PM Siniora Keynote Speech in Panel on “NeighborhoodPolicy New Challenges and Opportunities: Europe and the responsibility of its Neighbors Bucharest, Romania- October 18, 2012”
PM Siniora Keynote Speech in Panel on “Neighborhood Policy New Challenges and Opportunities: Europe and the responsibility of its Neighbors”
Bucharest, Romania- October 18, 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here with you today and I would like to thank my friend EPP President Wilfred Martens for inviting me to address this outstanding audience. I would like also to congratulate him on his re-election as EPP President and hope that the future will carry more collaboration among our parties.
We meet at truly historic times, with an economic crisis engulfing Europe and a major transition undergoing in the Arab world. Some, as we see by the showing in elections of extreme parties on both sides of the Mediterranean, would think that now is the time to find introverted and self-centered solutions. After all, the problems that we are all facing are of such magnitudes that they carry the risks of redrawing political, economic and social borders.
But Ladies and Gentlemen,
Not me. I am not one of those, and I know that none of you is. How could you, when you are the champions of one of the greatest integration stories in the history of mankind: the EU, a process that brought and brings together people of various languages and ethnicities, ending their historical conflicts and wars, and lifting them together into higher levels of economic and social progress through the creation of shared values, interests, and objectives; a process that have just recently earned you a well deserved Nobel Peace Prize; a global recognition that at the heart of sustainable peace, lies more openness, more acceptance and more integration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I will anchor my speech around three themes: 1) the irreversibility of the Arab transition and the move towards democratic rule and enshrined liberty. 2) The crucial need to end the tragedy of Palestine and the historical injustice to the Palestinian people which continues to fuel political and ideological extremism in the Arab region, and 3) the need for stronger economic and cultural integration within the Arab world and across the Mediterranean.
Regarding the first issue, nobody said, and I hope nobody thought, that the process of change in the Arab World will be easy and that the transition will be smooth. Bumps are part of the process, as we have seen in election results that brought some most extreme factions of society to parliament, results that we have to respect regardless. However, two things have been revealed with elections that took place for the first time freely in some parts of the Arab world: first is that put together, the liberal parties are often more popular than the Islamist parties, and second that we have seen major evolvement in the attitude of the mainstream Islamist parties towards more inclusion and more openness, in compliance with the spirit of the true teachings of Islam. Islamist parties have quickly discovered that front-seat driving is very different than back-seat driving; they are discovering everyday, and more so expected in the future, that they will have to adapt and change or else they will be changed.
Setbacks are expected as reflected in the reaction to an amateur movie, best described by President Obama as crude and disgusting; that has led to assaults on diplomatic missions and claimed the innocent lives of civilians. Let me be very clear as I have repeated over and over again: absolutely nothing justifies the rage that took place and claimed innocent lives, among which a US Ambassador in Libya. These acts of aggression should be firmly condemned. They are not only immoral and against the values of Islam, but also politically unacceptable as they always end up hurting Muslims and Arabs and their just causes.
But it is also important to put things in perspective. Those who took to the streets in a violent manner do not represent the majority of the Arab world. Previously, dictators used Western fears of the forces of extremism in the Arab world to exaggerate the size of these forces and justify their ruthless rule. But those days are over in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya; and luckily, now we have free elections that can be used as a barometer to measure the size of the various components of our Arab societies. These elections have shown that the overwhelming majority of Arabs are peace loving accepting and tolerant people in their true nature. These are honest hard working people that are eager to earn a living in dignity.
This needs to be fully grasped by our friends in Europe and in the world. For a long time, many believed that stability in the Middle East was correlated with the continuity of autocratic regimes. The term “Arab exception” was not just used as an explanation, but also as an excuse for a wider margin of acceptance for people that were perceived as either not ready, or even not worthy of democracy. Sadly, some of these thoughts were floated again by some global circles in the reaction to the reaction to the movie a couple of weeks ago.
We would be severely mistaken if we ever believe again, even for one minute, that one person, one party, or one regime is the first line of defense in the fight against extremism and fundamentalism; or for that reason the guarantor of minorities’ rights. In effect nothing but an Arab world that is free, democratic, peaceful and prosperous, can serve as a lasting line of defense against all forms of violence and instability. It is nothing but inclusion and equal civil rights and obligations and responsibilities stated in constitutions and upheld by institutions guarantees the rights of minorities in the Arab World. Nothing guarantees lasting stability but full respect of the process toward the democratization, because democracy has taught us from experience that unlike other forms of government, it has the ability to self-correct.
Setbacks are surely to be expected in the historic Arab march towards democracy and freedom. But the right response to these setbacks should be more liberty not less liberty. The solution is more free speech not less free speech.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Liberty and democracy, however, are not sustainable if not complemented by peace in the Middle East. This brings me to my second point: it is imperative that we go back to properly address and solve the root cause of most problems in the Arab world: the historical injustice that has fallen on the Palestinians. The repeated failures to successfully tackle it over the last decades, led to the failure in addressing key economic, social and political reforms that were badly needed to empower moderation, foster growth, development and promote respect of human rights in the Arab world. Instead, emergency laws that enhanced the iron fist of the regimes rather than implementing the universal human laws and principles became the common modus operandi.
