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from issue no. 06/07 - 2010

It is time for dialogue and Lebanon is the symbol of dialogue

Interview with Daoud Sayegh by Davide Malacaria and Lorenzo Biondi

Daoud Sayegh is a political adviser to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, especially for religious affairs. Not least for that reason he has a fruitful relationship with the Maronite Church, in particular with the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, his Beatitude Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir.

Daoud Sayegh [© Lorenzo Biondi]

Daoud Sayegh [© Lorenzo Biondi]

Is the party of Prime Minister Hariri which governs the country made up only of Sunnis?
DAOUD SAYEGH: The Movement for the Future was born with Rafiq Hariri, without ever taking the form of a traditional Lebanese political party. In it there are parliamentarians of many faiths, so that it reflects the original characteristics of our State of Lebanon. Here democracy has to come to terms with a multiplicity of denominations, with correctives to the mere law of ‘numbers’. In Lebanese coalition governments the ministers represent the parties, the religious groups and the regions of the country. It is a unique experience which can serve as a model to the world: to preserve it we need the help of neighboring countries and of our friends in Europe.
What is the relationship between the government, led by Muslims, and the Christian communities?
SAYEGH: The role of a major party is also to ensure the link between political leadership and religious communities. The Christian Churches in Lebanon have a moral leadership, but their activity also involves a social dimension. The Maronite Patriarchate played a central role in the process that led to the independence of the country. It’s normal for a head of government, even if Sunni, to seek constant contact with the Catholic religious authorities.
Last February Prime Minister Hariri met Pope Benedict XVI...
SAYEGH: John Paul II was a militant pope and equally concerned for our country as he was for Poland. He spoke of Lebanon as a ‘message’ to the world in terms of pluralism and democracy. Rafiq Hariri expressed the wish to meet the Holy Father once a year. His son Saad has been trying to restore that privileged relationship. In February, he spent about half an hour with Benedict XVI and then with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, discussing Lebanon and the region, the Palestinians, the role of the Holy See and the peace process. It was a very successful meeting.
How did the idea arise of making the Annunciation of Mary a public holiday?
SAYEGH: Our Lady is also respected by Muslims, even if for them she is only the mother of the prophet Jesus, and she is an important point of contact between Christians and Muslims. Saad Hariri proposed to the Council of Ministers that the feast be given a national dimension and all the ministers were in agreement.
What is the “message” of Lebanon to the Middle East and the world?
SAYEGH: Some people misunderstood the words of John Paul II, thinking that his phrase “Lebanon is more than a country: it is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for the East as well as for the West” was a battle cry against Israel. We sympathize with the Palestinians and we believe that Lebanon cannot sign a separate peace with Israel without a comprehensive solution for stability in the Middle East. But our country is called to be a meeting point between East and West, a democratic and multi-denominational State, founded on freedom of conscience. It was not a voluntary choice: it is the very nature of our country. It is time for dialogue and Lebanon is the symbol of dialogue.

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