Maronite bishops: no winners or losers
Full text of the statement released by the Council of Maronite Bishops
The second appeal

On Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2001, their excellencies the Maronite Bishops met at the patriarch’s (summer) headquarters in Diman under the chairmanship of his eminence Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir. Discussions covered developments of concern to the church, including ecumenical and national developments. After the meeting, the participants issued the following appeal:
Forthrightness is a durable blessing
In two weeks, we mark the first anniversary of our first appeal. We had hoped that the concerned authorities would undertake the measures necessary to rectify relations binding us to sisterly Syria to better serve the interests of both our fraternal countries. We have waited for a year, during which we saw in the political arena only a few timid attempts that quickly evaporated, leaving the Lebanese perplexed by the ambiguity shrouding the relationship with Syria. They are unable to determine whether as it (Syria) has often told them they are truly independent, managing their own affairs without interference in their domestic issues. Or have they become an appendage, watching the gradual disappearance of the country from the international arena, incapable of taking any decisions, no matter what it is, without first referring to it (Syria)? In our opinion, it is time to clarify this ambiguity, because honesty in dealing with the other and forthrightness is a durable blessing.
It is a known fact that throughout its history, Lebanon has enjoyed self-rule. Even during the Ottoman rule, it was not directly ruled by the walis, but had its Lebanese emirs of the Maani and Shehabi clans who would pay to the Sublime Porte levies, while enjoying freedom in ruling the country and managing its affairs; the Mutassarifia era, which granted Lebanon administrative independence, guaranteed by seven European countries; then came the French Mandate, which redefined Lebanon’s qadas, virtually restoring its pre-Mutassarifia natural borders, on whose basis Lebanon gained its independence which was recognized by the United Nations and the Arab League.
Admittedly, at the start of the mandate era, some Lebanese had expressed reservations over Lebanon’s independence declaration, favoring the plan of Emir Faisal, who had declared the Syrian Arab kingdom. His plan was unsuccessful, and we are unaware whether there are any Lebanese today who would oppose a free, sovereign and independent Lebanon within its natural border, especially since the Constitution has unequivocally stated that Lebanon is the ultimate homeland for all its natives.
What happened after the first appeal?
The appeal was criticized for calling for a redeployment of Syrian forces in Lebanon in accordance with the Taif Accord. It was said that the redeployment had actually begun, but was suspended so it did not seem as though it was taking place under pressure. It was also said, in direct response to the appeal, that the Syrian Army presence in Lebanon was necessary, legitimate and temporary. Then came the initiative of Speaker Nabih Berri, which was nipped in the bud after the first public signs of its existence. There were the two visits to Syria of his excellency Fouad Butros to Damascus, in pursuit of a dialogue that would redress the imbalance in relations between Lebanon and Syria. Shortly afterward, it was said that only the Lebanese state was qualified for this task, because a dialogue would not be appropriate unless it was carried out between two states.
Simultaneously, voices were raised in Parliament and through the media, calling for rectifying Syrian-Lebanese relations and for a redeployment of the Syrian Army. A national Christian grouping began to gradually take shape, culminating in the Qornet Shehwan (Gathering), and followed by the Democratic Forum. The knots in the tongues were untied, and people began to voice their convictions, albeit with caution. The appeal drew support from the people, which was clearly expressed upon the return of his eminence (the patriarch) from the United States and Canada and also during the parochial trip to Damour, the Chouf and Jezzine, this tour which laid the cornerstone for a comprehensive national reconciliation that had already begun between the Christians and Druze of that area and which was designed to include, at a later stage, all Lebanese factions under the patronage of the Lebanese state. However, regrettably, it was closely followed by accusations, arrests and trials.
Repercussions of this situation for the state
It is not necessary to underline the results of this situation and the ensuing mood that has been shrouded by dark clouds. What we recently witnessed is the most striking proof of the degeneration of the institutions: a Parliament which swung from one extreme to another through the wave of a magical wand in the span of 10 days; a Cabinet that appeared to be oblivious to what is happening around it, when it is supposed to be in charge of the country, as stipulated by the Constitution; and an economic crisis pointing to the worst possible repercussions. Unemployment has spiraled to an unprecedented, frightening level, young brains are migrating, and no one knows if they will ever return to Lebanon.
The state appears to be handcuffed and the MPs are ignoring the people and the people are ignoring them, while they pledge allegiance to those who put them in their seats. Some Cabinet ministers are imposed on the prime minister, who in turn is forced to cooperate with them against his will. The decision is elsewhere, outside Lebanon, and the decision-makers are non-Lebanese. The decision-makers extend support to whomever they wish in the political establishment, to see the triumph of this person over that, without any embarrassment. Instead of closing ranks, they deepen the schisms.
