Speech of PM Fuad Sinioraat Konrad Adenauer Foundation November 10 2015,
Speech of PM Fuad Siniora
at Konrad Adenauer FoundationNovember 10, 2015
My dear friend Dr. Hans-Gert Pottering,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Walls and barbed-wire fences rising within the one visa-free zone for the first time in decades and putting into question the sustainability of the grand project of the Schengen agreement; disorder and chaos across once-open borders with police firing tear gas at women and children who have just escaped the horrors of war and destruction in Syria; while politicians and public opinion arguing over a quota system that allocates refugees, splitting the continent again into an Eastern side and a Western side and opening old wounds of ideological differences and moral questions.
These are, ladies and gentlemen, some of the effects that around 600 thousand refugees who crossed European borders, notwithstanding the thousands that have drowned and others that are still drowning trying to reach them, had on Europe, the second largest economy in the world and the beacon of freedom, democracy and human rights.
Just imagine then, what we have had to deal with as Arabs and Particularly as Lebanese, since 1948 when we were hit by the first wave of refugees fleeing Palestine after the Nakba of 1948, and then other waves in 1967 and 1970, up until more recently starting 2012, when we were hit not by a wave but rather a tsunami of Syrian refugees.
Today as we meet, Lebanon a country of around 10 thousand square km in an area and a population of 4 million, hosts around 350 thousand Palestinian refugees and around 1.2 million Syrians, in addition to over 50 thousand Palestinians who were refugees in Syria and fled to Lebanon, as well as over 50 thousands Iraqis. That means Lebanon currently hosts refugees that are equivalent to 40 percent of its resident population. I think there is no equivalent to such situation in the world. Of the around 450 thousands Syrian children refugees that are of school age (3-16 years) in Lebanon, only 170 thousands arebeing admitted in Lebanese schools this year in two shifts. Of these remaining of school age there are about 280 thousands Syrians for whom there is no way to admit them into any type of education. Lebanon simply is cracking under this heavy burden.
The irony is that Syria in the past was one of the receivers of refugees in the world having hosted Palestinians, Iraqis and others. As mentioned, some of those who came from Syria are also Palestinians who were themselves inside refugee camps in Damascus having fled the 1948 Nakba. Fleeing one’s home in itself is a humiliation, so just imagine the humiliation of having to flee a refugee camp onto another refugee camp.
Meanwhile Turkey hosts 1.8 million Syrians, Jordan 700thousand, Iraq 250 thousand, and Egypt 130thousand, in addition to about 1.2 million spread all over the Arab world, Europe and beyond.
In fact, this situation of refugees reflects within it all the human tragedies and pains and humiliations that have been taking place in our region since the Israeli occupation of Palestine, that was left unresolved and thus created a sequence of events including the emergence of authoritarian regimes in the region, which are mostly responsible for the current instability in the Arab world.
It is not a coincidence, ladies and gentlemen, that out of the current sixteen wars and strives taking place in the world today, one is in Europe, three are in Asia, five are in Africa and seven are in the Arab world (Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia).
It is not a coincidence that the number one exporter of refugees in the world is an Arab country: Syria, having knocked Afghanistan down to the second place. With 4.5 million refugees, and over 7.5 million displaced within Syria (and still counting), more than half of the 22 million people that were living in Syria in 2011 are now out of their homes.
It is not a coincidence that out of the top six exporters of refugees, five are Arabs: Following Syria and Afghanistan comes Libya, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan. These figures have not yet taken into account the recent events in Yemen which constitute nothing short of an earthquake for this unfortunate nation.
And it is not a coincidence that the percentage of refugees that are Arabs is totally out of proportion relative to the percentage of Arabs in the world. Let me clarify: Arabs constitute around 5 percent of the world population. But if we take the total number of refugees and displaced in the world, which is around 60 million according to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), then we find that 30 million, i.e. 50 percent of the total refugees worldwide are Arabs! In other words 5 percent of world population has produced 50 percent of world refugees.
The repercussions of the refugees crisis amplify already existing problems in the Arab world and risk feeding in bigger and even more dangerous problems in the future: for instance according to a recent report by the UNICEF, out of 34 million children in these Arab countries that are witnessing troubles and who are at school-age, around 13 million or 40 percent do not go to school due to the wars that are raging the region.
Out of these 13 million, 3.1 million are from Sudan, 3 million are from Iraq, 2.9 million are from Yemen, 2.4 million are from Syria and 2 million are from Somalia. Out of the 2.4 million Syrian children that don’t go to school, about half of them are refugees outside Syria.
