Egypt (AsiaNews) – A two-day international Islamic-Christian conference was held in Cairo (16-17 January) on the initiative of Ahmad el-Tayyeb, the great Imam of the great Sunni institution of al-Azhar, on the topic of Arab identity of the Holy City (al-Quds, Jerusalem) and its message in the presence of Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros III. A final declaration will be issued.
An important number of prominent lay and religious figures from Lebanon took part in the conference. They include former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who chaired a session. Maronite patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Al-Rahi, and Tarek Mitri, a former Minister of Culture, poke at the meeting.
Other important Lebanese leaders present were former President Amin Gemayel, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, the Mufti of the Republic Abdel-Latif Derian, the Metropolitan of Beirut Elias Audi, Maronite Archbishop of Beirut Boulos Matar, a representative of Catholicos Aram I, as well as former MP Fares Souaid, and the Secretary General of the National Committee for Christian-Muslim Dialogue Mohammad Sammak.
At the opening of the conference in Al-Azhar, Fouad Siniora warned against drifting towards terrorism, whilst the Maronite patriarch, Card al-Rahi, pleaded the cause of “spiritual solidarity” and a well thought out lobbying strategy.
“What to do after the recognition of Jerusalem by the United States as the capital of Israel?” could be the title of Fouad Siniora’s address, as well as that of all the others, since it is on this issue that Arabs are questioning today themselves, caught between complicit passivity and noisy but ineffective speeches.
It must be stressed, moreover, that the conference on Jerusalem in Cairo is held in parallel, not to say in competition, with the 13th session of the Conference of the Parliamentary Union of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, which opened yesterday in Tehran, and which also made Jerusalem the “cause of causes” of the Muslim world, a coincidence that highlights the Sunni-Shia cleavage that is tearing apart the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Siniora: Do not capitulate
What to do, indeed? “Do not surrender, do not give in to despair or discouragement, refuse to see the will of the Islamic Ummah broken,” said the former prime minister. At the same time, “refuse to resort to negative actions, to take the path of intolerance and slide into deadly violence that would lead to terrorism.”
Between these two extremes, Siniora called for realism. “It is not true that words will just remain words,” he said, thus encouraging Arab regimes to “learn from their past wars and negotiations,” and to set their eyes on “the tireless struggle “of the Palestinian people.
“We have strengths that we must not neglect,” Siniora added. “Let us not use as an excuse their insufficiency or immediate inefficacy, to give it up. Let us focus on one goal: building a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Let us hold fast to our Muslim, Arab and Christian faith, and to the national rights of the Palestinian people (…) Let us support the resolutions of international legality (…) and coordinate our actions for greater efficacy” on behalf of Jerusalem’s “pluralistic identity” and “religious freedom”.
“Christians and Muslims, let us consolidate the identity and message of al-Quds, the capital of the Palestinian state, by highlighting the importance and the sublime character of our long past and present experience of living together as a model of life,” Siniora noted in his final plea.
The two-state solution
For his part, Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi described the history of the Zionist movement and the creation of the State of Israel, then reviewed the Vatican’s position on Jerusalem. The head of the Maronite Church noted that the Holy See, through the voice of Pope Francis, has most recently (8 January 2018) defended the right of Palestinians to have their own state, by advocating the so-called two-state solution.
The Holy See, he explained, has made it a rule never to intervene in the territorial disputes between states, but it does not recognise Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, upholding the United Nations Security Council resolution of 20 August 1980 condemning Israel’s proclamation of Jerusalem as its “one and indivisible” capital.
Prayer and interfaith solidarity
What to do? To this initial question the Patriarch answered by pleading for joint prayers, Islamic-Christian interfaith solidarity throughout the Arab world, support for the Palestinian demographic presence through the creation of families, attachment to property and land estates and the freezing of any exodus or migratory movement, the strengthening of the sense of belonging and education to love the Holy City in homes, schools and places of worship, intelligent use of media, and finally persistent and long-term lobbying.
For his part, Tarek Mitri mentioned a subject he knows very well, since he devoted a book – Au nom de la Bible, au nom de l’Amérique (In the name of the Bible, in the name of America), namely Christian Zionists. It is under their influence, he said, since they represent nearly a quarter of his electorate, that President Trump made his decision to transfer the US Embassy to the Holy City. These evangelical movements support the political project of the Jewish state in the name of a millenarian vision of history, on the belief that they are hastening the second coming of Christ.