IMF Congress 2002
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Point Paper
The Marginalization of Christians in an Evolving Lebanon
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.

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