Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Lebanese Christians…. an endangered species ???
“Our martyrs defended us, our martyrs kept our cause, our martyrs kept our freedom and our existance in this east.” Bachir el Gemayel
Lebanon 2030 : 10 % christians , 90 % muslims…..
Lebanon 2009 :
Of all Arab countries , Lebanon has the highest Christians percentage. Although the exact number of Christians in Lebanon is not exactly known due to the sensitivity of the subject (the latest population census was conducted in 1932 during the French mandate) , it is estimated that the Christians make around 40 % (± 5 %)of Lebanon’s 4 million population.
The existence of Christians in Lebanon dates back to the very early ages of Christianity . St. Paul preached in Lebanon (Acts 27:3 The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. Acts 21:7 We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day.) and Jesus Visited the Canaanite cities of Sidon and Tyre several times.
The Christians in Lebanon suffered the same persecutions the Christians suffered in the Roman empire. With the declaration of Christianity as the official religion of the empire on the 27th of February 380, the Christianity in Lebanon flourished .
Between the 6th and 8th centuries a new Christian group appeared in Lebanon : The Maronites. Originally from Antioch (Modern day turkey) the maronites escaped persecussions in the Byzantine empire due to their belief in the Council of Chalcedon in 451. They came from Antioch through the Valley of Orontes River to modern day Lebanon and sought refuge in his mountains. They elected their first Patriarch, John Maroun, in 687.
Under Arabic rule after the Muslim conquest of the region, the Maronites' relationship with the Byzantine Empire improved. The Byzantine emperor Constantine IV provided them with direct ecclesiastical, political and military support. But after the fall of Antioch in Muslim hands , the Maronite were cut off from the rest of the world , and this situation lasted for almost 400 years until the crusades.
With the arrival of the crusades, the Church in Rome had been unaware that the Maronites were still in existence. The crusaders and Maronites established ties and from this point provided each other with mutual assistance. This environment provided the Christians in Lebanon with some sense of peace and made the community to prosper and flourish. During the Crusades in the 12th century, Maronites assisted the Crusaders and affirmed their affiliation with the Holy See in 1182. Consequently, from this point onwards, the Maronites have upheld an unbroken ecclesiastical orthodoxy and unity with the Catholic Church. To commemorate their communion, in 1100 Maronite Patriarch Youseff Al Jirjisi received the crown and staff marking his patriarchal authority, from Pope Paschal II. In 1131 Maronite Patriarch Gregorious Al Halati received letters from Pope Innocent II in which the Papacy recognized the authority of the Patriarchate.
After the fall of the crusaders states in the region , the Christians in Lebanon suffered persecussions and discriminations , they resisted the Mamluks and kept their strongholds on Mount Lebanon.
At the same time a new muslim sect was to seek refuge in Mount Lebanon , it was the druze sect who like the maronites came to Lebanon to escape persecussion in the muslim world. They settled primarly in Wadi el Taym in South Lebanon and then moved on to mount Lebanon mainly the chouf area.
With the fall of the mamluk empire in the Ottoman hands in 1527 , Lebanon became under Ottoman rule. Ottoman rulers handed the power to the Druze “muslim” emirs which are naturally closer than the Maronite Christians of Lebanon.
Under the emirs rule , christians were generally tolerated , they were mainly the farmers and the handpower while the druze held the lands and the military power. The Ma'an family so tolerant to Christians . The shehabs family succeded the ma’an emirate in 1697. The rulers' (called Emirs or Princes) of the Chehab family eventually converted to Christianity at the end of the 18th century and became Maronites. Their conversion was soon followed by that of most of their family. After the defeat of the shehab’s to the Ottomans in the 1840, chaos emerged in mount Lebanon , encouraged by the ottomans a civil war broke up in the 1840 between maronites and druzes , a new rule (Ka’emmakamia) 1842 - 1860 divided mount Lebanon into 2 regions : northern one maronites and southern druze. In 1860 massacres were commited and supervised in Mount Lebanon against the maronites under Turkey’s supervision , this drove the European powers (Mainly France ) to interfere , a new rule was established (Al moutassarifiyah) 1860 – 1920 it granted Mount Lebanon an autonomy within the Ottoman empire.
After the fall of Turkey in the WWI Lebanon came under allies occupation . It was France that was granted the mandate over Lebanon. Christians at this time were gaining in power.
On the 22th of November 1943 Lebanon was declared an independent state , with a Christian Maronite as the first Lebanese President. All the powers were in the hands of the president who was to be always Christian. As well as the head of Army and the central bank governor. Christians were also granted 54 seats in the parliament versus 45 seats for Muslims.
This Christian dominant rule lasted till the 1975 when a 15 years civil war broke up.
Muslims along with Palestinians fought Christians in a fierce struggle to power. The Christian forces were mainly the Kataeb (Lebanese phalanges ), a Lebanese political and lately military guerilla founded by Pierre el Gemayel in 1936. The Christians wanted to protect the Lebanese state in all it’s aspects while the muslims wanted Lebanon as a military base for Palestinians operations against Israel. In 1979 Bachir el Gemayel founded the Lebanese Forces a military organization and the military arm of the Kataeb Party , it included all the Lebanese Christians right groups and parties and it was known as the Lebanese resistance. The Lebanese Forces fought battles in all parts of Lebanon and it defeated the Syrians , Palestinians and their allies in many battles (100 days siege of Achrafieh , the battle of Zahle , the removal of many Palestinian camps , mountain war 1985…). With more than 15 000 martyrs it was the unique force that stood against the enemy and defended the Christian existence in this country and region as a hole.
After the end of the civil war 1990 , and with the American backed Syrian invasion to Lebanon , Christians came under pressure , their leaders came under arrests or were expelled and in a country weakened by war and an economy devastated Christians had no other way than immigration to seek a better new life. During 15 years of Syrian rule , Christians were marginalized , their parties banned (the Lebanese forces were illegally banned from 1994 till 2005) which caused the Christian community in Lebanon to shrink to around 40 % of the population.
After the cedar’s revolution and the retreat of Syrians , Christians in Lebanon started reorganizing their institutions and their political parties . Nowadays Christians are mainly divided between two political groups March 14 : Lebanese Forces , Kataeb ,… (Anti Syrian coalition) and March 8 : Free patriotic movement (Pro Syrian and Iranian backed). This division weakens the Christians but it’s an inevitable division due to the tendency of some Christian politicians to make alliances with pro Syrian and “anti-lebanese” groups to reach to power. They didn’t even hesitate to attack the head of the Christian Maronite church in Lebanon Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir several times and on daily basis.
Nowadays as said before the Christians make around 40% of Lebanese population and their percentage is projected to decrease , if countermeasures weren’t installed and if awareness wasn’t raised in Christian society.
The decrease is mainly due to immigration as well as lower birth rates in Christian families not to forget their diminished political role and influence after the 1990 Taif Agreements that ended the civil war.
The Christians are the main responsible of this critical situation , we can’t ask from the muslims to have less children or to leave Lebanon but we can as Christians have slightly larger families , we can as Christians stay in our land , the land of our ancestors , the land that our martyrs nourished with their sacred blood, we can as Christians stop selling our lands to have extra dollars and afford a vacation in Paris, we can as Christians support our church and stand side by side with our church to provide our society with better life conditions , we can as Christians raise funds to build churches , prevent the sales of our lands and provide support for the weaker and poor families, we can as Christians put our personal political interests aside and work for the better of our people and work for the principles and beliefs our martyrs died to defend… WE CAN YES WE CAN.