Luke Foley.. Lebanon visit

 By Sandra Kaltoum -
If you have recently run into Luke Foley, Leader of the NSW Opposition, chances are he has pulled out his iPhone and shown you photos of his recent trip to Lebanon. If you have been lucky enough to witness his excitement at recalling the sacred and beautiful sites he visited in a country so many of us have a cultural affinity to, while smiling encouragingly as he struggles with the names of villages like Zgharta, then you would have also witnessed his strong admiration for the country and its people, both those in Lebanon and those in Australia.

I recently met with Mr. Foley to discuss his trip to Lebanon, to learn more about the things he saw and his perceptions of the country from political, cultural and religious standpoints. Mr. Foley spent six days in Lebanon, from 20-25 April this year. He recalls that the spring weather was beautiful. Crisp with a little snow still visible on the mountain tops in the north, “I’m sure it’s all melted now though” Mr. Foley says, almost proud that he caught the last sight of the contradicting weather that exists in such a small country.

Mr Foley draws comparisons between the village in NorthernIreland where his wife grew up, Augher, also affected by civil war, and Lebanon. He laments the devastating effects that political insecurity can have on a country and its people, but remarks that the Lebanese diaspora, particularly those in Australia, remain ever-vigilant and concerned about the welfare of Lebanon. He remarks that “there is a strong political movement even among the diaspora who keenly stay up to date with the political situation in Lebanon and join parties in Australia to show there support for political improvement overseas”. He contrasts this with his observations of the Irish diaspora who, through their devastation, have turned away from political involvement in Ireland.

While in Lebanon, Mr Foley visited many political leaders. “I will be very disappointed if somebody I didn’t visit becomes the President of Lebanon,” he jokes. Despite his humour, he is sincere about his wishes for improvement in Lebanon’s political situation and agrees with me when I remark that the lack of a president is damaging for the morale within Lebanon and the perception of Lebanon internationally.  He met withSheikh Amine Gemayel,Dr Samir Geagea, General Michel Aoun MP, and MrSleimanFrangieh MP. He also met former Prime Minister Saad El Hariri, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, Foreign Minister GebranBassil, Speaker NabihBerri, Future Movement MP Kazem El Kheir, Lebanese Forces MP FadiKaramas well as visiting numerous other political figures and Mayors.

Mr Foley also acknowledged the strong connection between the Lebanese people and their religious beliefs. This strong connection was reflected in Mr Foley’s itinerary. Mr Foley met with the Patriarch of Lebanon, Mar Bechara Boutros Al Rai, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon Sheikh Abdel-LatifDerian and Sheikh Ali Fadlallahas well as visiting numerous religious sites including the Church of St Charbel. He celebrated mass at “Mar Ramanous” and visited the shrine of the late former Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri.  He mentioned that he attended one lunch with both Muslim Sheikhs and Orthodox Priests at El Minieh. He remarked, “The interactions between people of different faiths was a great sign of the harmonious future that awaits Lebanon”.

On the last day of Mr Foley’s visit, 25 April, he attended an ANZAC Day service at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery with the Australian Ambassador, Mr Glenn Miles. The experience was a reminder for Mr Foley of the sacrifice that Australian soldiers have made all over the world.

If you ask Mr Foley whether or not he will visit again, the standard reply is “Definitely, I cannot wait to take my family with me to Batroun.”

If you would like to see photos of Mr Foley’s trip, follow this link:



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