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Cisão entre cristãos aumenta a possibilidade de uma nova guerra civil no Líbano. Fonte: The New York Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Oct. 5 — With the Islamist group Hezbollah having brought Lebanese politics to a standstill, the country’s once-dominant Christian community feels under siege and has begun re-establishing militias, training in the hills and stockpiling weapons.

Many Lebanese say another civil war — like the 15-year one that started in 1975 — is imminent and that the most dangerous flash points are within the divided Christian community.

Christian youth are signing up for militant factions in the greatest numbers since the end of the civil war, spray painting nationalist symbols on walls and tattooing them on their skin, and proclaiming their willingness to fight in a new civil war — in particular, against fellow Christians.

“When the war begins, I’ll be the first one in it,” said Fadil Abbas, 30, flexing his biceps in Shadow Tattoo as an artist etched a cross onto his shoulder. “I want everyone to know I am a Christian and I am ready to fight.”

The struggle is over who gets to be the next president, a post reserved for a Christian under Lebanon’s Constitution, and which must be filled by the end of November. But the larger question — one that is prompting rival Christian factions to threaten war — is whether Lebanese Christians must accept their minority status and get along with the Muslim majority (the choice of the popular Gen. Michel Aoun) or whether Christians should insist on special privileges no matter what their share of the population (the position of veteran civil war factions like the Phalange and the Lebanese Forces).

The government dedicated an extraordinary cabinet session in September to reports that Christian factions had opened militia training camps in the mountains. The police have arrested two groups of Christians allegedly linked to General Aoun’s party — the most recent on Thursday — and accused them of illegal weapons training. One group said that they were on a picnic and the other that they were “playing.” General Aoun said his followers keep only “personal weapons,” like most Lebanese.

Mr. Abbas, the man in the tattoo parlor, used to work as a luxury hotel receptionist. In the last six months, in anticipation of a coming struggle, he has moved his family out of Beirut to the mountains, and has joined the militant wing of the Lebanese Forces, a pro-government party.

Government leaders say they worry that within days of a renewed conflict, heavy weapons could flow to rival Christian factions from Israel, France, Syria, or even the United States.

“There are trainings. That’s a huge mistake,” Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who leads the pro-Western governing coalition, said. Militarization has not spiraled out of control, he said, but open, armed conflict could set off an unstoppable chain reaction.

The bold talk and the throngs of youths converging on recruitment offices throughout Beirut and in Christian towns in the mountains, stand in marked contrast to Hezbollah and the Sunni parties, which have urged restraint on their own militias.

In the Christian suburbs of Beirut, activists from the Phalange and the Lebanese Forces have opened recruitment offices, organized marches to protest the killings of Christian politicians, and are preparing for a hotly contested campaign in university student council elections this month, which are taken seriously as a proxy for popular support.

On the other side of the Christian divide, followers of General Aoun and Suleiman Franjieh — two Christian groups allied with Hezbollah and considered pro-Syrian — have stepped up their “youth summer camp” programs, a combination of hiking and political indoctrination. They have joined Hezbollah’s marches and occupation of downtown Beirut, and, according to the government, have engaged in militia training in Hezbollah camps.

Since the country’s last census in 1932, when Christians accounted for about 55 percent of the population, their numbers have shrunk to an estimated 30 percent. The president and the leader of the armed forces must always be a Christian, but since the Christian community is so bitterly divided, Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders often end up choosing the candidates for them.

The government has avoided a new census because of the repercussions: power is delicately divided among Lebanon’s officially recognized 18 sects.

Traditional Christian leaders — notably Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, Lebanon’s chief Maronite cleric — are trying to broker a compromise. The patriarch has welcomed leaders to Bkirke, his compound overlooking the sea north of Beirut. But his pronouncements about what kind of leader should assume the presidency have been all but ignored.

Vociferous Christians who oppose the government, like Antoine Franjieh — youth leader for the pro-Syrian opposition faction Marada — say that only an alliance with the dominant Shiite Muslims can protect the Christian community. Mr. Franjieh, 26, (a distant relative of his party’s top leader) lives in the mountains of north Lebanon, in the Christian stronghold of Zgharta. Like many Christian movements, his party builds support around a bizarre iconography, reminiscent of early-20th-century European fascism; his party has adopted the symbol for “pi” to express constancy, and another group has chosen the Greek letter “omega,” for resistance.

Recruiters like Mr. Franjieh spout tales of “martyrdom” at the hands of other Christians from the civil war and slogans like Mr. Franjieh’s favorite, repeated without apparent irony: “My country, right or wrong.”

The Christians allied with Hezbollah have had to overcome their own deeply entrenched prejudice against Muslims, Mr. Franjieh said: “We were always taught that we were superior to the Muslims. Now we must realize they are our brothers, and we must help each other.”

As he drives toward the party headquarters in Zgharta, he waves his hands at the abandoned houses in a village on the ridge: “On paper, according to the census, a thousand Christians live here. But you will find no one here. All of them have left.”

FONTE: The New York Times (


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