IMF Congress 2002


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Background Paper

The Maronite Patriarch. His Eminence Nasrallah Butros Cardinal Sfeir, the spiritual leader of the Maronite Church, represents an unbroken succession from the first Maronite Patriarch in 687. Historically, Patriarchal leadership has been entwined with the political life of the people of Lebanon. Patriarch Elias Howayek, widely regarded as the father of modern Lebanon, headed the Lebanese delegation to Versailles Peace Conference of 1919. This assembly accepted his proposals for a sovereign and independent Lebanon that was later granted under the French mandate in1943. The events of the last 25 years have resulted in the assassination and exile of many political and civic leaders. This vacuum of leadership has required the Maronite Patriarch to take on a national role, even larger than that of his immediate predecessors.

Patriarch Sfeir has fulfilled this challenge with a powerful eloquence and personal courage. He has become the conscience of the nation. At great personal risk, he has questioned the presence of foreign occupiers in the country and challenged the world community to guarantee Lebanon's independence and sovereignty. He has been the spokesman for the thousands who have been displaced because of the war, and for economic justice for the hundreds of thousands who have become impoverished. While especially concerned with the welfare of his people, the Patriarch has sought to solidify the bonds with all the religious communities in Lebanon.

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Lebanon's Sovereignty. Only in a nation free to make its own political choices can the economy flourish and its citizens attempt to reach their social and economic aspirations. The international community must ensure the restoration of Lebanon's sovereignty and full membership at the peace table and all other negotiations affecting its future. While Lebanon fully acknowledges the special relationship with Syria, this relationship has not been allowed to naturally develop because of continued occupation by Syrian troops in violation of the Taif Accords, which was supported by the United States.

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The Marginalization of Christians in an Evolving Lebanon. Perhaps the single greatest danger facing Lebanon's Christians in the coming years is depletion through emigration and declining birth rates. Behind these two seemingly simple reasons are complex principles that affect the very essence of the Christian population. These revolve around the economic and political circumstances enveloping the nation. The inability of young graduates to find employment in a stagnating economy, the influx of Syrian workers in the economy, and the potential naturalization of up to 400,000 Palestinians, combine to promotes emigration to find jobs, particularly to the welcome arms of such nations as Australia, Brazil and Mexico and a low birth rate die to low-expectations concerning the economy and am ability to support larger families.

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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.

Syrian Occupation: The longer this lasts the more permanent and deeper the damage sustained by all Lebanese and Christians in particular. With freedoms already in eclipse, Syrian-sponsored legislation in such sensitive areas as education, demography, and politics will have a negative effect on the Christian community. Because of the occupation, distrust and discord has been planted among the Lebanese themselves. Repressive measures and agreements, which do not have popular political support, are causing significant violations of human rights. There are still prisoners in Syria for which there has been no accounting. In Lebanon itself, out of favor political dissidents remain in jails and legitimate political leaders remain in exile afraid to return.

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Islamization: In its present stagnant state, Lebanon is being steadily and irreversibly Islamized, whether through 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 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.

Conclusions and Desired Outcomes: The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, co-authored by Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Charles Malik, Lebanon's representative to the UN, set forth the guidelines for resolving problems in the world. Lebanon, a charter member of the United Nations, does not now enjoy the "inherent dignity" of the human family of which the document spoke so eloquently. On the contrary, the events of recent years and months have shown that, in addition to being the battleground for the conflict of its neighbors, Lebanon now faces the prospect of serving as the sacrificial lamb in the "peace process." In this critical time, Lebanon, whose history of tolerance and democracy was unique in the region, may fall as the price of peace.

The Patriarch's call for open dialogue should be considered as an opportunity to develop a consensus among the Lebanese body politic to develop a working relationship centered on the concept of a "strategic alliance" between Lebanon and Syria that would preserve their individual sovereignty. The only beneficiaries of this definition can only be a strengthening of the social and economic ties between the two nations, and the development of a security alliance. Finally, at long last, there can be an appropriate exchange of ambassadors between the two countries.

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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,

Promote interfaith cooperation in governmental, social, economic and humanitarian projects it sponsors in Lebanon and send foreign aid to assist in the humanitarian needs of Lebanon, especially in the south.

Encourage Syria to abandon its de facto occupation of Lebanon and promote a strategic alliance among equal partners

Ensure that Lebanon does not become the dumping ground for the Palestinian refugees currently residing in Lebanon


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