What will the status of this lost generation be in ten or fifteen years from now? What will be their status and condition? What will be their perspective of the world and how will they deal with it? How will they find jobs without an appropriate education? Already the Arab world already has one of the highest jobless rates in the world, especially amongst the youth.
Here are some individual countries’ jobless rates: Palestine 26.5%, Yemen 40% and Syria 57.7%. This means that in Syria, we currently have 3.72 million unemployed which means that around 12.22 million, or half the population are without a source of income.
Then one would wonder how did ISIS come to existence in the midst of ignorance and idleness, especially when added to the effects of authoritarian regimes and foreign interference? One would wonder if we could somehow eliminate ISIS and other violent organization by force today but leave the pertinent problems in the region unsolved? How difficult would it be, then, to have another ISIS in ten years when the 2.7 million Syrian children who are out of school today grow up, find no jobs and join the jobless 3.7 million Syrian?
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let us focus our attention on the source of the problem: the Assad regime in Syria has been directly or indirectly responsible for creating and nurturing ISIS in order to present itself as the only possible alternative to it. Winning the war on ISIS requires first and foremost tackling the problems of authoritarian regimes and their role in igniting fear and oppression.
I go back to the start of my talk, to the image of what is going on in Europe today and the debate over how many refugees to take and how to divide them amongst European countries, and how to handle them. In this respect I truly appreciate the hospitality and the humanity of those who care in many European countries, but particularly it is very due to express here our great appreciation to the German People and to the German Government who embraced that number of Syrian refugees. Special thanks and appreciation to Chancellor Angela Merkel who has shown great courage and leadership and who has set a model of how human values prevail over local politics, even at the expense sometime of approval ratings. By doing so she has shown great statesmanship and leadership while reflecting the true identity of Germany.
But many Western countries with more global leverage than Germany, and I mean particularly the United States, who is supposed to be the global leader of values of human rights and freedom and democracy, have simply shied away from dealing with the roots and causes of the original problems, leaving the field open to other players who do not necessarily share these same values.
Refugees and displaced, ladies and gentlemen, just like extremism and terrorism, are symptoms of pertinent problems that have been left simmering without any real effort to tackle their roots and causes, for example: the problem of Palestine, that is still growing and getting more complicated is still unresolved. Besides, the wide range of political, social and humanitarian problems that were inflicted on the people of several Arab countries by the military and authoritarian regimes in the region, is increasing the level of disorder and disfunctioning in these countries. Untreated, these symptoms became in their turn roots and causes of other pertinent problems like militant Islam, another symptom that triggers in itself feeling of hatred and extremism on the other side, and fuel rage and clashes of cultures. All this have in the end led people wondering: What is wrong with Arabs? What is wrong with Islam? Why can’t they just integrate in what has become a global civilization of freedom, civil and individual rights and openness?
One of the main problems of Arabs and Muslims, ladies and gentlemen, is that Western forces have, willingly or unwillingly, played a major role in inflicting on them many evils that have led to their current state of affairs and have later resigned from their moral role in helping find solutions to these problems. This started with the Palestinian problem and does not end with the direct or indirect support of authoritarian regimes in the region.
Let me make myself clearer: I am not freeing Arabs from the responsibility of what their current situation has reached. In fact they bear a huge responsibility, particularly because of the failure of the authoritarian regimes on the political, social and economic levels and as well in how they are managing their public affairs in general. In fact I have been one among the vocal voices in the region in championing political, economic, and social reforms that are badly needed. Moreover as well, certain important religious reforms, in my opinion, are also badly needed particularly in the way Islam is understood and practiced in order to lead to a better understanding of the real spirit of Islam and ultimately to a better level of acceptance of the other. New programs should be prepared to reform the religious education of our youth, and of the clerics who should become pioneers in calling for openness, tolerance, moderation and respecting human rights, and as well in encouraging critical thinking. All of this constitutes a big challenge that need to be addressed after decades of subordination of the religious institutions by the military and the security regimes.