Is it permissible for this situation, which began 25 years ago, to continue? Lebanon is vanishing little by little, losing its identity, its peculiarities, its constitutional institutions and even its entity, especially after the naturalization of those imposed on it in huge numbers. This is happening while the Lebanese are going through great pains to obtain a foreign nationality, no matter what it is, with some of them sending their wives to give birth abroad for the sole reason of obtaining  another nationality which they believe would offer them a tranquil future. All this because they have lost faith in their country.
Who’s the winner? Who’s the loser?
No one is oblivious to the difficulties Lebanon is experiencing, which are more profound that those of other countries in the region, with the exception of Palestine, whose people are the target of daily massacres, which we strongly deplore. Then, there is the issue of the resettlement of Palestinians residing in Lebanon; the dispute over the Shebaa Farms and Ghajar; the issue of the deployment of the army to the South as demanded by the United Nations, the United States and some European countries; south Lebanon being the only raging battle front, when other frontiers with Israel are quiet; the southerners of all sects who have taking refuge in Israel, and those who are imprisoned when their women and children are left without the support; the huge debt which a small country like Lebanon is unable to shoulder, and which has forced it to adopt an economy of wartime and poverty, when all around it countries are adopting an economy of peace and prosperity; and the issue of weapons in the hands of a certain faction, in violation of the Taif Accord; and finally, the selective application of Taif, which has been emptied of its content, leading some to ask whether it still exists or has been irreversibly scrapped.
Does all this mean that Lebanon is destined to remain under eternal patronage justified by claims that its citizens would resort to fighting if the patronage were lifted?
Contrary to these pretexts, Lebanon is capable of surmounting all its difficulties if it is left to it to solve them. Its people are peace-loving. They advocate comprehensive national reconciliation provided the patronage is lifted and they are  allowed to properly exercise democracy, enjoying total freedom in choosing representatives in Parliament without interferences, intimidation or threats, and subsequently selecting the leaders and holding them accountable when necessary.
To date, no one has thought about a fair and consistent electoral law that would lead to the desired results.
If these pathetic conditions persist, emigration will gobble up its sons, and there will come a day, which we do not wish to see, when there will be those who would say: “We knew a free, sovereign Lebanon.” And those who claim they are protecting by keeping it under tutelage will be the cause of its disappearance.
If Lebanon disappears those who are seeking to gobble it up will not be happy, because they will be the losers. They will not be losing only the moral and material benefits they are now enjoying, but the epidemic will also spread to them, and we do not wish for that.
The solution is through fair fraternity
There are some Lebanese who, for intentions that are no secret to anyone, say that the Syria Army will not withdraw from Lebanon as long as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is raging. Who knows when that conflict, which has persisted for half-a-century, will end? There are no indications of a solution in the foreseeable future. But the reality that cannot be refuted is that Lebanon had prospered and its conditions improved for a quarter of a century despite all the difficulties (stemming from regional turmoil) before the entry of the Syrian Army.
Can anyone ascertain whether the Syrian Army has indeed redeployed and to what extent? What is the actual strength of the force in Lebanon?
There are those who say that the need for it (Syrian presence) would remain even after the (regional) conflict is over, which is a total contradiction of Taif and all the conventions and charters. Such statements will put an end to Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty, because the Syrian Army’s stay in Lebanon will entail a grip on politics by (security) agencies, preventing the exercise of democracy and dealing a fatal blow to public liberties. Lebanon is a synonym for democracy. But if the corrupt and corruptors, whether Syrian or Lebanese (we plagiarize), continue to exploit the Syrian presence in Lebanon to collect gains and distribute the spoils at the expense of impoverishing the Lebanese people and crippling the Lebanese system, they will be harming both Syria and Lebanon.
The only solution to this abnormal situation is to enable Lebanon to shoulder its own responsibilities and allow it to put its own house in order, while maintaining coordination with Syria on mutual issues. This is an unequivocal conviction. It is like two brothers living in separate homes, with each managing his affairs without interfering in the other’s. These are the principles of relations between countries.
We consider that Lebanon’s future and independence hinge on the resolve of its citizens, their confidence, their unity and their brave support of justice. This is what we pride ourselves in. Therefore, despite all the difficulties that we have stated and the crises from which the Lebanese are suffering, we cannot but call on all citizens, no matter what their affiliations, to strengthen confidence in themselves and the country and to close ranks in fraternal unity to restore to Lebanon the status in the international league of free, sovereign and independent states.
These, God is the witness, are the words of honesty and justice. May fraternity prevail for a happier life.