By Maroun Elias *
Boston, June 17th, 2002
A number of Maronites and Lebanese Christians have purchased their airline tickets and packed their suitcases heading to Los Angeles to attend a meeting this week called for by the “International Maronite Foundation (IMF).” Featured at that forum will be “prestigious” Lebanese figures such as Jubran Tueni, the editor in chief of the daily al-Nahar, Dory Chamoun, chairman of the National Liberal Party, Bishops Yussef Bechara and Bechara al-Rahi, and others. Due to a “technical” matter, former President Amin Gemayel won’t attend. In sum, on its face, and in the absence of investigation, it looks like a powerful Lebanese meeting. Besides, the Maronite Patriarch is said to have sent an official message of support, and a number of émigré leaders are expected to attend as well.

Releases from the organizers issued lately labeled the meeting as the “fourth world Maronite Congress,” a statement which is significant after 17 years since the last world Congress in Montreal in 1985. Today more then ever, the worldwide Maronites, estimated at above 6 millions, are the centerpiece of local, regional, and international politics. If indeed, this is a “world congress” as the organizers says it is, it will be the first one of its kind since the Syrians invaded the Christian enclave of East Beirut in 1990. Hence, such a world Congress would be expected to voice the political opinion of the Maronite Diaspora on many crucial issues. To name a few: Syrian occupation, assassination of leaders, Aoun’s exile, Geagea’s jailing, LF and Kataeb disintegration, Cooperation treaty with Syria, human rights abuses, Arabization, Syrianization, emigration, inflitration of the Diaspora, the Church, etc..

All of that constitute a heavy agenda that the “freer Maronites,” those who live in the Diaspora, have to tackle. If the Los Angeles meeting is indeed declared a “World Congress” this would mean that whatever the latter would issue as resolutions and appoint as committees would be the responses to the crisis mentioned above.

Here are the bad news.
First, on the formal level: Coup d’Etat in the Diaspora
The International Maronite Foundation (IMF) –a group formed in 1994- has no mandate whatsoever to call for, organize and set the policies of a “World Congress.” It has not been mandated by any Maronite assembly, or by the previous “World Congresses.” They were three Congresses. The first was in Mexico in 1979, the second in New York in 1980, and the third in Montreal in 1985. These international and legitimate assemblies formed the World Maronite Union (WMU) and granted it its legitimacy in 1980. The WMU held conferences, seminars, campaigned for the Christians of Lebanon, established ties with the main Mideast Christian organizations around the world, formed chapters, had two Presidents, and initiated several moves with the United Nations and world Governments for the sake of a free Lebanon. Most importantly it confronted the Syrian occupation of Lebanon on the international arena and kept the defense of the Maronite-Aramaic-Syriac identity alive in front of the Arabists. The records of the WMU are clear as the sun.

The IMF, created in 1994, didn’t consult with the WMU on any of these steps and decided on its own to call for a world Congress. Worse, the piracy went beyond conventions. The IMF issued a statement in the Lebanese press claiming that the upcoming Los Angeles meeting is the “Fourth World Congress.” Its release said, “the first Congress was in Mexico in 1979, the second was in New York in 1980, and the third one was in Los Angeles in 1994.”! In other words, the IMF has unilaterally cancelled the “Third World Maronite Congress” of Montreal, and dissolved the World Maronite Union. It has, on its own self identified its meeting back in 1994 as a “third World Congress” and therefore legitimized its upcoming one as the “Fourth World Congress.” Brilliant! The question now is why did the IMF act in a coup d’Etat? The answer is simple. By deleting the “Third World Congress” of Montreal in 1985 and self describing the 1994 IMF meeting of Los Angeles as the “Third Congress,” the IMF (and its allies in Beirut) would have destroyed the legitimacy of the Montreal Congress, the last of the world gatherings. And hence take over the international leadership of the Maronite Diaspora, or so they think. Their plan is to declare themselves as the “representatives” of the community worldwide, so that they can voice the claims of the 6 millions in dozens of countries. That way, the IMF, and whomever has the remote control of the operation in Beirut (or Anjar) will “use” the community in the sense they wish.

2) On the substance: Perversion of the Maronite Voice
The next question is this: Why is there a coup d’Etat? Why is there an insistence in forcing a “World Congress” on the Diaspora Maronites today? The answer is complex but make sense. It’s the mirror image of the Syrian takeover of Lebanon and its Christian community. In the early 1990s, the Syrians moved in on the military, security and political levels. They destroyed the East Beirut enclave, the Aoun Government, the Lebanese Forces and the heritage of the Lebanese Front. They divided the Christians main political Parties -Phalanges and Lebanese Forces - and crushed the smaller ones. They isolated some, and infiltrated others. In this decade, their objective is to conquer the Diaspora, and enjoy its immense resources, particularly in a post September 11 era.

By eliminating the Third World Congress in Montreal in 1985, they not only de-legitimize its institution (the World Maronite Union) but also and principally bury its resolutions. The latter explicitly endorsed “the resistance against the Syrian occupation.” That Congress affirmed the “national ethnic character of the Maronites as Lebanese and not Arab and called for a multiethnic and pluralistic society, under a form of federation. All of which is the worse nightmare of Syria’s Baath and its regime in Lebanon. The Montreal Congress and its subsequent international seminars in Limassol (1988), Lauzanne (1989), Washington (1991, 1996) and Rome (2000) are the organic and doctrinal legitimacy of the Maronite Diaspora, within the historic legitimacy of the Lebanese Christian resistance and its world Congresses. The most important goal for Damascus and its cronies was simply to destroy that last “free legitimacy.” It’s like eliminating the last legitimate authority of the Maronite Diaspora, in the same way they eliminated Bashir Gemayel as a President, Aoun from Government, Geagea from the community, and intend to manipulate the election of the future Patriarch when timing will be ripe.

