A Twitter campaign, occasional comments and harsh news articles have been spearheaded by Hezbollah media against the Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bishara Al-Rahi. The campaign seems to have been triggered by statements he made in a televised interview several days ago, in which he criticized Hezbollah’s participation in the war in Syria, the movement’s weapons, and the division this has created in Lebanese society
The patriarch did not mince words, and the campaign against him is fierce. The irony is that this same patriarch used to speak about harmony between Hezbollah and the Maronite church, and even visited several months ago the Christian parish in Syria. His words mark the first time the head of the Maronite church issues critical statements about Hezbollah.
Al-Rahi had made similar stands, but would often issue an explanatory statement a few hours later to soften the blow. This time, however, 48 hours have passed without such clarification, prompting Lebanese news outlets to declare his position serious and unwavering this time. Is he seeking to return to the old, distinct fundamentals of Christians in Lebanon, or are his words just a maneuver that will soon blow over?
His words are reminiscent of former Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, a main supporter of the Christian position during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, who was also firm in rejecting the military intervention of non-state actors. Could Al-Rahi be adopting a similar position, or is he reading into regional variables? Surely the head of the Maronite church is not speaking in his name alone, but on behalf of a larger segment of Lebanese, especially Christians.
Local discussions on Hezbollah’s armed intervention in the Syrian war had waned for a while. But after Donald Trump was elected US president and indicated he will work to push Hezbollah and Iran out of Syria, such discussions have resurfaced.
Bishara Al-Rahi’s words mark the first time the head of the Maronite church issues critical statements about Hezbollah.
Al-Rahi’s new position coincides with talk of new international sanctions, particularly financial, against Hezbollah. It seems to mirror the change in position of the international community vis-a-vis Syria. It also reflects the Vatican’s position, which seems to have changed; it used to turn a blind eye to the presence of foreign parties in Syria under the guise of protecting minorities.
It is said Al-Rahi’s previous position, which is credited with having granted cover to Hezbollah, was mainly due to international cover for the movement’s presence in Syria. His new position is echoed by other Christian groups in Lebanon.
But the problem with his position is its weak credibility; in view of previous statements, it does not seem to be a principled position, which is worrisome. His changing attitudes and positions on critical issues regarding Hezbollah, such as border violations and its fight alongside the Syrian regime, weaken and delegitimize his stance.