PM Siniora Speech to the Middle East Research Group and the Center for the Study of Divided Societies, Kings College - London

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Distinguished guests,


It is my pleasure to address you today and I would like to extend my gratitude to Kings College, and in particular to the Middle East Research Group and the Center for the Study of divided Societies, for providing this opportunity to meet with you, and think aloud about some of the big issues that are facing us together, Britons and Lebanese, Europeans and Arabs, in a highly interconnected, yet complex world.

A world where the meaning of nations, the definition of frontiers and the perception of security and safety, have all become highly dynamic concepts. A world where something as old as a volcano in Iceland, as remote as a deep-water oil-well in the Gulf of Mexico, as trivial as a bird or swine flu, as random as a trader’s technical glitch, can send global stock markets down, halt international transport, threaten business continuity, cause environmental damage, wipe out billions of dollars, and worst of all, inflict loss of human life that cannot be compensated; all of these being shocks with repercussions that know no boundaries, and recognize no frontiers.

I am using these seemingly random events of a rather unsystematic nature only to highlight the extent to which the world has shrunk, and how much the lives of its different people have become inter-dependent in this global village. But this is only the frame, or the general background, to the much deeper and more complex challenges we are all facing.

In fact, various regions in the world, Europe and the Middle East being of particular relevance to us present here, are going through a period of such high political ambiguity, elevated military tensions, and strong economic volatility. Developments and shifts in focus are occurring so suddenly, that it is sometimes hard to fully grasp their implications, let alone lucidly indentify the deep transformations that lie beneath them.

 The challenges broaden to include the fight against radical Moslems from the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the streets of London and New York; the nuclear ambitions of Iran; the ever more complicated Palestinian-Israeli problem; and the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as the other hot spots in the Middle East from Iraq, to Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and as well Lebanon. These are some of the political/security problems at hand today and that directly concern us as Lebanese, as Arabs, but also as residents of the global village.

 In the absence of progress, or even a strategy or a clear plan to tackle some of these deep and complex political problems, the extent of fogginess and the level of uncertainty have increased. The state of ambiguity was further complicated since 2007 by the sub-prime mortgage problems in the US, that turned into a global financial crisis, which later turned into a global economic crisis, whose repercussions are yet evolving as it has now moved from the private sector whether household or corporate to the sovereign states, starting from Europe but surely not stopping there.

 Is there a connecting trend, an underlying force of change at the core of many of these issues that can help us make sense of them?

 My opinion is yes: a deeper transformational trend does exist. But while my argument is straightforward, its corollaries are in fact highly complex.

 My argument is that the political ambiguity, security vulnerability, and economic volatility, are all different manifestations of a transition from a world that has been solely dominated by United States hegemony at the political, military, economic and even cultural levels at least since the collapse of the Berlin wall, to potentially a multi-polar world; but where the political, military, and economic sharing of power entails different parties, adding further to the complexities of the new world order, if we can yet call it such.

 What is gradually emerging is a multi-polar world where poles are different according to the different issues. A world where the United States of America has to share military power with Russia, economic power with China, and political power with Europe. But China is quickly and boldly unveiling its face as a global power with great ambitions that it may seek to realize, and Russia has political ambitions that it is actively seeking to realize, and Europe had turned its economic ambitions into realities through economic integration, but this great experiment is being currently subjected to a tremendous test. All these factors add to the complexity, and to the uncertainties. Even more, other countries like Brazil and India are also emerging, economically and in some circumstances politically, as we have witnessed only lately. And others such as Turkey and Iran have political, economic and military ambitions at the regional level, but they are pursuing them in different ways and with different methods, adding further to the complexities and uncertainties of the new global power relations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

 The image before us is that of one world order that appears to have faded, while a new one has yet to emerge.

A sequence of events that may have started with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 which lacked moral justification and led to serious damages not just in Iraq but also in the broader region, to the sub-prime crisis in the United States in 2007, have clearly significantly weakened American hegemony over the world. In fact it may have inflicted irreparable damage on this hegemony, to the extent that it may have ended it.

 But a new world order, politically and economically has yet to take clear shape. Some would draw several parallels with the interwar period of the last century, when the economic and military hegemony of Great Britain had been largely eroded, but the dominance of the United States (and later of the Soviet Union) not yet clearly established. Interestingly, that was also a period characterized by much political ambiguity, but even more intriguingly, a great economic depression with glaring similarities to the current global conditions, albeit at a lower intensity thus far.

