pm siniora's meeting with EU ambassadors in the" baiet el wasat "
Pm siniora .s Meeting with EU Delegation
In beit el wasat
September 28, 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to welcome you all to Lebanon and to the region at these truly exceptional times. In order to efficiently use our time together, I have prepared some points that I would like to share with you and then leave the remaining time for the discussion.
I am going to focus these points around three themes: (1) The Arab Spring and the repercussions of the anti-Islam movie; (2) The Syrian uprising and the regime’s attempt to drag Lebanon into its quagmire; (3) The heavy price Lebanon is paying for what is perceived by many including in the West, as “stability”.
On the first point, I would like to underline our firm position, and I am speaking on behalf of the millions of Arabs and Muslims that I or my political line, represent: absolutely nothing justifies the rage that took place and claimed innocent lives, among which a US Ambassador in Libya that is known for his pro-Arab positions throughout his diplomatic career. These atrocities that we loudly condemn are absurd as they always end up hurting Muslims and Arabs and those who truly support their cause, much more than others. It is true that freedom of speech should not be a license to insult, but also the freedom that Arabs have gained with blood should not be a license to infringe on the freedom of others.
Obviously there are extremists on all sides that are seeking to initiate, magnify, and then capitalize on events like this. Notice the immediate reaction of some neo-conservative circles in the US and the way the attacks were leveraged to corner the Arab policy of President Obama. We are very happy that his subsequent statements and his speech at the General Assembly underlined his unwavering support for the Arab Spring and commitment to democratic transformation in the Arab world, especially the uprising that is going on in Syria. The French stance as often and repeatedly expressed by President Hollande, is also a great support for the steam power of the Arab Spring.
We hope and we are certain that the EU will also remain a staunch supporter of the Arab Spring, a movement that has brought down the walls of silence and fear and has put the Arab world on an irreversible historic path. I say this as a friend and as a believer in Arab-EU relations: some used the immediate comments by Lady Ashton after the Libya and Egypt attack on US Embassies as a pretext to go back to the same old argument that has gone on for decades and which justified the raison d’ Etre of dictatorships in the Arab world as the first line of defense in the global war against Islamic fundamentalism.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We would be severely mistaken if we ever believe again that one person, one party, or one regime, is the first line of defense in the fight against fundamentalism; or for that reason the guarantor of minorities’ rights. Nothing but an Arab world that is free, democratic, and prosperous, can serve as a lasting line of defense. And nothing but inclusion and equal civil rights and responsibilities stated in constitutions and upheld by institutions guarantees the rights of minorities in the Arab World. The success of visit of his holiness Pope Benedictus XVI to Lebanon and his message that was centered along the themes of coexistence and civility were reminders of this philosophy and constituted a stark contrast to the odd and regressive voices of hatred that were associated with the movie as well as the reaction to it.
Supporting the voices of moderation in the Arab world is imperative to stop the threats that the regressive forces are trying to impose on the progress of the Arab Spring; and that requires first and foremost a full respect of the process of democracy, because democracy self-corrects.
The rage that is triggered by a silly movie, cartoons, or Koran burning threats is often and mostly pent-up feelings of defeat frustration and victimization. That said it is important to repeat that nothing justifies violence. However, it is important to understand the deep factors behind it. It is imperative that we go back to the mother of most problems in the Arab world, and the failure over decades to tackle it, leading to the failure to tackle deep economic, social and political reforms. Finding a just and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict through the establishment of a viable unified and sovereign Palestinian State along the Arab peace initiative, is imperative for the success and sustainability of democracy in the Arab world. It is the right thing to do to for the Palestinian people, who are still suffering from injustice and occupation for over 75 years now.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Moving now to the second point, the uprising in Syria is reaching a very sad state where now a daily casualty report of over 150 persons has become a regular item in the news. Two days ago casualties reached an all-time high of 380. This is the only pending Arab Spring country, and we see that the cost of change, which should have been bore over a period of 40 years, is now paid at ounce.
Let us remember together that the Syrian uprising started as the most peaceful of all Arab Spring uprisings. Let us remember that for a very long time, the demand of the Syrian people was not regime change but reforms. Let us remember that the Islamists stayed for a while out of the uprising waiting to see how the tides will turn.
