Maronite Church

On The Maronite Patriarch And Presidential Elections

Paul Peter Meouchi

Maronite Patriarch Paul Peter Meouchi in a press conference (Image from the 1958 crisis)

On July 23, Patriarch Rai said something very surprising. I couldn’t find any English version of it, so I’m going to quote him in Arabic.

مرّةً أخرى نطالب، مع اللبنانيين المخلصين، رئيسَ المجلس النيابي ونوّابَ الأمّة الالتزامَ بالدستور الذي يوجبُ على المجلس أن ينتخب فوراً رئيساً للجمهورية، أي أن يلتئم يوميّاً لهذه الغاية ولا يكون إلّا هيئة انتخابية لا اشتراعية، بحكم المواد الدستورية 73 و74 و75 الواضحة وضوح الشمس. وكم يؤسفُنا أن يكون نصابُ الثلثَين، الذي لا يفرضه الدستور، بل توافق عليه اللبنانيون قد تحوّلَ عن غايته. لقد توافقوا على حضور ثلثَي أعضاء المجلس النيابي لانتخاب رئيسٍ للجمهورية بنصف عدد أعضاء المجلس زائد واحد، لكي تُعطى هالةٌ للرئيس المُنتخَب، وطمأنينةٌ للناخبين فأصبح نصابُ الثلثَين وسيلةً لتعطيل الانتخاب وحرمان الدولة من رأسها، من دون أن نعلم حتى متى، لكنّنا نعرفُ أن هذا يشلّ البلاد ويقوّضُ أوصالَها ويحطّم آمالَ الشعب ولا سيّما شبابه وأجياله الطالعة. ونتساءل أيُّ قيمة تبقى لنصاب الثلثَين؟ وهل النصابُ هو بعد في خدمة رئاسة الجمهورية، أم جعلها رهينةً له.

(Link)

What matters most in this paragraph is the part where the Maronite Patriarch says that there is no constitutional basis for the two thirds quorum required to elect the president.

Article 49 of the Lebanese Constitution says that “The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a twothirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient. The President’s term is six years. He may not be re-elected until six years after the expiration of his last mandate. No one may be elected to the Presidency of the Republic unless he fulfills the conditions of eligibility for the Chamber of Deputies.”

There was always a huge debate whether there is actually a quorum regarding the presidential elections in Lebanon, since the Constitution stipulates that a first two-thirds majority is needed to elect a president on the first round, but doesn’t specify if the presence of 2/3 of the MPs is necessary to proceed with election of the president.

So what’s so important about Rai’s opinion on the presidential quorum?

1. It contradicts what his predecessor Sfeir said 7 years ago

August 29, 2007

“There are those who talk of boycotting presidential elections, this is unfair and disastrous for the country,” Sfeir said from Diman on Tuesday. “Elections must proceed in accordance with the Constitution, with two thirds of MPs in the first session, and after that maybe with half-plus-one of MPs,” Sfeir added.

He said if from the first electoral session a simple majority is adopted to elect a president the other side could claim this to be a violation of the Constitution which would prompt them to respond similarly.

“Thus we would get two presidents, two governments, two Lebanons and so on, which would be ruinous for the country as a whole,” Sfeir said.

Sfeir said that in Lebanon a constitutional amendment occurs at every juncture, a harmful process, adding that only the national interest should warrant an amendment.

(Link)

2. It can be bad for Christians

Political sources said Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s recent speech in which he said that the Constitution did not stipulate that a two-thirds quorum was required to elect a president was an attempt by the head of the Maronite Church to break the presidential deadlock. But the sources added that some legal experts had advised Rai to refrain from starting this debate, as electing a president with a quorum of absolute majority would allow Muslim MPs to impose their preferred candidate.

(Link)

The Maronite Patriarch, on July 23, supported an explanation of the Constitution that was contradictory to his predecessor’s interpretation, and that could in the future put Christian interests at risk (In case some of the MPs decide one day to elect a Muslim president it wouldn’t be possible anymore for the other MPs to block the elections even if they had more than 33% of the seats).

Let’s put things in context here. The coalition that is boycotting the presidential election sessions is the March 8 coalition which means that the Patriarch’s speech was mainly targeting Aoun’s camp. So  the patriarch was willing to give up what’s best for Christians and Bkirki’s long-term explanation of a controversial constitutional article in order to put the Free Patriotic Movement in  a weaker position. And the Patriarch’s implicit criticism of Aoun on July 23 was only the first move.

“Humanity is the only thing we share with you. Come let’s talk and reach an understanding on this basis … you rely on the language of arms, terrorism, violence and influence, but we rely on the language of dialogue, understanding and respect for others,” Rai addressed ISIS during a speech Wednesday at a dinner of the Episcopal Media Committee.

(Link)

It’s no secret that the biggest winner with the Islamic State’s rise in Iraq is the Free Patriotic Movement who is gaining from the propaganda more than anyone. The more the Christians will fear the concept of a Sunni Caliphate, the more Aoun would probably win seats in the next parliamentary elections. For a Patriarch who once equated terrorists with atheists, it’s a very weird idea to start talks with the Islamic State and it is probably a (failed) attempt to make the Christian electorate less frightened and thus less friendly to the FPM.

That was move number 2.

July 27, 2014

“March 14 doesn’t want a president aligned with March 8, and March 8 doesn’t want a president aligned with March 14, therefore there is a need to move toward a president who is outside both blocs,” Rai said during Mass in Diman, adding that “there are many Maronite figures who are worthy of the presidency.”

(Link)

To be clear here, “A president who is outside both blocs” ≠ “Michel Aoun”

As a reminder, Bkirki used to support the election of one of the Maronite Four. So in a way,  it’s a 180° change of policy.