 A period when an order may have ended, but when another has not yet firmly risen, is by definition a transition period.

 But the more worrying and pressing question to me is: what repercussions will such a transition entail? How do the urgent yet unresolved problems fit into this context? And subsequently, what can be done to reduce their risks, but also to maximize their benefits, if any?

 In my opinion, one of the strongest challenges posed by this transition period is the inherent return to the primary religious, sectarian, ethnic, or tribal instincts, which will further foster introversion, arrogant righteousness, and rejection of the other.

 Ideological, religious, racist, and xenophobic conflicts whether big or small, are not reflections of a clash of cultures as many would argue, but rather reflections of the return to the ethnicity, sects, tribe, or even to the concepts of isolation and seclusion. And all these vices feed not only on the fanatics and their narrow horizons, but also on those who are suffering from oppression and feelings of defeat and who have given up hope, and have nothing left but the expression of rejection and aggression since reaching solutions to their problems seems to be no longer possible by peaceful means.

 This is the real threat, ladies and gentlemen. The lack of direction, the disillusionment in big dreams, the absence of real progress in solving pressing issues, all paving the way to the ugly return to the primal religious, racial, and xenophobic instincts, reversing decades of political, social and economic progress.

 And it is the same multi-faced phenomenon of the return to primal instincts which we saw and risk seeing on the streets of Beirut, that we see in Iraq, and in Yemen and Sudan. It is even more flagrant in the aggression, siege and collective punishment of the people of Gaza, and the Israeli belligerence we see in the Palestinian occupied territories and in Gaza, and elsewhere.

And another return to primal instincts, that reacts to opposing yet similar instincts, and hence argues that Islam is the enemy like the worrisome and dangerous trend accelerating within some of the right wing circles in the United States; and the episode of Koran burning is nothing but a small ridiculous example of this insanity. We also increasingly hear voices that advocate a return to a narrow definition of nation and strict observance of frontiers that argues that economic integration and openness have brought nothing but problems.

These several faces of the return to primal instincts are the real threats of a transition period; threats that affect us all. Threats that sometimes place us one against another while in fact we are often fighting the same battle. A battle against being hostages of our own instinctive comfort zone, be it a religion, a sect, a tribe, an ideology, an ethnicity, or a race.

Ladies and gentlemen,

 We can spend hours debating these complex matters and attempting to design the best possible responses to these threats. But I would like to focus on two issues that concern us as Lebanese and as Arabs.

In the Middle East, home of the three monotheistic religions, and sadly the battlefield of many of the wars that historically took a national or religious facet, Lebanon, a small country of 18 different sects, has provided for a long time a model of diversity and freedom within unity. A democratic system was designed precisely in order to deal with the issue of multiple religions and sects, a system that worked well, despite the major setback of the civil war, which was brought about by the regional and international shocks inflicted on the country. The system worked to the extent that Pope John Paul II claimed that Lebanon is not just a country, it is also a message.

But Lebanon, ladies and gentlemen, is also an experiment, and one that continues to struggle to prove that it can succeed. An experiment that needs to be further developed so that it can serve as a model in its region. However, the vulnerability inherent in its political and religious composition has often made it import or mirror the conflict and divisions of its surroundings, rather than export the principles of diversity, democracy and tolerance to its surroundings.

 In particular, the Palestinian struggle and the Arab-Israeli conflict, the American invasion of Iraq, and now more recently the Western-Iranian face off reflected, among other ways, by the recent polarizing visit of President Ahmadi Nejad to Lebanon and particularly to Southern Lebanon, all these are conflicts and events that have taken their toll on this small, open, diverse democracy, where various historical factors have inhibited the emergence of a strong central state.

The succession of events, constituting nothing short of political and security earthquakes, starting with the assassination of the late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in February 2005, to the war of assassinations that followed targeting politicians, journalists, and intellectuals and that did not stop until 2008; the sixth ravaging war by Israel in 2006 killing and injuring around 6000 individuals and inflicting severe damage to the infrastructure and the economy, in response to the kidnapping of three soldiers; the war against terrorism initiated by a radical Islamist group in the North of Lebanon in 2007, a constitutional crisis, and the near-coup against a legitimate government in May 2008 that threatened to send back the country into a sectarian conflict, are all some of the main challenges that we have faced, and that we have managed through patience and wisdom and perseverance, to survive while keeping our country sovereign, democratic, diverse, and free. And also achieving the highest economic growth rates not just in history, but also in the region, under global financial and economic circumstances that I am certain you all fully grasp.

