| Background: The recent history of modern Lebanon
is a testament to the role of the Christians, particularly the Maronites,
in the formation of the new state as model of democracy in the Middle
East. Thirsty for freedom, the Lebanese people delegated in 1919,
the Maronite Patriarch Elias Howayek to go to the Peace Conference
at Versailles and to demand independence on their behalf. The Patriarch
went to Versailles and explained the problems of Lebanon, negotiated
effectively, and accomplished his mission.
He thus put the future of Lebanon on a firm footing and obtained
satisfaction for the national aspirations. Soon after this famous
Treaty of Versailles, the San Remo Conference was held in Italy
in April 1920, and Allies gave France a mandate over Lebanon and
Syria. France then appointed General Henri Gouraud to implement
the mandate provisions.
Today in Lebanon, the situation that exists politically and economically
is marginalizing the Christians. Perhaps the single greatest danger
facing Lebanon's Christians in the coming years is depletion through
emigration and declining birth rates. The Lebanese entity, which
was created thanks to and not for the Maronites, will have no chance
to survive if the latter does not recover the role it is entitled
to within this entity.
Syrian Occupation: The longer this lasts the more permanent
and deeper the damage sustained by the Christians. With freedoms
already in eclipse, the Parliament usually rubber-stamps Syrian-sponsored
legislation in such sensitive areas as education, demography, and
politics that will have a negative effect on the Christian community.
The voices of dissent are limited to a courageous few.
Islamization: In its present stagnant state, Lebanon is
being steadily and irreversibly Islamized. Whether through the policies
of Saudi-backed politicians who purchase vast real-estate properties
from needy Christians and staffs government and civil-service appointments
exclusively with Muslims, or whether on the other end of the spectrum
through the growing power of the militant Iran-inspired fundamentalists,
whose leaders state openly that they are working for the eventual
creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon.
The United States and the West may ask what one more "Islamic
Republic" can add to the Middle East. Islamization directly
threatens the free Christian presence in Lebanon.
Middle East Peace Process Concerns: Continued delay in the
participation of Lebanon as an equal partner with full rights of
representation will be detrimental to the Christian community which
has historically led the effort for a democratic state.
Demography and Emigration: It is estimated that throughout
the recent war, close to 900,000, the vast majority of them Christians,
left Lebanon. Only a fraction has since returned. If naturalization
of the remaining Palestinians in the country, who are overwhelmingly
Muslim, goes through as part of an overall peace settlement, then
the Christians will be in even more dire straits.
Desired Outcomes: Lebanon's history offers a unique example
of peaceful and creative coexistence between Muslims and Christians.
At a time when tensions between Islam and Christianity are increasing
at many points around the world, it is imperative that Lebanon's
legacy not be squandered.
The United States should, as a matter of policy, encourage interfaith
cooperation in governmental, social, economic and humanitarian projects
it sponsors in Lebanon.
The Maronite Patriarch, as spokesman for the Christians and who
enjoys the respect of the Muslims, is able to continue to bring
all sides together. Together with the Patriarchal charities and
other Christian projects, he is an ideal conduit for many activities
that the US may undertake in Lebanon.