Former Lebanon President warns Arab World religious diversity dying
By Ray Hanania
Amine Gemayel, the former president of Lebanon from 1982 to 1988 and the leader of Lebanon’s Kataeb party, warned this week the Arab world is experiencing a “crisis of religious pluralism” driven by “the rise of religious extremists,” which threatens “any community which does not constitute the majority.”
Gemayel called for President Barack Obama and European leaders to create a Task Force to work towards protecting religious pluralism in the Middle East, especially Christians. In a speech this week, Gemayel warned that minority religious groups like his own Maronite Catholic community, and the Druze, Shiite Muslims, Alawites, Baha’is, and “Sunni Muslims who live in Shiite-dominated areas continue to face hostilities, exclusion and pressures resulting in many fleeing the region, or facing violence.
Speaking Thursday at a Christian Solidarity International (CSI) conference in Zurich, Switzerland, Gemayel paid particular attention to the plight of Middle Eastern Christians, who he said are fleeing the region “in an exodus approaching biblical proportions.” Gemayel cited “church burnings, physical assaults and killings” in Egypt, “an onslaught of murder” in Iraq and “a bloody-minded reign of terror” from “ultra-radical Islamists in regions of Syria where they have imposed their rule.”
The Christian Solidarity International organizations has championed and spotlighted the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East in a series of lectures and seminars over the past few years called “”The Future of Religious minorities in the Middle East.” But the CSI has come under harsh criticism for giving platforms in the series to individuals accused of anti-Arab racism and bigotry such as the notorious anti-Arab hater Daniel Pipes. (See Pipes’ attack against Christian and Muslims Arab citizens of Israel. Pipes has often falsely called President Obama a irregularly practicing Muslim in addition to Muslim bashing.)
Gemayel was often criticized in the past for his alleged support of Israel prior to his election as President, and his strong opposition to the presence of foreign military forces in Lebanon, mainly the Syrian Army and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Despite the political battles, Gemayel has been recognized as a champion of religious minorities in the Arab World which continue to be persecuted. He has been criticized, however, for failing to speak out against the persecution of Christians in Israel and his activism has often been portrayed as shadowing Israeli policies in the region.
Gemayel’s experiences are a cornerstone of persecution of Christian minorities. He was elected President of Lebanon on Sept. 21, 1982 by the National Assembly to succeed his brother, Bachir Gemayal, who had been elected the previous month but was assassinated before taking office. The murder of Bachir Gemayel was a part of a long campaign by the late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad to control Lebanon and silence criticism of his brutal regime. Oftentimes, Assad has been defended by some on the claim that the Syrian dictatorship has protected religious minorities, like the Maronites. But the Gemayal’s were outspoken against the Syrian regime. Gemayel’s son, Pierre, was also assassinated in November 2006 as a consequence of criticism of the Syrians and regional foreign political involvement.
Regarding Syria, Gemayel said “the most urgent priority” is to reach a “negotiated settlement” to the Syria conflict, and to “create a power-sharing agreement that preserves core state institutions while also dismantling the pervasive machinery of repression.”
Calling for an international response to the crisis, the former president declared that “preserving religious pluralism in the Middle East is a vital imperative.” Gemayel welcomed the U.S. State Department’s recent condemnation of extremist persecution of Syrian Christians, but called for the U.S. to back up its “eloquent words” with action.
A Maronite Christian from the northern region of Mount Lebanon in the town of Bikfayya, 25 kilometers northeast of Beirut, Amine Gemayel is the eldest son of Pierre Gemayel, the founder of the Kataeb Party. Gemayel’s conflict with the Muslim majority in the Middle East began under the Ottoman Empire when his grandfather was persecuted by the Ottoman’s and forced to flee Lebanon at the beginning of the 20th Century before World War I.
At the regional level, Gemayel backed CSI’s appeal for the creation of high-level interagency task forces inWashington and European capitals to prepare strategies aimed at securing religious freedom and diversity in the Middle East. Gemayel also called for an “Arab Marshall Plan” to aid the region’s transition to democracy.
Gemayel cited encouraging pro-pluralism initiatives by King Abdullah of Jordan, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Saad Hariri of Lebanon, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the Tunisian National Assembly as signs of hope for the Middle East. Gemayel rejected the “old, discredited model of social peace through political dictatorship,” and declared that “despite the negative trends, the Arab Awakening remains one of the great hope-inspiring developments of early 21st century history.”
Gemayal’s proposed “Charter for Arab Democracy” can be found at www.aminegemayel.org/charter.
A video of President Gemayel’s lecture, entitled “Preserving Religious Pluralism in the Middle East: An Option or an Imperative?” can be seen at www.middle-east-minorities.com. The website of the CSI, which champions the rights of Christians around the world, is located at www.csi-usa.org.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He is the managing editor of the Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com.)
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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