But history has also not been fair to the Arabs, as the Palestinians are still paying out of their own lives and out of their own future, because they are still suffering from occupation and from the Apartheid practices of Israel in the west Bank and Jerusalem. In fact this has contributed to the creation of the Palestinian tragedy, the root of most evils in the region. Military and authoritarian regimes took over the lead in several Arab countries using the Israel pretext, promising to gain back the land and dignity, but ended up losing both, and only perpetuating their own rule. These regimes were often boosted and supported by the West when its interest so dictated. And when the West intervened to change the regime by force, like with the case of Iraq in 2003, it created more chaos, by destroying State institutions and allowing adverse regional forces to fill the vacuum. Isn’t it clear that the horrors that Iraq is witnessing today are the direct result of the dismantling of the Iraqi army in 2003? Wasn’t the elimination of the State institutions in Iraq an invitation to Iran to spread its influence in that country and across the Levant and destabilize the entire region by igniting sectarian and ethnic divides?
Going back to Syria, isn’t it hard to remember by now that Syria was one of the Arab Spring countries back in 2011? For months people demonstrated peacefully asking for reforms and chanting on the streets of Damascus, Homs, Hamah, Deraa and Aleppo, among other places, “Silmiya” and “Wahid” meaning our revolt is peaceful and the Syrian people are one, only to be shot at brutally by the Assad regime, who willingly turned this conflict into a military confrontation and radicalized the opposition in order to present himself as the only possible alternative to extremism. Didn’t the West fall right into the trap by refusing to do anything for over four years and claiming that there is no “good alternative” in Syria to stand behind? Aren’t so many voices in the Western world now promoting the idea of dealing with Assad as the lesser of two evils? Aren’t many Western leaders just standing there and doing nothing as the Russian Air Force raids Syria in support of Assad and his thugs?
It is becoming clear, by the way, that the overwhelming majority of these Russian strikes are against the moderate Syrian opposition rather than ISIS. No doubt that this is leading towards more casualties particularly among the innocent civilians, creating as well more tension and ultimately leading to more radicalization in Syria and in the region and beyond.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We will not be able to have lasting peace and stability in Lebanon and in the Arab world as long as the pertinent problems in the region are not properly addressed. At the level of the situation in Lebanon. Most of the important issues we are facing today in Lebanon: the refugees (whether Syrians or Palestinians), the paralysis of the constitutional institutions at the levels of the Presidency, the Parliament, and the Government, the incapability of the State to spread its sole sovereignty and authority on the entire Lebanese territories, are in one way or another related to the interconnection between Lebanon and the broader region.
I define three essential pillarsin tackling three main issues in the region, in ways that will by themselves unlock many of the national problems, whether in Lebanon or Syria or Iraq and unleash the real potential of this region in terms of change, peace, stability and growth and development:
- The issue of occupation: No sustainable peace nor prosperity is possible in the region with the presence of continued occupied territories by Israel, whether in Palestine, Syria or Lebanon. A final and fair settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict along the parameters that are well known and that have also been outlined by the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 which grants Israel full peace and normalization of relations with all the Arab and the Islamic states in return of a full withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders. This should include turning Jerusalem into the capital of two States, by giving the Palestinian sovereignty over the Eastern side. This will help arrest the current deterioration of affairs that risk starting a dangerous regional and global conflict.
- The issue of diversity and foreign intervention:
It is true the ethnic, religious and sectorial divide in the Arab world is something that should be recognized, respected and embraced by the state in each country. Also it is true that during the last few years certain violations were inflicted on the different components of the societies in several Arab countries irrespective of the relative size of these components, particularly in Iraq and Syria. But it remains very true as well that it is high time to start drawing the right lessons from history that only the civil state, that is inclusive and just, and when it is properly empowered, it can embrace and include all components of the diverse societies without any exclusion or marginalization on the basis of equal citizenship and that it can allow these components to express themselves freely while respecting the unity and sovereignty of each country.
On the other hand, the issue of the protection of certain components of the society of the region has always been an excuse for foreign intervention and meddling in the affairs of the Levant in general. Recently, Iran has used first the issue of Palestine and second the issue of protecting the Shia, the Zaidyyin, and the Alawite components minorities as a venue to intervene in the affairs of five Arab countries: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.
Therefore and in order to contribute towards achieving stability in the Middle East region and at the same to prepare the grounds for better and cordial relations between the Arab world and Iran the Iranian intervention in the Levant (Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon) as well as Yemen and Bahrain, should be ceased and these countries should be allowed to rebuild their State and institutions away from foreign interference and meddling.
In this respect, it is high time that Iran recognizes the fact that exporting its revolution with its own version of Shia Islam that is based on the Wilayat Al Faqih doctrine across national borders is only destabilizing the region and creating un-needed friction between the Arab world and Iran who share a lot in terms of history, geography and common interest.
