This is an update from the Antiochian Orthodox Church of North America. May God protect the Metropolitans.
Bad news for the Orthodox Christian community residing in Lebanon. From The Daily Star:
BEIRUT: Following a surprise meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Beshara Rai Friday, rival Christian leaders called for adopting an electoral law that provides fair representation for all sects, in an apparent retreat from agreeing to the controversial Orthodox electoral proposal.
“It was agreed and stressed that it is necessary to adopt an electoral law that provides the best and fairest representation for all Lebanese sects,” said a brief statement issued after the meeting.
Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun; Amin Gemayel, the head of the Kataeb Party; and Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh attended the meeting at Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate.
Lebanese Forces sources told The Daily Star that the party’s leader Samir Geagea was not present at the meeting for “mere security reasons,” as the time and place of the meeting were leaked to media ahead of time.
The statement said the patriarch and the leaders, including Geagea, would continue talks over the matter.
The meeting comes days after representatives of the LF, Kataeb, Marada and FPM met at Bkirki and agreed to support the electoral draft law proposed by the Orthodox Gathering. It would enable every sect to elect its own MPs under a proportional representation system with the entirety of Lebanon as a single district. The draft law is opposed by the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party.
But in remarks published by a local newspaper Friday, Rai indicated that Bkirki was not fully behind the Orthodox Gathering proposal. “Bkirki does not support an Orthodox or Maronite [electoral] proposal; it supports only a Lebanese proposal,” Rai said.
Meanwhile, after four days of futile deliberations, a parliamentary subcommittee discussing electoral draft laws approved the minutes of its meetings and is set to resume talks Monday.
During a morning session, the subcommittee discussed draft laws that would modify the number of MPs, the final item on its agenda.
“The subcommittee finalized the discussion of the draft laws it received from joint parliamentary committees, including the number of MPs,” Western Bekaa MP Robert Ghanem said.
“The minutes will be officially read in the session that will be held Monday afternoon … we will then try to look for common points and agree on one electoral law,” added Ghanem, who is chairing the subcommittee’s meetings. The subcommittee discussed three draft electoral laws, including the Cabinet’s proposal, which would divide the country into 13 medium-sized districts under a proportional representation system. Also considered were a draft law presented by Aoun’s bloc, similar to the Orthodox proposal, and a third one presented by Christian parties from the March 14 coalition, which would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all system.
For the second session in a row, Baabda MP Alain Aoun from the FPM did not attend. Aoun suspended his participation in the subcommittee’s meetings Thursday after March 14 subcommittee members rejected his demand that the minutes of the meetings be approved straightaway, and that the subcommittee recommend that Parliament vote on the Orthodox proposal, which was supported by the majority of blocs during the meetings.
March 14 lawmakers argued that minutes would be approved once the number of MPs, which is the final item on the agenda, is discussed.
Speaking to a local radio station, Aoun said he wanted to review the proceedings of Friday’s meeting in order to decide whether to participate in Monday’s session, adding that his decision to boycott the meetings was backed by his bloc.
A source close to Speaker Nabih Berri told The Daily Star that Aoun had the right to boycott the subcommittee’s sessions, adding that his absence would not disrupt its work. The source said it was possible that Aoun rejoin the subcommittee’s meetings starting Monday.
But Future Movement MP Serge Torsarkissian, also a member of the subcommittee, lashed out at Aoun’s boycott, calling it an election-related charade to show that the FPM was the most supportive of Christians’ rights.
“It is clear that the absence of my colleague Alain Aoun was coordinated with other March 8 groups,” he said. “Unfortunately, this wasted time … confused Christians … and was a bit of folklore ahead of elections to try to prove to Christians that the Free Patriotic Movement and its allies are the only groups concerned about the rights of Christians.”
“No draft law can be passed without the consensus of all groups … we are all eager to preserve the rights of Christians,” Torsarkissian added.
For his part, Metn MP Sami Gemayel hoped that Berri would call for a parliamentary session soon to put the three draft laws to a vote. “Today, we finished our work as a subcommittee, and Speaker Nabih Berri should set a date for a general assembly session [to pass a draft electoral law],” Gemayel said.
Gemayel called for the electoral law to be developed transparently, not in secret dealings, which he said has been the case over the past 23 years.
“There is one thing we are not ready to let drop: our demand for proper representation … we are no longer willing to go to elections with this  law,” he said. “Let our allies and rivals put forward proposals that provide … fair representation, or else we stick to the Orthodox proposal.”
The winner-takes-all 1960 law, a version of which was used in the 2009 elections, is opposed by March 8 and March 14 groups alike.
The subcommittee, which is tackling the most controversial elements of a new electoral law, also discussed whether to increase the number of MPs.
According to a lawmaker who attended the meeting, March 14 MPs of the subcommittee along with Metn MP Hagop Pakradounian from Aoun’s bloc and PSP MP Akram Shehayeb supported increasing the number of lawmakers by six: one Sunni, one Shiite, one Druze, two Syriacs and Catholic.
Gemayel has proposed a draft law to increase the number of MPs by two, one Druze and one representing the Syriac sects, which currently do not have their own MP, but are part of the Christian “Minorities” seat.
