Lebanese Christian Leader Denounces Armed Attack on Syria
March 6, 2012 • 9:23AM

The highest leader of Maronite Christians in Lebanon, Patriarch Beshara al-Rai, with 1 million followers in Lebanon and many in Syria, shocked Reuters Middle East Chief Michael Stott, in an exclusive interview, by denouncing the attack on Syria and actually praising the political system there.

Here are some excerpts:

"We are with the Arab Spring but we are not with this spring of violence, war, destruction and killing. This is turning to winter.... We say that we cannot implement reforms by force and arms. No one can guess the scale of the great losses and damage which could result."

Rai, who attended a memorial service in Iraq last year for Christians killed in an attack on a Baghdad church, drew a parallel between Iraq and the rest of the Arab world, saying Christians could bear a disproportionate share of the suffering: "How can it be an Arab Spring when people are being killed every day?" he said. "They speak of Iraq and democracy, and 1 million Christians out of an original 1.5 million have fled Iraq."

The patriarch said all communities in the Middle East were threatened by "war and violence, economic and security crises," but Christians were particularly vulnerable because of their relatively small and dwindling numbers.

"Syria, like other countries, needs reforms which the people are demanding," he said. "It's true that the Syrian Ba'ath regime is an extreme and dictatorial regime but there are many others like it in the Arab world.

"All regimes in the Arab world have Islam as a state religion, except for Syria. It stands out for not saying it is an Islamic state. ... The closest thing to democracy [in the Arab world] is Syria.

"We are not defending it. But we regret that Syria, which wants to take a step forward ... is undergoing this violence and destruction and (use of) power and weapons."

Foreign Support For Islamist Terrorists

Stott writes, that Assad's government said in December that more than 2,000 police and soldiers had been killed by what it describes as "terrorist armed groups," backed by foreign powers, which it says are trying to stir up violence in Syria. Rai has expressed fears the Arab uprisings could replace autocratic leaders with radical Islamic groups, and said extremist groups were getting foreign support.

"It's not the people who want them. There are countries behind them, supporting them financially and militarily and politically," he said. "Moderate people do not want them.

"We do not speak out against any sect and we do not fear moderate Islam. We fear the extremists groups that use the language of violence."

Stott concludes: Many Lebanese of all religions, still recovering from their ruinous 1975-1990 civil war, fear the violence in Syria will upset their own fragile sectarian balance and could push the country toward its own renewed conflict.

Rai said Lebanese were divided by events across the border, and he feared the shockwaves could have an impact in Lebanon, home to Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims, Maronite and Orthodox Christians, Druzes and Alawites — the same sect as Assad.

"God forbid that the conflict turns into a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Alawites," said Rai. In Tripoli we have Alawites and the situation there is like a fire [smoldering] under the ashes."

This reporter notes that it is interesting that the Maronite Patriarch is intervening from Lebanon, from which side of the border armed support and money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar are pouring into Syria to support the Islamist terrorist groups. The irony is that the a majority of the Maronite political elites have tied themselves to the Saudi-backed Saad al-Hariri alliance against so-called pro-Syria and pro-Iran Hezbollah (and actually partially Christian-Sunni) alliance which is in government now and is opposed to the attack on Syria.