More indications are worrisome as to what this “pseudo world Congress” intends to do. Take for instance this statement from the IMF web site: “No person or nation, other than the Lebanese government, can truly represent the people of Lebanon.” In Lebanese politics, it reads as follows: The civil society of Lebanon, and its Diaspora cannot ask for the Syrian withdrawal, only the (pro-Syrian) regime can! So, let’s understand this. If the “Los Angeles meeting” is legitimized this week, you will have an international voice of the Maronites, which would say that “only President Lahoud, Prime Minister Hariri and Speaker Berri can ask Syria to withdraw.” You, in the Diaspora cannot, although you are free. But that freedom, you abandoned it in Los Angeles.

Why now?
So why then such a meeting has taken place. Who is behind it. Why did the Lebanese opposition attend? Good questions but hard to answer. A pessimistic mind would say “because the Lebanese Christians, and particularly their politicians do not have the sense of the big picture nor do they understand the designs of their foes. Hence it explains why Syria defeated them, divided them, crushed them, and still outmaneuvers them.” Another more realistic mind would say: “Because Syria is behind it, few Maronites have adopted it, some Lebanese Christians have been duped by it, and most Maronites and Lebanese Christians are awaiting for any sign of relief. They simply confused the Los Angeles meeting with what every one thought was the expected salvation plan. In sum, the good souls are heading there thinking that they are reaching the shores of deliverance, while in reality, they are been set up in the mother of all Syrian traps.

The regional dimension
The bad news is also regional. When you analyze the memo prepared by the organizing team, you will see the following. Instead of “Mideast Christians,” you will read “Arab Christians.” This is an old objective of the Baath, to “Arabize” our community in Lebanon and all Christian minorities. The new idea is that “Arab Christians, meaning the Lebanese Christians and the Maronites included, are to defend the Arab causes, not a Maronite-Lebanese Christian cause. The IMF gathering wants us to endorse what the “Arab lobby” in the US is doing. The Los Angeles “Congress” aims at killing the Maronite renaissance in America and in the Diaspora by forcing “Arabism” on its communities. In the last few years, the dynamic forces in the Maronite and Lebanese Christian communities in the US and around the world were moving forward to free themselves from the dominance of the “Arab lobby.” The IMF-sponsored meeting and those guests from Syrian-occupied Beirut wishes to reverse that liberation. Early signs were captured during the last few years. The Maronite League (under its new leadership) and the IMF have declared their support to Hizbollah –as a resistance-, to Lebanon’s “Arab identity”, in the same words and ways the dominant regime has formulated it. Hence, the danger is not just a takeover of a community in the Diaspora but the introduction of a Syrian Baathist doctrine into it.

The international dimension
Perhaps the most urgent matter in the eyes of Lebanese-Americans and of Lebanese Christians at large is the expected “use” of the Los Angeles meeting to weaken the campaign against Terrorism led by the United States. For at a time when the Maronite and Lebanese Christian organizations of America and the West in general have been at the forefront of mobilizing against Jihad Terror after September 11, the objectives of the “gathering” are to mollify this mobilization and to reverse it.

According to confidential sources, the team preparing for the meeting and those who are projected to follow up on it have been instructed to introduce the idea of “encouraging the Maronites and the Lebanese and Mideast Christians in the US to discourage any attempt to strike against Hizbollah and or other radical Jihad groups.” They were asked to talk about “the role of the Christians in the Arab world in a dialogue with the Jihad forces.” In other words, the Baathist and Saudi inspired policies wants to see the Maronites and the Christian Lebanese of the United States as an agent of demobilization against Hizbollah, Jihad Terrorism and the regime harboring them, i.e. Syria and Iran. As one expert put it, “in Los Angeles, you’re going to see Maronites speaking on the “beauty of the Maronite role in understanding between East and West,” instead of the “efficient role of the Lebanese American community in becoming the leaders in the Western awakening against authoritarianism in the Arab world, and against Syrian occupation and Terrorism.”

Some analysts have even added that so-called Christian opposition figures in Lebanon have been made to buy into this. They were told, or told themselves that if they “give” the Syrians (and other Arab regimes) some inroad in America, they will be rewarded with political dividends inside Lebanon. Sell the Maronite free voice worldwide, and get some ministerial, legislative seats in the old country. That’s the deal. Bring us the heads of the Maronites on a silver plate in Los Angeles, and you will be the happiest Dhimmis in Beirut.  

Will it succeed?
Will the “plan” succeed? Unlikely. It will shed more time and energies, opening a second front in the flank of the Maronite Diaspora. In a significant gesture, the United States State Department refused to send representatives to Los Angeles. Congress will go farther. The Los Angeles “Congress” has no chance in entering Capitol Hill from the doors. Coming to America, using a Maronite and Mideast Christian cover to legitimize Syria’s occupation of Lebanon at a time more then 115 members of the House are voting on a bill to get Syria out of that country is outrageous. Equating Hizbollah to “resistance”, Hamas to “freedom fighters” and trying to mollify the American people against Terrorism after September 11, is not just against the interest of the Lebanese-American community, but a slap in the face of the most powerful nation on earth. The only nation which actions can at some point free Lebanon, salvage its beleaguered Christians..

As I see those good Maronites packing their luggage heading to LA, I cannot but hope that some common sense would prevail, and once again, they would realize what can a few from within the house, do to the community.
Maroun Elias, Boston
Member, American Maronite Union