Future Movement MP Nabil de Freij’s draft law would increase the number of MPs by four: one Syriac Catholic, one Syriac Orthodox, one Sunni and one Shiite.
Under the government’s draft electoral law, six MPs representing expatriates would be added to the current 128. Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan proposed that the number of MPs be reduced to 108, as agreed upon in the 1989 Taif Accord.
Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad said after the session that his party supported the Cabinet’s draft law.
Shortly after the session began, Adwan left the meeting and paid a visit to Berri, while the rest of the subcommittee members wandered in the corridors, saying they were taking a break for “Friday prayers.” Fatfat said jokingly that Adwan went to perform Friday prayers.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence, Adwan praised the speaker for supporting any draft electoral law Christian parties agree on.
“We praised Speaker Berri’s stance to support the Orthodox proposal which comes in line with his stance to support any draft electoral law that Christians agree on,” he said. “The speaker supports this draft law because he supports lifting injustice inflicted on Christians [as a result of the 1960 law],” Adwan added.
Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Politics/2013/Jan-12/201939-christian-rivals-scrap-orthodox-plan.ashx#ixzz2HuM9GDRW
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)
Thanks to Bill Samsonoff, who posts excellent articles regarding Orthodox Christianity with great regularity. I thank him for his efforts:
Rebels have threatened to storm two predominantly Christian towns in
central Syria, saying regime forces are using them to attack nearby
areas, an activist group said Saturday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that one
rebel group has issued an ultimatum to the towns of Mahrada and
Sqailbiyeh in the province of Hama.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said some Christians and
Alawis have also left Hama province in the past several days to escape
violence. He said some of them found shelter in the coastal city of Tartus.
A video released by rebels showed Rashid Abul-Fidaa, who identified
himself as the Hama commander of the Ansar Brigade, calls on residents
to “evict” regime forces or be attacked.
“Assad’s gangs in the cities are shelling our villages with mortars and
rockets destroying our homes, killing our children and displacing our
people,” said Abdul-Fidaa, who wore an Islamic headband and was
surrounded by gunmen. “You should perform your duty by evicting Assad’s
gangs,” he said. “Otherwise our warriors will storm the hideouts of the
He accused regime forces of taking positions in the two towns in order
to “incite sectarian strife” between Christians and the predominantly
Sunni opposition. Assad belongs to the Alawi minority sect, an off-shoot
of Shiite Islam.
Mahrada was the hometown of Ignatius Hazim, the former Patriarch of the
Damascus-based Eastern Orthodox Church who passed away on December 5 at
the age of 92.
Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population, say they
are particularly vulnerable to the violence sweeping the country of 22
million people. They are fearful that Syria will become another Iraq,
with Christians caught in the crossfire between rival Islamic groups.
The conflict started 21 months ago as an uprising against Assad, whose
family has ruled the country for four decades. It quickly morphed into a
civil war, with rebels taking up arms to fight back against a bloody
crackdown by the government. According to activists, more than 40,000
people have been killed since March 2011.
Clashes between troops and rebels in the central city of Homs, Syria’s
third largest, have already displaced tens of thousands of Christians,
most of whom either fled to the relatively safe coastal areas or to
The new Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna Yaziji, who replaced Hazim,
told reporters in the capital Damascus Saturday that the church is
“deeply-rooted in Syria.” He added that Christians in Syria are not part
of the conflict and will continue to coexist with people of the region
urging rival Syrian factions to negotiate a settlement through dialogue.
“We are staying here and this is our land,” he said.
Russia’s foreign minister, meanwhile, said that Damascus has
consolidated its chemical weapons into one or two locations to protect
them from a rebel onslaught.
US intelligence officials have said the regime may be readying chemical
weapons and could be desperate enough to use them, while also expressing
concerns they could fall into militant hands if the regime crumbles.
OIC censures anti-Syria rebels’ threats against Christians
The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has strongly condemned
threats made by foreign-sponsored militants against two Syrian Christian
towns, warning of a fresh wave of violence in the country.
“Such threats are contrary to the precepts of Islam which calls for
tolerance, brotherhood and peace,” the 57-member body said in a
statement on Sunday, AFP reported.
In a video message released on Saturday, Syrian armed groups threatened
to attack Mharda and Sqilbiya towns in the central province of Hama if
the residents do not expel government forces.
The OIC warned against the risks of “a slide into confessional conflict.”
Rashid Abul Fida, the head of the al-Ansar Brigade in Hama, made the threat.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. Many people,
including large numbers of security forces, have been killed in the
A recent UN report has revealed that militants from 29 countries have so
far infiltrated into Syria to fight against the Damascus government,
most of whom are extremist Salafists.
The Syrian government says certain Western states, especially the United
States, and their regional allies are fueling the unrest.
Oiketerion would like to acknowledge the loss of the dear Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius IV, who has reposed and now rests in the arms of our Lord and Savior. The Orthodox Church in America eulogizes the good patriarch here. May he rest well and know that he did a great service to God and His people.
It’s hard to believe, considering the bombardment of news stating the contrary, but weirder things have happened before. One can only pray that our brothers in Christ in Syria are indeed safe.
The Daily Star, one of Lebanon’s biggest papers, reports on this story here.