Keynote Speech of PM Siniora Liberal Parties Dinner Beit El Wasat 13 April 2013
Keynote Speech of PM Siniora
Liberal Parties Dinner
Beit El Wasat 13 April 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to welcome you in Beirut in my own name and on behalf of Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and in this house specifically, the house that carries the legacy of the liberal thinking of the late Rafic Hariri, through his son Saad, the head of the Future Party, the party lifting the torch of moderation, openness, and acceptance, the party that believes in inclusion at all levels: political, economic and social, the party that is fighting today for justice and ending impunity; all liberal values that we share with you.
You come to us at important times, both in Lebanon and in the Arab world. In both places, a struggle is taking place between those who want to live in freedom, in dignity, who want to be true to the values of openness and tolerance, those who want to adapt and evolve with the times; and those who are still reading from an old and outdated book.
Today in Lebanon a new Prime Minister designate is forming a cabinet. He shares with us the same core liberal values and we will give him all the support he needs to succeed. We will help him form a government that revives the true spirit of Lebanon, Lebanon the message in the region and in the world; and we will fight with Prime Minister designate Salam to ensure holding the parliamentary elections within the constitutional timeframe because we simply cannot accept to put our decades-old democracy on hold, at a time when democracy is being fought for in the Arab world with flesh and blood.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
And since we are talking about the Arab world, let me share with you a few thoughts. Of course there were some setbacks in the Arab Spring quest for freedom and democracy. We have seen parties that don’t share our liberal values of openness and inclusion win elections in post-Arab Spring political orders. We still see every day the atrocities of a brutal regime in Syria that is willing to burn its own country and slaughter its own people to remain in power. We are seeing as well the increasing power of some radical forces who have taken the streets in certain Arab countries, fighting and threatening the liberal face of Arab societies.
But these events should not let us fear or doubt. Let me give you two reasons. First, as said by French writer Victor Hugo: “No power is stronger than the power of an idea whose time has come.” And today the idea of freedom and democracy has come to the Arab world. It has come late, mind you, but it has come as last. The Syrian regime’s old ways of using fundamentalists as scarecrow will not serve them this time like it did over four decades. Moreover, no firepower, no military power, and no regional power can stop the march of the Syrian people towards democracy.
Second, we should always remember that democracy, as long as the rules of the game are respected and upheld, has the ability to self-correct. As I have said on many occasions: we have to respect the results of the elections in which Islamist parties have won, in Tunisia, Egypt and possibly in any other Arab country now or in the future. But time will show that these parties will have to change or they will be changed. Driving from the front seat is very different than driving from the back seat. Moreover, as clear from day to day practice, you cannot solve the problems of today and tomorrow by pre-defined and rigid ideological thoughts of the past.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This leads me to an essential point. The real divide today is not as much as between left and right, East and West, North and South. The real divide is between those who are capable of adapting to change, and those who refuse to adapt. It is between those who understand the fast changing nature of the world in which we are living, the fast changing nature of technologies, of economic conditions, of cultural interactions and therefore embrace change through their policies and their practice while remaining faithful to their cultural heritage; and those who keep on reading from old books, insist on using the same old ways and keep on repeating the same old speech. In other words, the divide is between those who are open in their thinking, and those who have closed their minds Those who are liberal in their approach, and those who have pre-defined it. This reminds me of a famous line by the Great Khalifa Omar Ibn Al-khatab who said over a millennia and a half ago “raise your kids in different ways than those in which you were risen, for they are meant to live in different times than you”. This visionary thinking by a historic Islamic figure embodies the core liberal values that we all share.
But sharing the same values is not enough. We need to stand up in their support. You have a role as leaders of liberal parties and groups around the world to empower the liberal moderate Arab voices. And this starts by strongly lobbying and working towards finding a fair and lasting solution to the pertinent problems of the region, and in particular the Palestinian historic injustice that has fed feelings of frustration and injustice that in turn fed extremism and contributed to the rise of radical regimes and theocracies. You need to support the economic efforts of reforms that gear towards fair growth, sustainable development and social inclusion and tolerance in the Arab world. Reforms that we need to conduct when we can, not when we are forced to and therefore when they become less efficient, less sufficient and more costly. You need to be more vocal about defending human rights: as mentioned by a western diplomat two days ago Syria is now the biggest human catastrophe since the start of the 21st century as the number of displaced has reached a quarter of the overall population.
We need to stand up today, as liberal parties in support of universal human values. This is what we owe to each other, to our communities, but above all to ourselves.
I thank you all and wish you the best of luck.