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Lebanon ’s Exodus

ICC Note

“It is the first time in the history of Lebanon that Christians feel so demoralized,”

By Rana Fil

Dec 11, 2007 Lebanon (NewsWeek)- Lebanon ‘s political stalemate was supposed to be resolved weeks ago. Instead it drags on, with Tuesday’s parliamentary session to elect a new head of state now postponed for the eighth time since September. And as the impasse continues, Lebanese Christians are becoming increasingly frustrated with what they see as an unprecedented threat to their political influence. “It is the first time in the history of Lebanon that Christians feel so demoralized,” said Elie Haddad, Greek Catholic Archbishop of Saida and Deir el-Kamar. “I have never seen such despondency, even during the civil war.”

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For many Christians these developments are fueling a new rush to leave the country. Church leaders say they are growing increasingly alarmed at the accelerating pace of emigration and what Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Mount Lebanon , Georges Khodr, calls “a visceral sense of their disappearance through emigration.” Haddad says that large numbers of Christians are selling out if they can afford to leave and that others are staying “with total resignation to the current situation.” Other clerics echo similar sentiments. “We see people rushing for visas, and emigration continues unabated,” said Msgr. Boulos Nasrallah, of the Maronite bishopric of Jbeil. “But we have faith that this is our country.”

Nobody knows exactly how many Christians have left because of the political sensitivity over the collection of statistics. Christians now make up less than 40 percent of Lebanon’s population—indeed, some estimates put it as low as 30 percent—and they fear that confirmation of their declining numbers will lead to Muslim demands for increased political representation. Christians aren’t the only ones who are leaving, but it’s their departure that could have the most profound effect on Lebanon ‘s sensitive political calculus. Riad Tabbarah, a political analyst and head of the Center for Development Studies and Projects, says that Lebanon’s economic woes mean that emigration is affecting all religious communities “almost equally,” but because Christians are a minority in the Arab world they are “particularly concerned about their emigration.”

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Rhetoric aside, there is little doubt that fears are being stoked—largely because Hizbullah is maintaining its refusal to disarm. That, in turn, is continuing to fuel Christian flight. “All my friends have left the country,” says Abeer Antonios, a 28-year-old saleswoman at a clothing store in Beirut . ” Lebanon will soon be an Islamic state.” Antonios says she too plans to leave if she can get a job offer from the outside. Others share her frustration. “Christians are being trampled because our leaders cannot agree with each other,” says Annie Astounian, 50. “No one is working for the interest of the country.” Still, for many Christians, remaining in Lebanon is a matter of faith. Joseph Chaccour, 36, says that his religious beliefs prevent him from emigrating. “No one will remove the Christians from Lebanon ,” he says. “Jesus and the Virgin Mary want us to stay.”

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