Toni Nissi, 45, is a jovial character with a broad smile and easy manners, but his friendly disposition becomes intense when the subject of his native Lebanon arises. He is particularly upset with the current U.S. administration, charging that “the Obama administration is selling Lebanon again to Syria.” As Secretary General of the National Council of the Cedar Revolution (NCCR), Nissi, who is in the States and recently met with high level officials at the Pentagon, is angry with those there who maintain that Lebanon has a democratically elected government and that, therefore, the Lebanese army is the legitimate recipient of arms from the U.S. “They simply don’t understand that Hezbollah is controlling the Lebanese army,” Nissi charged.
To Nissi, the 2005 “March 14 Alliance,” which sought freedom from Syrian occupation and democracy, is now a fiction. Everything revolved around the Saudis whose money controls Lebanon. The rivalry between the late King Fahd and the Crown Prince and now King Abdullah colored Lebanese affairs as much as Syria did. Rafik Hariri was Fahd’s man in Lebanon while Prince Waleed bin Talal, (whose mother, Princess Muna al-Sulh, was the daughter of independent Lebanon ’s first prime minister, Riyadh al-Sulh), was Abdullah’s choice. The Saudis funded the Sunnis in Lebanon while the Iranians funded the Shiites and Hezbollah. As Prime Minister, the Sunni-Muslim Hariri followed Syrian orders. In September 2004 however, when the U.N. passed Resolution 1559, Syria was compelled to withdraw its troops from Lebanon . Hariri and the Saudis supported it, which might have been what triggered his “removal” by the Syrian regime. With the illness and subsequent death of King Fahd (in August 2005), Abdullah effectively became the ruler of Saudi Arabia. Abdullah, according to Nissi, preferred to see his nephew Waleed bin Talal serve in Lebanon, rendering Hariri expendable.
The assassination of Rafik Hariri in Beirut on February 14, 2005, energized the Lebanese patriots to form the March 14 Alliance, made up primarily of Sunni Muslims, Armenian Christian groups and various other Christian and secular groups. Nissi maintains that the seeds for the March 14 Alliance were planted as early as September 2000, led by a Maronite-Christian bishop at “Cornet Shiewan,” and that only after passage of U.N. Resolution 1559, did the Sunni-Muslims and Druze join the anti-Syrian “Cedar Alliance.”
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, made a speech on March 8, 2005, before a gathering of about 400,000, mostly Shiite-Muslim, Palestinians from refugee camps, and thousands of Syrian workers in Lebanon . Nasrallah thanked Syria “for helping Lebanon for 30 years…” As a result, Sunni Mullahs and Druze along with Christians of all denominations called for the March 14, 2005 counter-demonstration that brought out the anti-Hezbollah democratic forces – over a million Lebanese – Christians and Muslims.
The aftermath of the Civil War in Lebanon had weakened the Christian grip on power in Lebanon, it was impacted by the changing demography in the country. At its birth in 1943, the Christians in Lebanon were a clear majority. As a result of the Civil War that began in 1975 and lasted until 1989, the Christians in particular suffered significant dislocation.
Many Lebanese Christians left for the West and failed to register as Lebanese nationals, while the Shiite and Sunni Muslim Lebanese, who departed for the Arab world and Africa , registered and are still considered citizens. According to Nissi, 80% of the Lebanese Diaspora is composed of Christians. Bishara Hanna, a noted Lebanese demographer, claimed in a 2009 study that 48.9% of the Lebanese population was Christian and 51.1% was Muslim.
Addressing the results of civil war, Nissi recalled the history of the Taif (Saudi Arabia) Agreement, which officially ended the civil war. “Taif called for disbanding of all the militas with the exception of the hezbollah. The excuse was that the latter must stay armed as a counter-weight to the South Lebanese Army that was cooperating with Israel.”
Tony Nissi is in the U.S. to gather support from the Lebanese-Christian diaspora and to strengthen the connection of Lebanese-Christians with their homeland. He hopes to accomplish the following goals:
1. To rehabilitate the identity of the Aramaic speaking Christians. Nissi claims that the Arab-Muslims are deliberately destroying the Aramaic identity. Nissi has created two Aramaic culture and language NGO’S.
2. On a political level Nissi seeks to bring the Christian community’s 15 organizations in Lebanon under the National Council of the Cedar Revolution (NCCR) umbrella.
3. On a church level Nissi hopes to reverse the phenomenon of Muslims – including Saudis – buying up Christian owned land. His Christian religious umbrella would purchase land and reserve it for Christians.
4. Nissi intends to create a Research and Development Center in Lebanon – a think tank that would provide Christians in Lebanon with a sense of identity and leadership and a connection with an American think-tank. To accomplish this goal, Nissi states: “I believe that such a think tank in Lebanon would be able to inform and educate Lebanese in the Diaspora and the Obama administration on realities in Lebanon which are currently misunderstood.”
Nissi concluded the conversation by saying, “I am working to create an independent, democratic, secular, and pluralistic Lebanon at peace with Israel and a close friend of the USA.”