The Nobel Peace Prize, puts, in our opinion, additional moral responsibility on Europe to work harder towards achieving real, just, comprehensive, and lasting peace in the Middle East. This will not just be in line with the European principles, helping to completely wipe the misapprehensions of the past, but will be most rewarding for Europe and a key to embark on truly special and mutually beneficial relations with the Arab world.
Solving the Palestinian cause is also equivalent to pulling an ace out of the Iranian deck of cards; one that has sought to hijack the causes of the region, ranging from defending the honor of Islam and its prophet, to Jerusalem to Palestine, but for Iranian objectives to emerge as a regional super-power with hegemonic ambitions. The clear involvement by Iran in support of the Syrian regime, dragging Hezbollah and potentially Lebanon into it, is an attempt to suppress a legitimate quest of the Syrian people for democracy and freedom. This is happening also under the pretext of supporting a regime that is standing up to Israel, the same excuse that this regime has used for 40 years to oppress and imprison the Syrian people; Keeping in mind, by the way, that the most quiet and peaceful border of Israel for over 35 years has been its borders with Syria. Recent statements were issued by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard clearly threatening a response by Hezbollah against Israel out of Lebanon if Iran is attacked; and just few days ago, Hezbollah and without the consent of the Lebanese people or the Lebanese government sent a plane without a pilot into Israeli airspace.
It is preposterous that in the times of the Arab Spring, Lebanon which for the longest time was the regional pioneer in democracy and freedom is now being taken hostage by a theocracy. But Ladies and Gentlemen, we have been there before. Lebanon was previously abandoned by its Western and Arab friends when it was taken hostage by the Syrian regime that attempted repeatedly to clone Lebanon into a President for life model, a model where security agencies reined higher than the law. But the forces of resilience within the Lebanese society enabled the country to withstand all these pressures, and ultimately free the country from Syrian oppression albeit with a heavy price paid with the assassination of late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. However Lebanon cannot continue to live and progress under the continued threat of fear of being used and abused to become a launching pad.
Let me be very clear as I stated over and over again: that we are against any attack on Iran and we don’t believe that violence is a mean to solve problems. In fact we are for a nuclear-free Middle East that applies to all parties, especially Israel and not just Iran. As Arabs, we want the best friendly relations with Iran that are based on mutual respect. We are on record saying this. But on the other hand, we are against using Lebanon as an arena in any regional or global conflict.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My Dear Friends
Much effort has been exercised by the West to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon even at the risk of war and detriment to the global economy. And so much effort was exercised by the West in the past to prop up and support regimes that were thought as stable and peaceful to Israel. My friends, If these same efforts have been used to tackle head-on the real and deep question of Palestine, and help realizing the two-states solution as stipulated by previous initiatives starting with Madrid and not ending with the Arab Peace Initiative, we would have by now settled the historic problematic between the Arab world and the West, between the Arabs and Iranians, between Iran and the West, and we would be focusing on stronger economic integration between our nations that takes our human component to new levels. It is not too late for action, but time is of essence if we want to increase the chances of success of the Arab Spring.
This brings me to the third point: integration.
The West and in particular Europe have an interest in seeing the Arab region move towards openness and prosperity. I would like here to commend and stress on the importance of translating what was agreed upon by the G8 in their meeting in Deauville regarding the allocation of a sum of $ 80 billion to support the economies of the Arab spring countries along the lines that were adopted by Europe. The experience of integration of post-soviet European countries into Europe could be very useful in this regard. I believe that EBRD has probably started to formulate some proposals for the Arab Spring countries.
Strong Arab-Arab integration is also needed and in thisrespect, I have launched during the Arab Economic Summit that took place in Kuwait in 2009 an initiative regarding stronger Arab development and economic integrationthat touches on many sectors ranging from energy, water, transportation, environment and food security, as a way of bringing closer the Arab world and bridging the widening gaps among its people. It is essential to note that this initiative is in no way based on a concept of charity from those who have to those who have less; but is rather based on a concept of a region investing in its own wellbeing, in its security in the broad sense, in its development and welfare.
Arab countries undergoing the transition should take ownership of needed reforms at all levels: political and institutional, so that to ensure accountability, transparency, as well as good governance; ease of doing business in order to encourage both local and foreign investments by the private sector; and social safety nets that not only help protect those that are most affected by change and provide security to the less privileged, but foster the emergence of a middle class that could contribute further to stability and growth in the region.
The Arab World has the resources as well as the needs, the opportunities as well as the challenges, and the demographics. Moreover the common values it shares with Europe and the closeness together are all reasons behind both the need and the desire to build a better future with neighboring Europe for mutual benefits. Europe on the other hand has the knowhow, the wealth of experience, but also the need for new markets that it can help in the creation of a more sustainable growth and prospects. A partnership is not just possible; it is the rational and optimal choice.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me recap by underlining the three pillars of neighborhood policy as we see it: Liberty that is defined by an unstoppable Arab march to democracy and that is empowered rather than reduced in the face of setbacks that we should expect and deal with; sustainability that is ensured by finding a lasting and just solution to the question of Palestine; and integration that is defined by shared interests and complementation both within the Arab world and between the Arab world and Europe.
I hope that our work together continues in full steam to take this rewarding journey of partnership into new horizons of peace and prosperity. I thank you again and I am looking forward for your comments and interventions.