Bkirki shows it dominates the opposition

Zeina Abu Rizk
Daily Star staff

The Maronite bishops’ latest political offensive has asserted that Bkirki remains the Christian opposition’s ultimate authority, putting to rest speculation it had surrendered some of its clout to laymen.
The Council of Maronite Bishops’ anti-Syrian statement on Wednesday came hard on the heels of criticism from some Christian quarters, in particular by former Army Commander Michel Aoun, that Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir had mollified his stands on national issues.
The statement, in which the Maronite clergy revived the question of the Syrian presence in Lebanon, warned the country would irreversibly lose its independence if Syrian troops stay.
The statement achieved two goals. Primarily, it reasserted that Bkirki had not stepped back from the position it first announced a year ago, despite what was viewed as a more tempered position by the Maronite patriarch in recent months.
But it also raised the ceiling of the clergy’s opposition to the political establishment. Now all of the Christian opposition, including Aoun’s followers, are under Bkirki’s umbrella.
In a Paris news conference two weeks ago, Aoun criticized Bkirki and the Qornet Shehwan Gathering for their mild opposition to the political establishment, and said the ceiling of his own opposition had become the highest.
He virtually crowned himself the voice of the opposition over both Bkirki and the Qornet Shehwan alliance of MPs and politicians loyal to the patriarch.
If Aoun became the leader of the main Christian opposition, channels of dialogue between the Christian opposition and the state would have undoubtedly incurred a serious setback or  been permanently severed.
To avoid such a situation, the Maronite clergy found it necessary to reaffirm that Bkirki’s ceiling remains above that proclaimed by Aoun.
The clergy’s strong position also appeared to be influenced by developments expected within the Christian political camp.
They appeared to have their concerns over the reportedly imminent resurrection of the Lebanese Forces to be headed in a transitional phase by Fouad Malek, the group’s former chief of staff, and later by Elie Hobeika, a pro-Syrian former Cabinet member and ex-Baabda MP.
Sources close to Hobeika admitted that contacts between authorities and LF members have been under way, in a bid to reunite members in an “old-new” political group with a party line closer to the state’s policies.
According to these sources, contacts have been extended to senior LF members living abroad.
The sources said the idea was to set up a political body that would still represent the former LF leadership but would also constitute a starting point for a new political group.
Such a group would serve as an intermediary body between the old LF and the new.
Hobeika has denied being interested in leading the new LF, but political sources familiar with the issue said the former minister, who was ousted from the LF command in a 1985 coup, would probably take over the party’s leadership after Malek.
In addition to the LF issue, the suspicion that the October election would lead Karim Pakradouni, one of the Phanange Party’s deputy presidents, to the party’s leadership is perceived as a major source of discontent for Bkirki. Pakradouni is generally viewed in Christian circles as a yes-man for the authorities.