, considering that the Christian martyrs increased the power of the Church and helped in spreading the religion. “Lebanon is passing through a delicate situation… and despite the rift, the Lebanese are united regarding the importance of protecting coexistence, diversity and the country’s openness,” al-Rahi said from Armenia, where he traveled to attend the centenary commemoration of the Armenian genocide.He considered that the “world admires Lebanon and its people.”“Lebanon is a wonderful and integrated mosaic that no component in it could be sacrificed… which constituted its value,” al-Rahi said. He called on politicians to bridge the gap and defuse tension and disputes.

“Muslims and Christians should rebuild a civil and democratic state based on equality, respect of human rights and freedom,” al-Rahi said. The patriarch is expected to head to France after his four-day visit to Armenia. In Paris, al-Rahi will inaugurate Europe’s Maronite Diocese in the town of Meudon in the French capital’s suburbs. He will reportedly meet with French President Francois Hollande with the presidential stalemate topping the agenda of the talks. Vacuum striking the presidential post since May is having a tough impact on the cabinet and the parliament as the state is threatened with further crises over ongoing rows between the rival parties. Al-Rahi hailed from Armenia the “faithfulness of Armenians to Lebanon.”“Taking part in a mass to a commemorate the Armenian genocide is an important event for us in the Middle East,” he said. Armenians in Armenia and the diaspora, including Lebanon, will on April 24 mark the 100th anniversary of the start of a campaign of genocide by Ottoman forces in World War I to wipe them out of Anatolia. Turkey on Monday sought to reach out to Armenians, saying it shared their pain and wanted to heal the wounds of the past. In his conciliatory message, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stopped well short of recognizing the killings as a genocide — as Armenians want — but explicitly referred to deadly deportations of “Ottoman Armenians.” Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.