That was move number 3. 

July 20, 2014

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai Sunday said he wished the term of former President Michel Sleiman was extended until a new president is elected and urged the international community to help the Christians of Iraq.

Addressing Sleiman during a mass to commemorate the anniversary of Mar Charbel, a revered Maronite saint, Rai said he wished the former president would have stayed in office until a new head of state was elected.

“But what to do, those who support void rejected the suggestion,” Rai said in a veiled reference to the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah. “They opted for shutting down the presidential palace after President Sleiman kept it open.”

(Link)

That was move number 4. (Actually it was the first move since it was on July 20, but you get the point)

So to sum things up, the Maronite Patriarch criticized the March 8 alliance 4 times in 1 week, using 4 different maneuvers, and even taking a more radical position than the anti-M8 Patriarch Sfeir.

If the Patriarch is truly siding with M14, it’s a big moral defeat for Aoun and Hezbollah. Let’s wait and see.

70 days since the 25th of May.

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The Maronite-Zionist Treaty Of 1946 (Text)

May 30th 1946

We, the undersigned:

1. His Beatitude Antoine Arida, the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, acting on behalf of the Church and the Maronite community, the largest community in the Lebanese Republic with citizens residing in other countries, represented by Cheikh Toufic Aoud, ex-minister by virtue of authorization addressed to the President of the Jewish Agency, Professor Weizmann on May 24th 1946,which hereinafter shall be in this treaty addressed as “first party”.

2. Dr. Bernard Joseph , acting on behalf of the Jewish Agency for Palestine which is known in International Law as the representative of Jewish people around the world aimed at creating the Jewish National Home in Palestine,which hereinafter shall be in this treaty addressed as “first party” [NOTE : This is clearly an error as the Jewish Agency for Palestine is afterwards addressed in this treaty as “second party”].

ART.1: The first party expressly and fully recognizes the historical link uniting the Jewish people to Palestine, the Jewish people’s aspirations in Palestine, and the Jewish people right to a free immigration and independence in Palestine. It also declares its approval on the Jewish agency’s declared current political program including the establishment of a Jewish state.

ART.2: The second party expressly and fully recognizes the independence of Lebanon and the right of its inhabitants to choose the regime they deem as appropriate. The second party also declares that its extending and widening program does not include Lebanon. On the contrary, it respects the state of Lebanon in its current form and borders. The Jewish immigration does not include Lebanon.

ART.3: The two parties commit themselves reciprocally to abstain from undermining their respective aspirations and status; the so-called commitment has a binding obligation restraining the representatives of both parties – officials and non officials – in the country, abroad, in international conferences whether occidental or oriental, from expressing any kind of support to decisions or actions that may harm the other party. Also do their utmost to avoid taking such decisions or undertaking such actions.

ART.4: The two parties commit themselves to provide mutual help at the following levels: political, commercial, security and social in order to promote the position of the first party and realize the aspirations of the second one. This engagement includes:

a) Raise the awareness of public opinion in the Orient and the Occident on the cause of each party, according to the spirit of the treaty hereby.

b) Concert their efforts to open the doors of each country with view to deepen cultural and social rights and promote commercial trades and the exchange of liaison officers to forge good neighboring relationships between one another.

c) The first party recognizes the right of every Jewish to immigrate to Palestine commits itself to help as much as possible in the realization of this immigration in the event that it shall pass through Lebanon.

d) The second party commits itself, after the creation of the Jewish state, to respect the sacred character of the holy sites in Palestine and commits itself as well after retaining the command of power to consider the treaty hereby as an integral part of the government program.

e) The two parties commit themselves to provide help, if requested, to one another in order to maintain security in their respective countries. This engagement has the binding obligation to take all necessary measures to block the entrance or exit of hostile elements capable of sowing public disorder and the obligation to refrain from providing any kind of help for such elements.

f) The two parties commit themselves to exchange information on all issues such as the politics of their countries, their economy, security, and relations with third parties.

g)At the industry, agriculture and scientific research levels, the two parties commit themselves to exchange information and advice in order to synchronize the Lebanese and Jewish efforts with a view to ensure the best development of their respective industries (including the tourism sector), agriculture and research on the basis of mutual cooperation.

h)After creating the Jewish state, the second party commits itself to reserve a friendly treatment to the representatives of the Maronite Patriarch, to facilitate the buying of a land and the construction of a Patriarchate worthy of the Maronite community.

i)The second party commits itself to require from its offices all over the world to support the cause of the first party and back its representatives in Washington, London, and Paris and in international conferences.

ART.5: In order to achieve the afore-mentioned obligations, and additional practical means of collaboration and mutual aid, the two parties will hold direct or indirect (through representatives) talks depending on the relevant advancement and circumstances. The first party has already chosen Cheikh Toufic Aouad to be its authorized representative till further notice.

ART.6: The treaty hereby takes effect upon signature. Each party has the right to terminate it within six months notice.

In witness whereof the two parties have signed this treaty.

Double original copy, Jerusalem, May 30th 1946.

On behalf of His Beatitude His Grace Antoine Pierre Arida, Toufic Aouad

On behalf of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, Bernard Joseph

Source: Central Zionist Archives 525/3269

Just to make things clear here, I’m not accusing anyone of anything. I had always heard and read rumors about such a treaty so when I found the text on the internet I thought of republishing it. Be it good or bad, Lebanese need to know their history and such a treaty should be as accessible to the Lebanese public as the 1983 agreement between Lebanon and Israel. Keep in mind the importance of the treaty’s timing, less than 3 years after the independence of Lebanon and 2 years before the 1948 Nakba.