Popoli – 12/1993
The agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has opened up new prospects for peace in the Middle East, but it seems to ignore Lebanon, which is living its drama “protected” by the “Syrian pax”. The emigration of Arab-Christians risks compromising the balance and peaceful coexistence between different religious groups that has always characterized the country. Giuseppe Samir Eid is the author of the volume “Christian Arabs and Muslim Arabs” (NED, Milan, 1991) and collaborator of the CADR, the Ambrosian Documentation Centre for Religions in Milan.
Lebanon, “loubnan”, a land of welcome, has always been the refuge of persecuted communities. Its mountains, already known in ancient times for their precious forests, proved to be a well-kept refuge for ethnic and religious minorities from the years immediately following the Arab conquest of Syria. In the 20th century they welcomed refugees of the most diverse religious faiths from the surrounding regions.
Land of fraternal coexistence
Lebanon is a republic surrounded by totalitarian states with massive military expenditure (Syria, Iraq and Israel). It is also the only Arab country where there is freedom of expression and worship, without discrimination of any kind for its citizens. It is indicated as a model of coexistence between Christians, Jews and Muslims for the spirit of welcome shown to each person.
In the panorama of the Arab world with laws inspired by those of Islam, Lebanon finds itself in a different position; in fact, according to the constitution, the head of state must be a Christian and, at least formally, finds himself in a position of balance of power with his Muslim peers in the meetings between the Arab heads of state.
Lebanon is notoriously considered the first country where any person can take refuge in the event of religious, political or other discrimination. About 350,000 Egyptian Christians and Muslims, for example, emigrated from Egypt under the rule of Nasser and other neighboring states under a dictatorial regime, focusing on Lebanon as a refuge or point of reference. It is estimated that even 300,000 Palestinians driven from Jordan and northern Israel have found refuge in Lebanon; mostly Muslims and have upset the sectarian balance of power in the country, which now has about 3 million inhabitants.
Lebanon is the only Arab nation with flourishing Christian communities that were once majority. But in the drama that is going on today, is it still true? In the future, will Christians still be able to maintain their rights there? Fifteen years of war have changed the physiognomy of the territory.
Lebanon has been for all an example of inter-religious coexistence, founded on fraternity between the various religious confessions, until the moment when external powers began to seed dissension between Muslims and Christians and allowed too many refugees to settle in this small territory whose size is just less than half the size of Lombardy. Moreover, the establishment of a strongly militarized Jewish state broke the fragile balance of power that exists in the Middle East.
This interference in the domestic affair of the country caused the first civil war which started as early as 1958 and then gradually paved the way for future destabilization, culminating in 15 years of internal warfare. Various entities participated in this conflict, destabilizing the Christian majority (Iranians, Syrians, Israelis, Libyans, Algerians and Palestinians). The war caused more than 120,000 deaths, 300,000 injuries and more than a million displaced civilians forced to take refuge in confessional ghettos. More than 1,300 priests have been slaughtered; churches and convents with centuries of history behind them have been looted and destroyed. Many people were killed on the sole basis that they belonged to a particular religion. These horrors have been ignored by the international media in contrast to their protest against the violence exerted against the stone throwing Palestinian youth during the intifada.
The turbulence of the region has pushed, since the beginning of the century, many Lebanese to emigrate to the West. It is estimated that there are an estimated 13 million Lebanese in the diaspora, mostly Christians, compared with a million and a half Christians left behind. They are scattered as follows:
North and Central America 5 million
South America 7 million
Oceania 500 thousand
Europe 300 thousand
Gulf countries 300 thousand
Emigration to the Gulf countries is usually temporary because it is mainly due to work reasons and generally ends with the return to the country.
The proportion of Arab-Christians who emigrated from Lebanon to the West is 7 to 1 compared to those who remained; a proportion that has been increasing in recent years under the impassive eye of the whole West.
Integralism in ambush
The key to curbing migration is peace in the region. In this sense we bring a statement by Boutros Ghali, secretary of the United Nations: “There can be no development without peace and there can be no peace without development”.
The problem of the reconstruction of Lebanon remains open because the private leaders are not inclined to invest in infrastructure preferring instead the real estate and tourism sector. The investor who aims to make a profit in the short term is not concerned about projects that generate new jobs and create the conditions to encourage private industrial initiative of peak and medium size.
The lack of job prospects encourages the emigration of middle managers, technicians and scientists, thus weakening the middle class of the population, which is the backbone of democracy. This will encourage extremist groups both religious and political to promote dissent among the various religious sects in Lebanon in order to gain power. This lack of stability would then drive more Christians to emigrate. This will further upset the balance of powers between Christian and the Muslim majority which in turn threaten the free existence of the Arab Christian minorities should the Muslim now wielding more power call for the strict application of Islamic law.
The mass emigration of Arab Christian is almost totally ignored by historians and the mass media: centuries of coexistence and inter- religious dialogue between Muslims and Christians are being ignored.