 In fact the last 60 years, and not just the last 5 years, are a sign of the resilience of the Lebanese model, where peaceful succession of power, democracy, freedom of speech and expression and belief, as well as a free and liberal economic system, all emerged unscathed by the global, regional and local developments.

But resilience did not necessarily mean complete success, neither in developing the model, nor in its ability to inspire the systems around it in the region.

 And the future complete success of the Lebanese experiment is in no way guaranteed, my friends, without the conglomeration of domestic, regional and global efforts. For Lebanon has and continues to pay, not just the price of its own special characteristics of diversity and democracy, but also the price of the enormous problems in probably the most complex region in the world. The same issue applies to both Palestine and Iraq.

 The journey to the success of the Lebanese experiment is long and tough. Yet it is a journey that we Lebanese have no alternative but to take, since there is no other model that can account for our diversity, our shared objectives and our shared destiny. And it is a journey that the international community has a vested interest and actually has no other alternative but to support.

 For the truth of the matter is that while the journey is long and tough, the alternative, i.e. the failure of the Lebanese model, would be nothing short of a catastrophe with repercussions that reach not just the region, but the world beyond.

In this particular context, let me state that the Lebanese model has recently entered a period when it is being tested again, with the expectation that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will issue an indictment related to the assassination of PM Rafic Hariri. And on this issue let me emphasize very clearly: stability and justice are not opposing objectives. The cause of justice should not and will not be at the expense of peace and stability. And the price of stability will not be the sacrifice of justice. And let me also be even clearer: there is no half justice and half stability.

 We cannot shy away from the challenge of holding together our firm commitment to Lebanon’s stability and our search for justice. A justice that puts an end to impunity in a country that has suffered from political assassinations over 60 years of its history, none of which have been brought to justice. Is that even acceptable or believable in the world of today? Some even dare to ask: why this particular crime, the assassination of Hariri that you want to pursue, there were so many others in the past and now it is all forgotten. As if getting away with murder is the norm, and now we are trying to break an old habit that people have gotten used to.

 No my friends, we need to graduate into the world of accountability and justice. A justice that is dissuasive to whoever might be tempted to commit similar crimes, and ultimately brings about a genuine reconciliation. For we are well aware that seeking justice leads to durable stability and that any violence, and more specifically any expression of communal violence, exacerbates existing divisions and threatens our unity as a people and the very existence of a state that binds us together.

 And here, allow me to say, it is not enough to warn against such violence, the ‘fitna’ or sedition as we often call it, but we are called on to strive together so that it does not occur. Communal violence cannot breakout in spite of us. It would explode, God forbid, because of us, and more particularly those of us who are tempted to oppose the right to justice by resorting to violence

This is also a very important and vital message that I hope members of the international community fully comprehend and adopt. And the reasons are many. Among them, let me stress two:

 First as many of you are well aware, the International Tribunal established by UN Security Council Resolution Number 1757 on 30th of May, 2007, whose price, by the way, we the Lebanese paid in blood, is the first time ever an International Tribunal is established to deal with a terrorism crime. And in a world where international terrorism is one of the most pressing threats facing the world population, failure to put an end to impunity will send the wrong signal in Lebanon, the Middle East, and the world at large.

 Second, justice is a pre-requisite for peace and stability, and not a conflicting objective as it is being suggested by some domestic or regional players concerning Lebanon. This threat we are currently facing should be of interest to the world and not just to Lebanon. In the short-run, an exploding Lebanon is also an exploding Middle East, and hence a world in a danger zone in an era of nuclear armament and heightened religious and sectarian tensions. But also, and in the long-run, the failure of a diverse, democratic, free, and sovereign Lebanon is also the failure of a message, a message of openness, and diversity within unity and co-existence. The failure of Lebanon is the victory of the opposing message, of the wrong message that even marginally different people cannot and should not form a nation. A failed Lebanon is an empowerment of the ugly instincts that I mentioned above. A failed Lebanon is a step in the wrong direction in a world going through a sensitive yet momentous period of transition.

 In my opinion, the success of the Lebanese model is not just a domestic Lebanese need, or even an Arab need; it is also an Islamic and an international need.