All parties (the West, Russia, moderate Arabs) have expressed concern from the beginning about the Islamisation of the uprising. The entry of some Islamic elements into the conflict, though still rather limited, is in fact due to the lack of progress on achieving the objectives of the uprising. Today, with almost a civil war, brought by the insistence of the regime to use violence and his fueling of division among the constituents of the Syrian people, the window of opportunity is narrowing every day for the re-emergence of a stable unified sovereign Syria. According to the ESCWA, as soon peace is restored, we still need 10 years to go back to the Syria we had in 2009. Imagine what this means in terms of un-met expectations, frustrations and then the repercussions of all this. The Assad regime through his denial, stubbornness and use of excess violence has led to the near destruction of Syria, hence realizing the goal of regional or global parties, the same ones who had pushed in the past for the destruction and crippling of another Arab country: Iraq.
The repercussions of the Syrian earthquake are being felt in Lebanon. First, the flow of refugees into the country is accelerating and especially to regions that are already in dire social state. This is putting lots of pressure on us and our country is in need of assistance. Second, as the regime in Syria is sinking, it is trying to take Lebanon down with it. The recordings of the case of former Minister Samaha are an indictment of not just the head of intelligence in Syria, but of the head of the regime itself.
The repeated warnings of the head of French diplomacy Laurent Fabius are welcomed, and the EU in general needs to be more vocal about where the red line should be drawn concerning the stability and peace in Lebanon.
This brings us to the third point, stability in Lebanon.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We understand, we appreciate, and evidently we share your concern and that of the international community regarding the stability of Lebanon. But stability is not a cover to take hold of the country and turn it into a hostage in a wider and more complex conflict.
The current government has marketed itself as a broker of stability for Lebanon at times of great changes in the Arab world, especially Syria. In this context, a policy of “disassociation” has been adopted, which was the right thing to do in terms of policy. Sadly, the government has not always strictly adhered to its policy, and has been highly selective in using this policy option.
Now dissociation by itself cannot be the sole raison d’Etre of the government. And it is clear that by itself it did not foster stability. In fact a very lax approach to law and order, which originates from a poor belief by the constituents of the government itself in the importance and relevance of the central State, has led to the near collapse of law and order during the summer period and to the degeneration of the State image and authority. Adding insult to injury, recent statements by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard clearly threatened a response by Hizbollah out of Lebanon if Iran is attacked; no statement or even clarification whatsoever were issued by government or any of its constituents on why should someone take a decision on behalf of all Lebanese to turn their country into a launching pad and a front line of defense for the right of Iran to go nuclear. Let me be very clear as I stated over and over again: I and we as March 14 are against any attack on Iran and we don’t believe that violence is a mean to solve problems. We are on record saying this. But on the other hand, we are against using our country as an arena in any regional or global conflict.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As opposition, our primary objective now is to repair the significant damage that has been done to the image of the State. The reemergence of the strong, sovereign and stable state is a pre-requisite of everything else: economic growth which has declined from an average of 8.5% over the period 2007-2010 to less than 1.5% in 2011-2012; the balance of payments which turned into a deficit of over $2 billion after an average surplus of over $4 billion in the period 2007-2010; the fiscal account where the deficit is increasing and the primary balance is moving into the red, hence the return of the twin deficits, not the best prescription for an economy where the stability of the exchange rate is vital; social reforms that have been halted feeding into deeper social problems in the country on the medical as well as on the social safety nets fronts; FDI which have collapsed by a third in 2011; bank deposits which are now growing at a slower pace than the interest rates, and banks lending to the private sector which has significantly slowed down indicating lackluster investment; job opportunities which have been lost at a time when the usual refuge of the GCC countries that have absorbed significant portion of the Lebanese labor force, is no longer as available as before; partly due to the policies that have made Lebanon and the Lebanese, elements in the Iran-World stand-off; and last but not least, the supply bottlenecks combined with the lack of reforms in the key sectors such as power, telecom and transport.
All these are not possible to tackle if the strong central State does not remerge; if law and order are not restored. Today, the need is urgent to tackle all these issues and tackle them in a drastic way, moving Lebanon from an equilibrium into another. The current state of affairs is neither plausible nor sustainable.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The EU is our closest international neighbor. We share more than a sea; we share the challenges and the blues of the global economy and the threat of global terrorism; but we also share the values, we share principles, and we share a stake in a stable prosperous Middle East. Hope exists, but we have to believe in it, and we have to understand that there is hard work and that there are sacrifices that need to be paid. I hope that our work together continues in full steam towards the minimization of these cost and the maximization of benefits. I welcome you again and I am looking forward for your questions and interventions.