BEIRUT: The debate over Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s controversial statements on Syria and Hezbollah eased Wednesday, a day after the religious leader stressed his remarks had been taken out of context.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, in an interview with a local radio station Wednesday, expressed “relief for the clarification by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai of his stances, particularly after his speech Tuesday where he said his statements had been taken out of context.”
Geagea’s statement came after reports earlier in the day hinted at tension between the LF and Bkirki and put into doubt whether a top-level meeting among Christian party leaders sponsored by Rai would take place.
An LF source told Al-Liwaa newspaper that “all options are on the table,” regarding the expected gathering at Bkirki, “especially given that what Patriarch Beshara Rai said constitutes a dangerous turning point, one that contradicts Bkirki’s national stances.”
Speaking to reporters in Paris and in an interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel last week, Rai warned that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria would threaten the presence of Christians there. He said that President Bashar Assad – once the arch-enemy of Lebanon's Maronites –should be given a chance to carry out political reforms in the face of protesters demanding his ouster.
Commenting on Rai’s remarks that the unrest in Syria could escalate Sunni-Shiite tension in Lebanon, al-Jamaa al-Islamiya MP Imad Hout said the Maronite patriarch had realized he had made a mistake.
Rai “has realized his mistake with the remarks he made in France and is now gradually backing down on his statements,” Hout told Asharq radio station Wednesday.
Hout said Rai’s statements had “fueled sectarian sentiments that contradict the patriarch’s motto: ‘partnership and love.’”
The Maronite patriarch Tuesday said his statements in the French capital had been taken out of context and stressed that he would not abandon his church’s historical principles.
"It was a big mistake for the patriarch to go to France, which has a history of hundreds of years of support for Maronites, and say the Assad regime must be protected at a time when the Assad regime is breaking down," said political commentator and author Elias al-Zoghbi.
In an interview to be published Thursday in As-Sayyad magazine, Deputy Parliament Speaker Farid Makari, another member of the March 14 coalition, voiced his hope that the patriarch would repair the impression left by the statements he made in Paris.
Rai’s statements last week sparked debate between the country’s rival March 14 and March 8 coalitions, the former voicing surprise, concern and regret, the latter solidarity with the patriarch.
The most prominent criticism of Rai’s statement came from Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, who said he seeks to remain a centrist in a wide alliance with March 8.
Jumblatt Monday assailed Rai’s linking of the fate of Hezbollah’s arms to a Middle East peace settlement, saying Lebanon could not remain hostage to regional conflicts.
The PSP leader also disputed Rai’s warning that regime change in Syria and the possible emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood would pose a threat to the Christians there.
In remarks to Al-Joumhouria published Wednesday, Jumblatt said he would meet Rai in “in the coming few days.”