The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Hezbollah lashes out at Audi over Sunday sermon

- By Joseph Haboush

BEIRUT: Hezbollah and Shiite officials lambasted a senior church official for a Sunday sermon in which he said Lebanon was ruled by “a group with weapons.”

“This country is ruled by a person you all know and by a group that governs us with weapons,” Metropolit­an Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi said during a memorial Mass in honor of slain journalist Gebran Tueni.

The head of Beirut’s Greek Orthodox Church appeared to be referring to Free Patriotic Movement leader and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, and Hezbollah.

Concerning the individual who he said ran the country, Audi added, “We don’t know what he knows, but he controls us.”

Shortly after, Lebanon’s Jaafarite Shiite Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan criticized Audi, saying, “No one is allowed to increase” tensions in the country, “whether a bishop or a sheikh.”

“This person and that group liberated, resisted, protected, preserved and restored freedom, sovereignt­y and independen­ce to a country that was occupied,” Qabalan said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.

The head of Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance parliament­ary bloc also blasted the Greek Orthodox archbishop. MP Mohammad Raad criticized “the voice that comes out and says this country is ruled by one man, and governed by one group by its weapons.”

“These words are said by those who are trying to ignore the real causes of the crisis ... and trying to target the resistance in Lebanon. These words are not innocent at all,” Raad said at event at the Khomeini Cultural Center in Baalbeck.

Separately, Caretaker Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab, who is from the Greek Orthodox sect, called Sunday’s developmen­ts “unfortunat­e.” This increases “our conviction that there is no salvation for Lebanon except for a civil state,

so there will be separation of religion from the state,” he tweeted.

Lebanese Forces MP Imad Wakim leaped to Audi’s defense, saying the archbishop “speaks the truth ... no matter how difficult it is.” Wakim and the LF are staunch critics of Hezbollah. “We follow your [Audi’s] teachings,” he said.

Audi stirred controvers­y early on in the nationwide anti-government protests after he said a government vacuum was better than the current situation. “For those who call for opening the roads to go to work, were they working before [the protests]? ... And even if we had 20 vacant seats, a vacuum is better than what we are living today,” Audi told reporters before he met with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and other bishops on Oct. 23.

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