Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch, addresses thousands of Lebanese at Bkerke, north of Beirut, Feb. 27, 2021, as Lebanon teeters on the verge of collapse. “Do not tolerate the failure in forming a government and implementing reforms,” he told them. (Credit: CNS photo/Mychel Akl, courtesy Maronite Patriarchate.)
ROME — At the risk of compromising the appeasement efforts aimed at facilitating the formation of a new government, Lebanese media on Thursday broadcast a leaked video in which the top Christian leader openly criticizes the Shia Hezbollah movement, accusing it of harming the country by dragging it into regional conflicts.
“Why are you standing against neutrality? Do you want to force me to go to war? Do you want to keep Lebanon in a state of war?” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai asks Hezbollah in the video. “Would you ask for my opinion when you do go to war? Did you ask for my approval to go to Syria, Iraq and Yemen? Would you ask for the government’s opinion when declaring war and peace with Israel? The constitution says that declaring war and peace is upon the decision of two-thirds of the government’s votes.”
“Why do you decide to drag the Lebanese into a war you have decided to wage without asking their opinion?” Rai said.
“You’re not looking out for (our) interests, nor the interests of your people,” he said, apparently addressing Hezbollah, a heavily-armed movement allied to Iran.
In the video, the patriarch is also heard saying that he has received visits from Hezbollah supporters who were privately critical of the group as they felt the impact of Lebanon’s financial collapse. The comments came when the patriarch was addressing a group of Lebanese in the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn last Saturday.
“We get people from Hezbollah. They come to us to tell us: ‘This arsenal is against us, we can no longer endure.’ Because they are also hungry like us,” he said.
Lebanon has been in financial meltdown since 2019. Feuding politicians have been unable to form a government since the last one quit in the aftermath of an Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut. Rai wields influence in Lebanon’s politics as the head of the Maronite church, from which the president must be drawn under a religious power-sharing system.
He’s long been calling for the country to remain neutral in regional conflicts, with the video leaked Thursday – part of a longer speech he delivered on Saturday – defined by Reuters as “unusually direct” comments against the Shia group.
Hezbollah, along with its political allies, holds sway in Lebanon’s parliament.
The economic meltdown has caused the Lebanese currency to crash, fueling poverty and hunger, and causing the nation’s worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war that fractured the country along sectarian lines.
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