Christians under Threat because of Leaders Constitution protects religious group but people need to learn how to utilise it
Beirut: A rare scientific public opinion poll conducted between October 16 and December 3, 2012, which an Ipsos Marketing representative confirmed was funded by an unnamed source, revealed that two-thirds of Lebanon’s Christians believed their existence in the country to be under threat.
The detailed survey, which was read and summarised by Nesreen Nader in the daily Al Nahar, covered several key questions but failed to ascertain the origins of such concerns in light of constitutional protections. Why were Lebanese Christians fearful for their very existence?
Interestingly, 42 per cent of respondents focused on poor internal security as a major point, asserting that what preoccupied them above all else were dissipating freedoms, challenges to the country’s independence and, equally important, a poor understanding of what democracy ought to look like.
For Michel Haddad, a Greek-Orthodox, what ailed Lebanon’s Christians was their readiness to sell their land to non-Christians.
“I agree with the 94 per cent of all respondents who know that land sales present an existential danger,” said Haddad, “but that’s our fault, not that of any Muslim Lebanese.”
Vahe Bezdikian, an Armenian Orthodox, stressed that Christian political and religious leaders were to blame for the morass that encouraged emigration, saying: “Why can’t our so-called representatives value our contributions to this country instead of treating us like sheep, making our lives hell and literally driving us out the door?”
Fouad Nasr, an independent Maronite, blamed both March 8 and March 14 officials, insisting that what truly threatened Lebanese Christians was their disrespect for the Constitution. “We have a living document that protects us,” he said, “and after the Ta’if accords that introduced parity between Christians and Muslims, it is up to us to learn how to preserve our rights under the law.”
The poll, which was conducted via face-to-face interviews with 2,000 citizens in 13 majority-Christian electoral districts [Batroun, Beshare, Baabda, Jbeil, Jezzine, Beirut I [Achrafie-Rmeil area], Zahle, Zghorta, Chouf, Aley, Kisrwan, Al-Kura and Metn], aimed to identify local political needs. Al Nahar did not report whether the 2,000 interviewees were chosen according to the proportion of voters among Lebanon’s 12 officially recognised Christian denominations [Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic (Melkite), Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, Assyrian, Chaldean Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Copt, Protestant and Roman Catholic], but insisted that the polling was scientifically designed to reflect actual voting patterns.
What presumably heightened their fears was emigration that resulted in a sharp decrease in the Christian population — now estimated to be around 40 per cent of the grand total — as well as internecine power struggles among Christian political leaders.
Various estimates placed net emigration from Lebanon at more than 1 million between 1975 and 2010. Questioners lamented intra-Christian political disputes too, which 61 per cent estimated resulted in a net loss of power, while 39 per cent believed that Christians were better off today than in 2004.
A majority (52 per cent) affirmed that they wanted a very strong leader who could defend Christians. Among respondents, 38 per cent specifically identified Bashir Gemayel, the 1982 president-elect who was assassinated before he took office, as the “leader who played the most positive role in Lebanon’s history” and whose model they, presumably, wished current leaders to emulate.
Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces, was chosen by 28 per cent as the most prominent Christian political figure alive while Michel Aoun, who leads the Free Patriotic Movement, garnered the support of 16 per cent. Interestingly, 25 per cent stood by March 8 forces, which controlled the current Najib Miqati government, whereas 34 per cent preferred the March 14 alliance.
In as much as 47 per cent were seriously worried about their personal safety, 83 per cent of those polled identified the country’s overall security situation as worrisome, while 79 per cent cited dwindling economic conditions, including unemployment and a rapidly rising cost of living, as equally troubling indicators. Most refused to be driven into the vortex of a new war, identifying Hezbollah’s weapons as a danger to Lebanon, and wishing the ‘Party of God’ to disarm. A very large portion of respondents, 64 per cent, believed Hezbollah to be an “Iranian party that works according to the Iranian agenda”.
More than a third considered Hezbollah’s arms to be necessary, however, even if they thought that all weapons should eventually come under the command of the Lebanese Army.