After a panicky mass flight from his Christian village, Sami Abi Daher watched from across the valley as Syrian-backed Druze fighters burned and looted it. That was back in 1983 when battles forced tens of thousands of Christians from their homes in the Aley and Shouf hills near Beirut in a bloody postscript to Israel’s 1982 invasion. (Photo: Supporters of Christian Lebanese Forces commemorate the Lebanese Resistance Martyrs in Jouniyeh, north of Beirut, September 25, 2010./ Mohamed Azakir)
Abi Daher, a former Christian militiaman, has never returned to live in his village, Rishmaya, instead working and bringing up his three children in a Christian district of Beirut.
Twenty years after the 1975-90 civil war, Christians formally enjoy a reduced but still disproportionate weight in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system. While under no specific threat, as a community they are weak and divided.
“There isn’t anywhere else in the Middle East that has a Christian president,” says Abi Daher. “Just as well. If the Muslims had ruled, imagine what would have become of us.”
Yet he denies that Muslims pose any peril for Christians, who number perhaps a third of Lebanon’s five million people, but are guaranteed half the seats in parliament, as well as the posts of president and army commander. “There’s no problem between us and the Sunnis and Shi’ites… The problem is with the politicians of course.”