The future of the Christian presence is the central point of the next Synod of Bishops of Lebanon, convened by the Pope.
The agreement signed between Israel and the PLO on 13 September last has frozen the situation of the Palestinian diaspora because the international community is committed to invest heavily in the region. If the political stability of this turbulent region finally materializes is not unthinkable that Israel would want to take the economic leadership to act as a bridge between the Arabs and the West, a role once played by Lebanon whose stability and prosperity were envied by its neighbors. What then does the future hold for Lebanon and for the Christian presence in the Arab world?
Forty-seven states and international organizations, not even twenty days after the handshake between Rabin and Arafat, promised to raise two billion dollars in spending in the next five years in the occupied territories.
The Foreign Minister of the EEC declared: “A population frustrated in its aspirations in terms of education, care, health for so long would be an easy prey to political discord; this in turn will continue to threaten the stability of the region and of the world”.
I, note the fact, that the international community has committed itself with extreme immediacy to helping economically the new Israeli-Palestinian reality. Unfortunately, this leave Lebanon at the mercy of private sector initiatives guided, solely, by the logic of short term profit. This policy put, in jeopardy, the economic development and the welfare of the Lebanese population which has the potential to undermine the social order. This would provide an opportunity to neighboring Syria to intervene in order to guarantee the social order undermined by poverty and fundamentalist propaganda.
Hoping for the center of all hope
Unlike the lack of effective support for Sadat after the Camp David agreement in 1978, which culminated in his assassination, the international community finally felt the urge to strengthen those who had the courage to choose the path of dialog and promptly organized funding to support peace in the region.
The portfolios of the projects under development at the World Bank goes beyond the handshake between Israel and the PLO and aims at the creation of a large Middle Eastern region that extends to the entire southern Mediterranean basin in order to guarantee peace and economic prosperity.
There are risks and opportunities for Lebanon. The risk is of being absorbed in the Islamic orbit of the surrounding countries, thus threatening its core identity as a Christian and trading nation.
The opportunity, on the other hand, is to give the Lebanese a chance to regain their legendary entrepreneurial spirit, which has been the strength of its economy and the engine of economic development in the Gulf countries. Lebanon gave rise to the first attempts to re-launch the Arab culture: language, literature, and philosophy in the early twentieth century
The religious pluralism, the liveliness of its culture that derives from its expression (unique in an Arab country of the Middle East) give vigor to the civilization of this small nation that could give Lebanon an opportunity to resume its leading role in the region and of being a bridge between East and West. Lebanon is the birth state of modern Arab nationalism, an ideology, that promote the unity of the Arab people and celebrate its language and culture without religious extremism. It fulfills the dream of Arab unity among Muslims, Jews and Christians.
The arrival in Europe, and recently in Italy, of a large number of Arab immigrants has brought the Arab world to the attention of the West. However, the indigenous population in the Western world has only a superficial knowledge of the culture of the countries of the Middle East. This problem is compounded by the fact that immigrants, especially Muslims, tend to live in a cultural ghetto. Particularly, this lack of communication between the native population and the immigrant community gave rise to a lot of misunderstanding between the two population which complicates the integration of the immigrant
The secular coexistence of different peoples, ethnic groups and religions on the same Lebanese land, with sentiments converging towards the same homeland, is an example for our social centers that aims at a full integration and a deep mutual knowledge between the different ethnic groups that now they live in our country.
The survival of Lebanon is very important for all minorities and even more for Arab-Christians, as it is a reference point for religious freedom in the Arab-Muslim Near East.
The Lebanese who reside in Western countries can in their own way contribute to the development of their country of origin. We know, in fact, that technology is not sufficient for the integral development of a state; it is essential that it be accompanied by an adequate cultural preparation to manage the transformations. The bridge position matured over the centuries by the Christian Arabs between the Western world and the Arab world can allow those who live in Europe and who know the reality of the most developed societies better to offer their compatriots the indications that can assist countries Arabs in their development.
The responsibilities of the Christian Arabs who emigrated to the West towards their brothers left in the countries of origin are therefore great.
In the countries of the Middle East, on the other hand, the Christian Arabs, adequately helped by their emigrated brothers, are offered the opportunity to contribute to a development that is respectful of their identity.
Mutual knowledge, testimony from person to person, relationships between states: on these three levels I believe the possibility of a new is played between the two shores of the Mediterranean, in the awareness that the current historical moment, with the approach even the physicist of such a very different mentality, he opened new frontiers on the horizon of dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims, united on the path to the twenty-first century.
Giuseppe Samir Eid
Free web translation from the original in Italian
The published articles intend to provide the tools for a social inclusion of the migratory flow, shed light on human rights and the condition of life of Christians in the Islamic world from which the author come from. Knowledge of the other, of cultural and religious differences are primary ingredients to create peace in the hearts of men everywhere, a prerequisite for a peaceful coexistence and convinced citizenship in the territory.