- The issue of violent extremism: a global-regional agenda should be developed to deal with the problem of extremism, along three principles:
- The first principle is that violent extremism has nothing to do with any particular religion, ethnicity or ideology. Extremists are people who have taken the religion, the sect the ethnic belonging as an excuse to commit their offenses. In fact, the biggest loser from their heinous crimes is often the religion or the ideology that they claim they are supporting. So freeing that religion from their claws is the first line of offense against them as it strips them from the context and renders their acts purely criminal. Identifying Islam for instance with ISIS, only serves ISIS and allows it to leverage its ideological claims, while freeing Islam from it hallows it reduce it to a gang of outlaws.
- The second principle is that extremism breeds extremism and only moderation can defeat it. Let me again give the example of ISIS. Importing the Iranian-supported militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Hezbollah to fight ISIS only made ISIS stronger as it allowed it to mobilize more extremists from its end. Nothing strengthens extremism but the opposing form of extremism, and nothing hurts it as much as moderates that belong to the same religion or sects that it claims it is defending. Remember the experience of the Sahawat in Iraq effectively fighting Al-Qaeda there.
- The third principle is that extremism is a symptom not a cause of a problem. And like most symptoms, the timing of dealing with the real causes is of utmost importance, as the longer we wait without solving the original problem, the more difficult and the costlier it becomes to deal with the symptoms. Let us be very clear: eliminating extremism is not possible if we don’t deal with the pertinent problems that have caused it to exist in the beginning.
President Assad has clearly been behind the outburst of the war and destruction in Syria, and so far he has been responsible for the death of over 300 thousand casualties and over one million injured, as well as the displacement of over 50% of the population. The regime is moreover responsible for the creation and nurturing of ISIS and some other extremist and terrorist groups. Because of that he cannot be a part of the future of Syria as a vast portion of the Syrian population feels disfranchised. Otherwise, ISIS will continue to attract people leveraging on their marginalization and their grievances. In this context, framing the issue as a choice between authoritarianism and extremism is not just immoral, but also wrong and counter-productive. Authoritarian regimes are at the source of extremism and no effective policy of fighting extremism is possible if authoritarian regimes like Assad remain in power. A political solution to the war in Syria should envisage that all components of the Syrian society, including the Alawite sect and the Kurds, along with representatives of the opposition and the regime should be included in a broad coalition that eases Assad out and sets Syria on a course towards a democratic and civil State.
Before I conclude let me also propose an immediate track of action for Syria. We all know how the final solution should look like but the big question is how to get there. The most immediate direct temporary solution to the Arab refugees problem and its costly implications on Europe is to establish safe zones within Syria particularly in the northern part of Syria, an idea that remains so far ignored by the US and the West. European intervention is also needed to support international mediation in Libya while actively involving the Northern African Arab countries and Egypt in the nogotiations towards peace in this country. Thus securing the shores of Libya to stop the influx of Libyan and African Immigrants into Europe.
As for the future of Syria it is very important to commend what came out so far from the conference that was held recently in Vienna regarding safeguarding the unity and sovereignty of Syria particularly because any other alternative leading to the division or fragmentation of Syria is definitely more horrific and more disastrous to Syria, to the region and beyond. Besides and to avoid furthering radicalization and instabilities in the region and beyond, it is extremely important to actively prepare for the huge task of the reconstruction of Syria, politically, economically and socially. Because this important multifaceted task will surly create a new future for Syria and the Syrians and as well as to the region and beyond particularly for Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Lebanon, itself a reflection of the Arab world, has never been in real peace for decades. Empowering moderation while helping to move the region forward in dealing constructively and effectively with the pertinent issues raised herein in my speech will contribute towards achieving long term peace and stability. I am certain that the challenges of peace are much harder than the challenges of war. But determination and perseverance can help in achieving these noble objectives. The West, and in particular Europe, our neighbor, as the recent flow of refugees has proven, will have a great role to play, not just in helping bring peace and stability, but also in properly managing it. Europe also understands that the opportunities of peace are much more abundant than the opportunities of war. Let’s grab them together.
I would like to thank our hosts today the Konrad Adneauer Foundation, its Chairman Dr. Pottering, as well as Dr. Wahlers and Mr. Birringer, for their continued interest in the region and in Lebanon, and I would like to especially thank my friend Peter Rimmle for his dynamism and enthusiasm for German-Lebanese cooperation and for facilitating this interaction today.
Thank you all.