Holy Land Christian leader says Arab leaders now fear their people

Latin Patriarchal Vicar General in Jordan, Archcishop Maroun Lahham stressed that the Christian-Muslim dialogue in the region is as old as the faiths and should never stop. Lahham was speaking while paying a visit to the UAE mission in Amman where UAE Ambassador to Jordan Dr. Abdullah Nasser Sultan Al Ameri received the bishop on Oct. 18, 2012. Photo: uaeinteract

A senior Catholic prelate in the Holy Land has said people in the West need to come to terms with the presence of Muslim or Islamists regimes in Arab countries being legitimate and legal.

The Latin Patriarchal Vicar General for Jordan, Archbishop Maroun Lahham, on Feb. 4 posted on the patriarchate's website a speech he gave two weeks earlier in Paris.

The speech was on the role of religion in the development of Arab societies. In his talk the Amman-based archbishop outlined some pointers for Western and Arab leaders.

"To the West: The Middle East and the Arab countries, in general, are no longer the same, and a turning back is unthinkable.

"The Arab street has exploded, and while the Arab people were always afraid of their leaders now it is the leaders who are afraid of their people. This change is of utmost importance, and I do not know if the West is able to measure the significance."

The 64-year-old Jordanian-born bishop said, "A first point to note is that Arab societies, Muslim or Christian, are societies with a strong religious matrix."

He stressed that Christian-Muslim dialogue in the region is as old as the faiths, and should never stop.

"The religious reference is natural and a part of the lives of individuals and societies. We must take this into account if we want to understand what is happening in the Arab world," he said.

This is a lesson both for the West and for Muslim parties, said Lahham, who was until May 2010 the Archbishop of Tunis as the Catholic leader in Tunisia where Christians make up only one percent of nearly 11 million people, who are overwhelmingly Muslims.

He noted that the role of religion in society, and in the political world, is a question as old as the world.

The archbishop did his initial studies in theology and philosophy at Beit Jala, a Christian town in the Palestinian territory.

He has a doctorate from Rome's Pontifical Lateran University and said in his speech that while a type balance between politics and religion might have been reached in Western Europe. it has not in the Arab world.

Still he observed, "We remember that the religious, in this case Muslim, was totally absent during the protests by young and old alike in the recent movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.

"These movements were of social, political and human persuasion. This is also due to the fact that religion in these countries was not subject to challenge, the Arabic religious is quiet, even though the degrees of membership and religious practice varies from one country to another."

He noted that Islam in Tunisian and Egypt are not the same.

Lahham said that in countries experiencing "the Arab Spring", political systems did not tolerate serious opposition parties. In Tunisia and Egypt, they had existed, but were a "facade."

"By contrast, Islamist parties well and truly did exist, except in Libya," said the archbishop. He noted that is why they did not win despite Libyans being 100 percent Muslims.

"These parties were oppressed, persecuted, jailed, but they were well organized and structured. The persecution only gave them more strength and willpower to resist and survive."

The Arab Spring movements were spontaneous, not having a political structure and lacking ideology and real charismatic leaders, said Lahham. Harsh political regimes that had lasted from 20 to 40 years were ousted.

"Islamic religious movements climbed [onto] the bandwagon. They came to power with free and democratic elections, and they began to have a leading role in changes in Arab societies.

Western counties can no longer deal with Arab despot leaders condoning human rights violations in order to stop the rise of Islamist parties.

"Arab countries are Muslim majority countries, and the West must change its course of action and deal with this new reality," said Lahham, not mentioning that Christians are a dwindling minority in many countries in the Middle East.

"For the Arab countries who choose to be governed by political Islam, they should know that political Islam is moderate or it has no chance of success. No country, Arab or otherwise, can live in a religious."

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