Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Clerics playing politics in Lebanon

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/10/2006

Clerics who meddle in politics are obviously not particular to the Middle East or Lebanon.

But what I find quite surprising is that they are now actively participating in the nation’s political life and no one is objecting to it. Besides, when they do not show their political preferences, they are asked to do so, as the debate over the next Lebanese President has shown. Indeed, many politicians belonging to the former Bristol Gathering have repeatedly asked the Maronite Patriarch to choose or to approve of the next Lebanese President.  

Today each religious authority is voicing its political preferences clear and loud. This was particularly striking during the last parliamentary elections in 2005. The head of the Shiite authority is sympathetic to Hezbollah and some Shiite Sheiks presented the voting for Hezbollah candidates as a religious obligation. The Mufti of Northern Lebanon asked Sunnis to vote for Hariri. A Christian MP in Beirut was directly supported by the city’s Greek-Orthodox Bishop, and the Maronite Patriarch’s preference for the Lebanese Forces is a secret for no one. 

This political meddling has had one effect that the religious authorities were not expecting and are obviously not appreciating much. They are facing more and more criticism by rival parties to those their preference or support goes.  There is the problematic and emblematic example of Hassan Nasrallah who is both a cleric (albeit a minor one) and a political figure (of a pan-Arab and pan-Islamic stature since the last war on Lebanon). He and his supporters reacted quite violently to an impersonation that was done of him on during a satirical TV show (June 1st 2006). They judged that this showed a lack of respect to their religious authorities only to be reminded by other Lebanese politicians and intellectuals that Hassan Nasrallah was above all a political figure, and he was being impersonated as such and in the same manner as other Lebanese politicians were being caricatured.

More recently, a Maronite politician, Soleiman Frangié, criticised Bishop Bechara for the role he played in the Kornet Chehwan Gathering (of which he was the sponsor). Frangié’s attacks on the clergyman were condemned by those who found only natural the mocking of Hezbollah’s general secretary on a TV comedy show.  Even closer to us, in yesterday’s paper, the National Liberal Party issued a press release accusing those criticising the Maronite Patriarchate of rejecting the Lebanese fundamental principles of sovereignty, independence, coexistence and equal participation of all.

I wonder what political reaction there will be to the speech made two days ago by the Iranian Guide of the revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei who warned the United Nation’s armed force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) against interfering in Hezbollah’s affairs. Clerical intervention in politics seems to be going global these days.


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