Harb’s Proposed Ban

7 Jan
Lebanon Jul -06

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Lebanon‘s Labor Minister Boutros Harb last week proposed a fifteen year ban of property sales between Muslims and Christians.  The draft law follows growing concerns about the dwindling number of Christians in the Middle, and apparently aims to offer protection for Lebanon’s Christian community.  Harb, a Christian, told news website Naharnet that “there are suspicious sales of Christian lands as if there is a tendency to uproot Christians from their areas.”

Nevertheless his proposal does not outlaw the sale of land by Christians to wealthy Muslims from Saudi Arabia and other Arabian Peninsula countries who have invested heavily in the Lebanese real estate sector.

Critics have thus far responded with claims that the proposed law is discriminatory and unconstitutional, as well as being economically impractical.  Some have called the proposal fear-mongering.  Kamel Wazne, head of the Center of American Strategic Studies, called the draft law “a direct violation of the constitution and the coexistence that is part of the constitution.”  However, others have welcomed the proposal, especially given the Saturday’s attack on Egypt’s Coptics as they left midnight mass.

Harb’s proposal comes in the face of whispered fears about Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Shi’ite militant group, taking over Christian areas.  Such whispers have become more numerous since the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, though they have been discounted by Defense Minister Elias Murr (one of Hezbollah’s most outspoken rivals) in secret American diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.

There has been no consensus of the number of Lebanese Christians since the 1930s, though it is estimated that the Christian population, once a majority, now makes up about a third of the Lebanese population of four million.

Harb today explains his motives as “raising the alarm bells” against “an unhealthy situation … Lebanon symbolizes coexistence between the various religions and if one pillar of this coexistence crashes, the whole country falls.  I want to preserve Lebanon’s diversity.”

Hezbollah lawmaker Mohammad Fneish, who is also against the  proposed law, told Lebanon’s Daily Star on Sunday that he empathised with rising concerns over rising emigration but thought that Harb’s proposal would not address the root of the phenomenon.  “We should look for the reasons behind the emigration of Lebanese and particularly Christians and act accordingly.  Among these reasons is the lack of stability, destructive political ventures and economic recession.”

The proposal has also sparked fears because it recalls the religious strife that ruled Lebanon during the 1975-1990 Civil War.  One Christian Maronite church official recalled that in 1984 a Shiite religious leader issued an edict forbidding the sale of Muslim property to non-Muslims, due to fear of a sudden Shiite exodus.  The official, who asked to remain anonymous, said that “every time a community in Lebanon feels threatened it has this kind of reaction.”  In comments suggesting that the draft law is disproportionate, he said that he did not believe Christians were being systematically targeted.

However, Edmond Gharios, head of the municipality of Chiyah, a suburb of Beirut that is religiously mixed, said that the money being offered for property is the principal motivating factor in spurring Christians to depart from their homes.  “The civil war encouraged the Christians to emigrate in large numbers and money is now helping accelerate that process.”

Lebanon is currently in a state of political paralysis and the subject of much international speculation as it waits for the UN Special Tribunal to deliver a verdict on the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri.  With the tribunal sparking fears both international and domestic that war may follow if Hezbollah is implicated in the assassination, there is also renewed attention upon any tension, however minute, between Lebanon’s varying religious groups.

However, Michel Suleiman, Lebanon’s Christian president, has emphasised his desire for “harmony and brotherhood” both in Lebanon and in the wider Middle East.  In comments to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak following the New Year’s Eve Coptic bombing, Suleiman said that the bombing “is part of the terrorism policy, which rejects the other and aims to undermine the religious coexistence that characterises the Arab world.”  Sa’ad Hariri, Lebanese Prime Minister, also called for a “unified stance” following the attacks, saying that “any attack on Muslim-Christian coexistence [should be considered] an attack on Arab national security.”

Whatever the tension, speculation and fear-mongering, one thing seems clear.  Lebanon’s key figures do not want another war.

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One Response to “Harb’s Proposed Ban”

  1. Tarek January 9, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    The Arab ministers always surprise me with their weird way of thinking. What Harb calls “tendency to uproot Christians from their areas” should be treated by tackling the social reasons behind such issue instead of coming up with such kind of unconstitutional laws. However solving problems by brute force is the easiest yet least effective solution, and may be that’s why it’s always our – Arabs – favourite way of solving our problems.

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