The patriarch’s visit to Riyadh: Challenges and consequences

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

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Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai made a historic visit to Riyadh following an invitation by King Salman. The visit came amid the dangerous circumstances Lebanon is going through.

There have been dangerous developments that harm the essence of state institutions as Saad Hariri’s resignation has revealed political weakness in the country. Hariri and his party form the liberal, civil and modern movement within the Lebanese society while other parties compete over serving their interests and raise slogans of socialism or extremist radicalism.

Hariri and Samir Geagea are among those few politicians who defend civil values based on conviction, protect the republic’s bases and defend the state as the entity that guarantees others’ freedom.

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The patriarch’s visit comes amid Iran’s arrogant belief that Lebanon is now under its control and that Hezbollah, which has the lion’s share of politics, geography and weapons, is the country’s real governor regardless of other figures’ political influence.

There is noticeable tension between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. This may have economic, social and political repercussions. Despite Saudi Arabia’s serious initiatives and efforts to bring back Lebanon into the Arab fold – considering it’s a founding member of the Arab League – it’s not possible to comprehend its transformation into an arena for Iranian military and political operations.

Arab Christians have always had a real partnership with Muslims, and they’ve contributed to developing sciences, philosophy and language

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Tough settlements

Saudi Arabia has also accepted difficult settlements like the Syrian-Saudi initiative, which late King Abdullah made. This is in addition to Hariri’s settlement with the Free Patriotic Movement and which led to election of a president. However, when the state is weak and fragile, an alternative is automatically prepared.

The state’s alternative is usually gathering gangs or mafia networks or extremist radical parties. Lebanese politicians could not understand the Saudi desire of wanting Lebanon to return to Arab institutions for two reasons. The first one is the true affiliation to Iran’s axis; thus the faith that this “resistant” axis will win, as they claim, in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Betting on this axis is thus safer. The second reason is fears that the party with arms in Lebanon will target politicians who operate within the Arab project which Saudi Arabia represents. The price for having a different opinion will thus be expensive. This is how the state gets paralyzed – unless a man with a loud voice and esteemed status finalizes the debate and controversy.

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Saudi Arabia has protected the diversity of sects in Lebanon for over 50 years now. The patriarch’s visit is the first of its kind but there have been multiple diplomatic meetings between Bkirki and Riyadh through envoys and ministers which the king dispatched. What’s interesting this time is that the visit came upon a royal invitation.

There is a history of partnership and communication between Bkriki and Riyadh. Let’s recall the historic cooperation between Saudi Arabia and former Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir who played a huge role in protecting Lebanon from foreign interferences, whether the Syrian or Iranian ones, and who was a falcon of the Cedar Revolution and a symbol of the Lebanese civil state.

Injustice and tyranny

Patriarch Rai is expected to help the Lebanese people win against injustice and tyranny. His voice heard in the society and among politicians can contribute to serious discussions about Iranian interferences, the fate of Hezbollah’s arms, the duration of Hezbollah’s interferences in the Syrian war and its sponsorship of terrorism in Yemen and violation of countries’ sovereignty.

This is a difficult task for the patriarch especially that he has never engaged in a frank discussion with Hezbollah. However, if we take a deeper look into his recent statements, we’d sense some balance which work can be based on to address the difficult problems Lebanon is suffering from.

Arab Christians have always had a real partnership with Muslims, and they’ve contributed to developing sciences, philosophy, ideas and language. This was before talks of extremism and bloodshed emerged.

ALSO READ: Maronite Patriarch says Hariri will be back, supports reasons for resignation

In his book Christianity in the Arab World, Al-Hassan bin Talal writes: “When divisions happened between the churches of Constantinople and Rome, the churches in Sham and Iraq were under Islamic rule for almost four centuries. Only the Roman Orthodox and Catholic Christians in Egypt and Sham remained in support of Byzantium and they remained linked to it in politics and religion, just like they were before. However Copts and Jacobites and Nestorians in Iraq saw Byzantium as a source of oppression. Therefore, they saw in Islamic rule salvation from Byzantium’s injustice. They showed their willingness to cooperate with the Islamic rule from the start. Some say that Maronites were among the Christians who welcomed Islamic rule instead of Byzantium’s rule in Sham.”

There are major disputes between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon and they can be resolved among wise men through dialogue, discussion and practical measures to impose the state’s power. This facilitates cooperation. Without that, however, deteriorating relations may go as far as resulting in regret and sorrow.

As Al-Mutanabbi put it:
There is a long-standing friendship between us
Wish you gave it what it deserves
Abiding loyalty is a sacred trust
For those who honor a pledge
How often you try to find fault with me, yet to no avail
Your attempts are unbecoming
In the eyes of both God and the noble-hearted

This article is also available in Arabic.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.