Lebanon's Maronite Christian community is worried that Syria's brutal president will be replaced by a worse regime: that of the radical Islamists.
Patriarch Beshara Butros Rai said in a statement last week that his community is deeply concerned the radical Muslim Brotherhood will slip into the vacuum if President Bashar al-Assad is toppled from power.
“We endured the rule of the Syrian regime. I have not forgotten that,” Rai said. “We do not stand by the regime, but we fear the transition that could follow.
“We must defend the Christian community. We too must resist,” he added, news agencies reported.
Rai was subsequently quoted by local media as saying he feared the fall of “regimes described as dictatorial.... [that] could lead to civil war, in which Christians would be the biggest victims.”
The Maronite Christian community is seen as being aligned with Syria and pro-Hizbullah, the terrorist organization that is slowly taking over Lebanon. Syrian forces ruled Lebanon from 1975 to 1990, following a civil war that tore the country apart.
Other Christians in Lebanon, allied with pro-Western former Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri have expressed their support for Syria's anti-government protesters, who are dying in the thousands but who continue to demonstrate against the Assad regime.
Rai also set off a firestorm of protest within Lebanon by contending that Hizbullah cannot be told to hand over its weapons -- as demanded in the 2006 United Nations ceasefire agreement that ended the Second Lebanon War -- until Israel vacates the disputed Sheba'a Farms area, Kfar Shouba hills and the northern half of the village of Ghajar, which straddles the border between Lebanon and Israel.
Fares Soueid, coordinator of the opposition March 14 parties' Secretariat General, (which includes Hariri's faction) condemned Rai's remarks.
“Patriarch Rai's statement comes in contradiction with the principles of the Maronite Church, which has since 1943 been supporting the project of state building. The Maronite Church is condemning the presence of non-legitimate weapons in the hands of any of the communities in Lebanon – Christian or Muslim,” Soueid said.
“The state, and not any other Lebanese party, is responsible for defending Lebanon. It is the state that takes charge of forcing Israel to leave Lebanese territory, and not any Lebanese party.”