Muslim-Christian summit tries to help ease escalating sectarian tensions

Christians and Muslims gathered for a spiritual summit in Lebanon on Tuesday. (Shutterstock)
Updated 31 July 2019

Muslim-Christian summit tries to help ease escalating sectarian tensions

  • The main issue relates to the political representation of a dwindling, but still significant, number of Christians

BEIRUT: Christians and Muslims gathered for a spiritual summit in Lebanon on Tuesday amid concerns about a growing sectarian divide in the country’s politics.

The crisis escalated after two aides to Minister of the Displaced Saleh Al-Gharib were killed on June 30 in Mount Lebanon. Al-Gharib is a member of the predominantly Druze-supported Lebanese Democratic Party, which is allied with the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). The aids were shot and killed following protests by supporters of the Progressive Socialist Party, which also draws its support mostly from the Druze community, against a visit by FPM leader Gebran Bassil to a Druze-majority area.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri suspended Council of Ministers meetings to focus on finding a peaceful resolution to a crisis that has exposed renewed divisions between the political forces in power.

The main issue relates to the political representation of a dwindling, but still significant, number of Christians.

Tuesday’s spiritual summit, at the Druze Dar Al-Muwahhidin, concluded that “the national unity that emerged among the Lebanese spiritual communities based on the (1989) Taif Agreement (which ended the Lebanese Civil War) constitutes the basis and guarantor of the building of Lebanon. Any abuse of coexistence, especially in the mountain, is an insult to Lebanon’s ideals and mission.”

The participants called for “greater awareness and national solidarity to overcome the risks that are compounded by the projects and plans aimed at redrawing the map of the region.” They stressed the “urgent need” for the government to bring about “stability and economic advancement,” and find “a suitable and quick solution to the political hurdle the country is going through.”

Raising the sectarian issue under provocative and fanatical headlines and claiming to protect the rights of Christians is intended to target the Taif Agreement, which harms stability and restores the atmosphere of civil war that the Lebanese have forgotten. A return to pre-Taif means a return to war.

Khaled Kabbani, Former minister

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdullatif Durian spoke at the summit of a need to find “solutions to the crises in line with the rules of national unity and coexistence and through adherence to the constitution and Taif.”

MP Henri Helou said the conclusions reached by the summit represent “the ceiling under which all positions must be kept, and a road map out of the crisis.”

Walid Ghayyad, a spokesman for the Maronite Catholic Patriarchate, said: “The findings of the spiritual summit are not enough; political officials are required to translate this talk into national positions...Lebanon is not governed by one group; there is a need for balance and respect for each other.”

He questioned whether the only solution to the crisis should be “for Christians to accept things as they are and abandon their role?” He added: “In some positions in the state, Christians do not exceed 10 percent compared to 90 percent for Muslims. There is a tug of war. The subject requires impartiality. It is true that the issue has been there for a long time but it has been exacerbated recently and the risks are increasing.”

Khaled Kabbani, a former minister and member of the Constitutional Council, who attended the summit, said: “All the talk during the closed meeting of the summit stressed the need for moderation and understanding and the desire of everyone to overcome the crisis.

“Raising the sectarian issue under provocative and fanatical headlines and claiming to protect the rights of Christians is intended to target the Taif Agreement, which harms stability and restores the atmosphere of civil war that the Lebanese have forgotten. A return to pre-Taif means a return to war.”


Israelis jam Jerusalem streets over bill to curb protests

Updated 18 min 21 sec ago

Israelis jam Jerusalem streets over bill to curb protests

  • A large convoy of cars clogged the streets surrounding the Knesset
  • The demonstrators have called on Netanyahu to resign

JERUSALEM: Hundreds of Israeli motorists protested in Jerusalem on Tuesday against a proposed measure to curtail public demonstrations during the current nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A large convoy of cars clogged the streets surrounding the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and scores of people also demonstrated in a square outside the building as lawmakers debated a measure that would effectively clamp down on the weekly protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his Jerusalem residence.
The demonstrations in central Jerusalem have drawn thousands each week for the past several months, the largest sustained protests against Netanyahu in nearly a decade. Many of the cars in Tuesday’s motorcade were festooned with Israeli or black flags, one of the symbols of the protest movement.
The Israeli government imposed a second countrywide lockdown ahead of the Jewish High Holidays earlier this month in a bid to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Protests have been permitted, but influential ultra-Orthodox lawmakers have fumed over restrictions on prayers while the mass demonstrations have kept up.
The demonstrators have called on Netanyahu to resign, saying he is unfit to serve while on trial for corruption charges and accusing him of bungling his management of the coronavirus crisis and economic damage it has caused.
Netanyahu has said the protests must end due to public health concerns. But protesters say he is using the crisis as a pretext to muzzle them.
Israel announced the lockdown earlier this month and tightened it last week in response to one of the world’s most severe coronavirus outbreaks. The measures have closed schools, malls, restaurants and hundreds of businesses.
The lockdown was initially slated to be lifted on Oct. 11, after the three-week autumn holiday season, but in a radio interview on Tuesday, Israel’s health minister said the nationwide shutdown would likely be extended.
“There is no scenario that in another 10 days we will lift everything and say ‘it’s all over, everything is ok,’” Yuli Edelstein told Israel Radio. He said the Health Ministry was prepared for the possibility of a surge in new cases, and that “reopening of the economy and our lives will be gradual and slow.”
Israel, a country of 9 million people, has recorded over 233,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,500 deaths from the novel coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to the Health Ministry. The ministry said Tuesday the country has for the first time surpassed the US, one of the world’s worst hit countries, in per capita daily coronavirus deaths.
While Israel garnered praise for its swift response to the arrival of the pandemic in the spring, the country reopened its economy too quickly in May and infections have skyrocketed since then.