SIDON, Lebanon: In light of the increased scrutiny on various municipalities’ restrictions on renting property, which critics allege try to keep Muslims from moving in, Sidon’s Greek Catholic bishop has spoken out against “isolationist” mindsets in Christian communities in the south.
“Anyone who speaks the language of isolationism, he is outside the diocese - whether Greek Orthodox or Maronite,” Bishop Elie Haddad said Wednesday during a graduation ceremony at Lycee St. Nicolas in Ain al-Mir, between Sidon and Jezzine cities.
The comments come as so-called property bans have come under fire in recent weeks after a Facebook post went viral, in which a young couple recounted how they had been forbidden from renting property in the Baabda town of Hadath because they were Muslim.
The town’s mayor, George Aoun, told The Daily Star at the time that the municipality had prevented Christians from selling or renting their property to non-Christians since 2010, citing concerns of demographic change. But Aoun argued that the restrictions did not constitute a ban.
“We did not say it is forbidden for Muslims to buy. We just told the Christians to stop selling,” the mayor said at the time.
But others interpreted the ban differently. Interior Minister Raya El Hassan urged the Mount Lebanon governor to further investigate the matter, describing the Hadath Municipality’s decision as unconstitutional and promoting “sectarian discourse [that] contradicts coexistence.”
Indeed, the Constitution states that “Lebanese territory is one for all Lebanese. Every Lebanese shall have the right to live in any part thereof and to enjoy the rule of law wherever he resides.”
Although Hadath is the only town to openly admit that non-Christians are forbidden from buying property, other municipalities uphold similar bans that seem to have the same purpose, though using somewhat different modes of achieving it.
The latest official to publicly proclaim support of restrictions on buying and selling property to nonlocals is Fadi Romanos, the mayor of Labaa, a town less than 2 kilometers from Ain al-Mir, where Haddad was speaking.
Last week, Romanos wrote an editorial for a local magazine in which he boasted that he had refused to hand over the paperwork necessary for locals wishing to sell their property to “nonlocals” for three years.
Romanos could not be reached for comment by press time.
Restrictions on the renting and selling of property in the predominantly Christian region of Jezzine are not limited to Labaa. Many villages in the area have similar policies debarring nonlocals from buying property - in effect banning non-Christians from moving in.
“We say no to isolationism,” Haddad insisted, adding that he was also speaking on behalf of Sidon’s Maronite bishop, Maroun al-Ammar. “We cannot create a closed community between Sidon and Jezzine.”
According to the United Nations Development Program, 72,000 of the 120,000 residents of the southern city of Sidon are Muslim.
Haddad added that the area between Sidon and Jezzine had always been a bridge of “confluence, communication and peace.” - Writing by Jacob Boswall