 Being a laboratory, a reflection of the problems in the broader region, the success of the Lebanese experience also entails finding a just and final solution to one of the oldest and deepest remaining problems in the world and which, in fact, is the mother of most problems in the Middle East: the unresolved Israeli Palestinian conflict. The truth is that this is a noble yet a long-overdue objective in itself, and independently of the success of the Lebanese model. And that is the second issue that I want to raise in my discussion of our shared responsibility in the global village during this transition period.

 The Palestinian problem is the mother cause, the key to unlocking many of the locks that separates the hearts and minds of Arabs and Muslims around the world from the West. It is an essential hammer to destroy the wall of psychological separation between East and West; for in the end, it is the ultimate test of how truthful the West is to the values of freedom, justice, democracy and liberty, and human rights, values that should be applied universally, without recourse to double standards.

 It is not just unjust, but it is also unacceptable for the Palestinian people to remain without a land that they can call “home”, without an independent state, without hope, and without horizon. It is no longer acceptable for the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to remain hostage of a belligerent right-leaning Israeli government, to remain hostage of Western guilt towards Israel, in the game of International Politics, and to remain hostage of Arab divisions and paralysis.

An unresolved Palestinian problem is a waste of resources, and a lack of progress on political and social and economic reforms in our part of the world. This lack of progress will widen further the Eastern separation and alienation from the West, and will reduce its ability to be the worthwhile partner that the West so needs to achieving the common and general objective of prosperity and human progress.

 An unresolved Palestinian issue is also a cause that is hijacked by the extremists, by the fundamentalists, by those who succumb to the ugly instincts that I just mentioned. It is a cause that is used as a bargaining chip, and manipulated by the growing regional and other international powers as a way to book their seats in the new order.

 Pairing the Palestinian question with other issues in the region plays exactly into the hands of those who do not want to provide a just solution to the just Palestinian cause; and this is a perfect example of how the interests of extremists (who are supposedly on opposing sides), often completely coincide. Just compare what is taking place in Iraq against the Christian population in the name of setting up an Islamic state, and what is taking place (in different form) in eastern Jerusalem against Christians and Muslims in the name of Judaism.

 An unresolved Palestinian issue also risks throwing an already boiling region into more populism. And populism is a slippery slope towards more radicalism and towards fascism – as we have also seen in previous periods of transition in Europe. And this slope will in turn widen further the separation of the East from the values of moderation and openness, leading to a build-up of violence and risk of war.

 In this context, an unresolved Palestinian issue is also a major setback in a world going through a delicate transition. And a risk that is not just contained to the Middle East but also, as we saw, to the streets of Madrid and Berlin and London and Washington DC and other places.

 Ladies and gentlemen,

 It is crucial that we succeed, for the alternative to success is not failure, it is much worse. It is disintegration, it is conflict, and it is wars. This is of concern to us all, Arabs and Europeans, Lebanese and Britons, politically, but also economically.

 My friends,

Let me stress one thing last: we and I mean here by ”we” the moderate Arabs and Muslims; we want you, and I mean by you the Western world; we urge you to be selfish. We want you to pursue your own selfish interest. Because it is precisely in your interest that we moderate Arabs and Muslims win our cause: the cause of justice, openness and democracy. And if we don’t win this battle, God help us all.

A battle that we are particularly fighting in three countries: Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. They are the three places where there is deep political division along the same fault-line that divides the region and possibly the world. They are the only three places in the region where you can have an election without a predetermined outcome of 97.6 percent and where you have an active and vibrant political debate with the possibility of people influencing their own future. The success or failure of these three cases will definitely influence and shape the future of the region. And we cannot but notice that the model of democracy and tolerance that is fighting for its survival in these countries is under attack in all three cases and by the same forces - forces that want to maintain the whole region in a state of war and conflict, combined with fanaticism, isolation and authoritarianism. If these forces win, they will take a region in transition into the dark path, and a world in transition will not be without serious if not dangerous repercussions.

So my friends,

Help us help you. The journey is long. It will not be easy. But the future depends on our bold and decisive actions today. We should help ourselves and each other to overcome fear, to overcome the appeal of comfort zones, whether religious ethnic or national, and to overcome injustice.

It is up to us, as intellectuals and officials, or whichever influential position we hold, to lead the way, searching for the common denominator; a common denominator for the future of humanity.

I thank you for your attention this evening, and I am looking forward to a lively and engaging discussion.

 Fuad Siniora

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