Remarks by PM Fuad Siniora the Panel on “The Arab Spring: transformations and uncerta . Kataeb Party and CDI Forum on Changes in the Arab World :Democracy and Pluralismrld::
Remarks by PM Fuad Siniora
Panel on “The Arab Spring: transformations and uncertainties”
Kataeb Party and CDI Forum on Changes in the Arab World: Democracy and Pluralism
Hotel Le Royal- Friday, January 27, 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen
One year on, the Arab revolutionary movement has transformed the Arab world, putting Arabs on a path that many other populations throughout the world have been through; thus ending what used to be named the Arab exception that has always assumed that Arabs, unlike other people, are incapable of seeking, developing, or practicing democracy.
This transformation was brought by the collapse of the barriers of fear and silence, and by many brave young Arabs crossing the indifference point and saying no to injustice even at the expense of their own lives.
And in a world where never before, so many people, especially amongst the young, feel empowered yet marginalized, Arabs came out of their big jail, and by doing so they inspired many around the world.
The Arab Spring has been about many things: it has been a fight for political freedom, for dignity, for liberty, for justice, for jobs, and for better opportunities. But its unifying theme has remained the fight against repression and marginalization in all its forms: political, economic or social; the marginalization of so many young people who were now, significantly empowered by the fast advance of technology and the quantum explosion of communication techniques.
And because it is, at its essence, a movement against repression and marginalization, the Arab Spring struck a bell at a global level, inspiring, at times of deep economic crisis and rising unemployment, movements that reached the streets of London, where Saint Paul Square in the City was turned into Tahrir Square, and the streets of New York, where a slogan that read “we are the 99%” was raised.
Evidently, years if not decades of repression and marginalization in the Arab world has created significant frustrations. This frustration with the past has driven the newly found voice of the majority, prompting the parties that seek the refuge of the religion, the ethnicity or the race, to do much better in the first free elections than the liberal, modern and open parties. But that is not only normal, it is also expected; and that is what happened in many other examples throughout the world, in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and South Africa in the wake of liberation movements.
Allow me to observe, that even in countries that have a much longer tradition of democracy, like Western Europe, we will almost always see that in times of crisis and tensions, people seek the comfort of the more conservative, closed or even radical parties, because these parties tend to always have ready-made answers, that seem to provide the anchor of certainty that is so much needed in times of uncertainty.
What I am trying to say here, is that the performance of the Islamist parties in recent free elections in Tunisia, Egypt, and their expected performance in other Arab Spring countries, is the consequence of years of repression and marginalization. It is the result of years of pressure, and we need to give some time for this pent-up pressure to be released. We will also see that as the pressure is released, the Islamist parties will breathe under more normal conditions, gearing towards inclusion and evolving in a manner that seeks to adapt to the new environment and to focus more on the challenges of tomorrow. Moreover, the Muslim people in general will also be more at ease and hence more inclined to reflect the true values of Islam, those of openness and moderation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am proud to say that I was among the first to throw my full support behind the Arab Spring when it was still in its cradle, trusting in the power and the legitimacy of change, and strongly believing that Arabs cannot remain hostage of the past, and that they deserve to take ownership of their future.
Today, some believe that the Spring has been hijacked, and that it is at a risk of turning into a cold and dark winter. They fear that the autocratic military regimes will be replaced by autocratic Islamic parties. They fear for the values that were at the center of these revolutions, the values of dignity and personal and political freedom, the respect of human rights as well as the values of openness and inclusion to all constituents of our Arab society regardless of religion, ethnicity or race.
But just as I was comfortable with change, when too many were fearing it, I stand today, and renew my faith in it and in its future prospects, when so many are doubting it. I still believe that what is happening is fundamentally good for Arabs and for the world. It will allow back the moderate Arab voice to refill the vacuum that was caused by the effective absence of Egypt from the regional scene for the last three decades, and which was filled by non-Arab players and by extremists. This will help restore some balance in the Middle East, and hopefully provide the world with the incentives to help resolve what remains despite all, the central issue, that is the Arab-Israeli conflict and the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign independent and viable State. A concerted International effort to pressure Israel to accept a just and comprehensive peaceful solution to this pending conflict will support the forces of stability and moderation in the region and pave the way for the sustainable success of democratic movements.
Now we may or we may not like some or all elections results, but that is part of the process. That is part of getting used to elections that don’t end with 99.7% going in one direction. It is also part of the process of growing up and maturing. After all, which revolution has ever been smooth, clear cut, and managed to immediately put in charge the most fit to face the challenges of tomorrow?
In fact what is much more important than the result of the elections is the process itself. The greatest virtue of democracy as compared to any other form of government is that it has the ability to self-correct.
The Arab revolutionary movement is, in itself, an act of modernity, an act of espousing the global change. But this act of modernity cannot be complete, unless it indeed leads to the emergence of the civil state, the State that respects and protects all the constituents of society, all equal in rights and in obligations. And in this context the series of progressive statements recently published by Al-Azhar (which is the highest Islamic religious institutions), on the future of Egypt, then on the Arab Spring movement, and then the last one on liberties, is a clear cut example of how the atmosphere of political and intellectual freedom is capable of fostering the moderate enlightened Islam that we so need in our region today.
In this context, I strongly urge our Arab intellectuals, civil society, and various leaders of thoughts to rally behind the ideas that the Azhar is promoting, and provide it with their full support, so that we may reach the objective of the civil state, that holds all its citizens equal in their rights and obligations; and overcome the blackmailing that the outgoing regimes have for so long practiced by bidding the various constituents of our society against each others, and then building their legitimacy on their fake ability to provide stability.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In Lebanon, we have always provided a model of democracy, but the dysfunction of our State has compromised the process, transforming diversity from being an asset into being a burden. We need to claim back our role as a model of diversity, and as a message of unity in this region. The most important lesson of the Arab Spring and of our experience in Lebanon, is to claim back the role of the democratic, capable, and strong State, which is ultimately the most optimal guarantor of diversity, stability and prosperity.
This brings me to the economic angle: the democratic transformation will ultimately lead to economic development, growth, and higher standards of living. Overwhelming evidence shows that Democracy leads to accountability, and accountability leads to better use and allocation of resources. But we should also make sure that this transformation promotes better social safety nets for those in our society that are most vulnerable to change, promotes better education so that we can prepare today for the challenges of tomorrow, and promotes better employment opportunities in order to face the biggest challenge facing the Arab world, which is the need to create over 50 million jobs over the coming decade in order to absorb the new entrants of young men and woman into the labor market.
The people who took to the streets yesterday demanding the end of marginalization, will take to the street tomorrow if participation, in its comprehensive sense, is not achieved. And as long as the process is respected, democracy is protected, and free elections are regularly held, we have nothing to fear. This nation with this Spring, has shown a great ability to self-correct.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have come a long way. The era of the one man, one family or one party rule is over. But the task is still far from complete. Democracy is not easy to establish and as the UN Secretary General said it will definitely need more than two or even three rounds of elections. But he also said, and I completely agree with him, that there is no coming back.
In this context, and to those who worry about the Arab Spring and fear the consequences of change, I would like to remind them of a beautiful quote by Khalil Jubran:
“The fear of thirst, when your glass is half full, is thirst itself”
We need to keep our faith in democracy and continue to fight for it, keep our faith in our people and in our future.
I thank you for your attention this afternoon and look forward to a lively discussion.