Nazem C. El Khoury: Cultivating inclusiveness in times of crises - The Importance of Lebanon to regional stability

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Cultivating inclusiveness in times of crises

Corfu, 19 – 24 July 2015

The Importance of Lebanon to regional stability

 

by Nazem C. El Khoury,  Former Minister and Member of Parliament

 

 

 

The Importance of Lebanon to Regional Stability

 

Lebanon has always been at the crossroads of history, from the Canaanites, Phoenicians, Persians, and Greeks to the more recent Ottoman and French mandates at the dawn of the 20th century.

 

Lebanon has been mentioned 70 times in the Bible, so to say it’s deeply rooted in the region is an understatement, with it’s reservoir of human capital/potential, as well as, cultural and economic capacities that far exceed its geographical dimensions, even before it became recognized as the Lebanese Republic as we have known it for the past 93 years.

 

Following its independence from the French Mandate in 1943 the framers agreed to an unwritten social contract that guided all major national decisions, and would become the first pillar of the Lebanese political system.

The National Pact would become the social contract that lead to the Constitution, which stipulates that there is “no Legality to any authority that contradicts co-existence” the second pillar of the Lebanese political system.

 

This brings us to the third and final pillar, Consociational Democracy, Lebanon is a country of minorities and as such it has developed a power sharing formula so as to ensure inclusivity in the decision making process.

 

Personally, I believe that while once co-existence was enough, today anything less than inclusivity is unacceptable, even counter productive.

 

Additionally, when once democracy was enough it no longer is, democracy has failed minorities by not offering them any power sharing and more importantly not valuing their identities, Democracy’s new definition should be “the rule of the majority predicated on the inclusivity of minorities”.

 

In other words, the Lebanese model of" power sharing" is the way of the future. It may be a flawed system set up to gridlock, and sometimes-even fail, but that may be the price of inclusivity.

 

Dialogue

 

National dialogue and inclusivity are symbiotic in character. Prompted by the “Arab Spring” many Arab countries including Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria opted for inclusive national dialogue to restructure the state, redraft constitutions, and resolve national conflicts.

 

Of all these countries Lebanon was the first country to launch a national Dialogue in 2006. Actually, Lebanon is a country built on dialogue. With 18 different sects and numerous regional superpowers all of which are very involved, dialogue is what built this country.

 

Having said that, it is important to note that while dialogue sometimes succeeds it often fails but that does not mean the system is failing.

 

The latest national dialogue came in 2008 under the auspices of former president Michel Sleiman. The main achievement was reflected in the Baabda Declaration, which called (among other things) for sidelining Lebanon from axis policy, regional and international conflicts, as well as sparing it the repercussions of regional tensions and crises out of concern for the Lebanese National interest, unity and civil peace. This declaration calls for Arab consensus, and - while we are talking about inclusivity - recognizes the just Palestinian cause, including the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland according to UN Security Council Resolutions.

It is safe to say that this dialogue has been successful in keeping Lebanon from slipping into an all out civil unrest, more importantly it has allowed the influential parties in Lebanon such as Hezbollah and Al Moustaqbal Movement, as well as, the Liberal National Current and the Lebanese Forces to reach a memorandum of understanding to keep the country out of any civil unrest, INSPITE of Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria.

 

So to the question why is Lebanon important to regional stability?

 

It is safe to say that the Lebanese have learned some lessons from the many wars that have taken place on their soil and it is high time to resort to inclusivity and internal dialogue to resolve their problems and create domestic immunity in dealing with a region marred with uncertainty and explosively.

 

The fight between inclusion and exclusion is currently on full display on National Regional and International levels. Lebanon is both a model and cautionary tale for the future.

 

ON THE POLITICAL LEVEL

 

Being a country of minorities Lebanon has created a unique power sharing formula, which has been GENERALLY inclusive.

This is to say that the president is Maronite Catholic, the Prime Minister is Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the House is Shi’a Muslim and while this may be considered institutionalized discrimination it forces inclusiveness and continuous dialogue. Furthermore, some countries go a step further, they put in place housing laws that require ethnicities to live along side each other.

 

ON THE ECONOMIC LEVEL

 

Lebanon has been suffering from an ever shrinking middle class, with an ever increasing gap between the rich and poor, this is an issue that we are still applying old remedies to fix, but the world has to face the fact that this will be the defining issue of our time. The question is how much income inequality can any society/economy take before it breaks down?

 

ON THE RELIGIOUS LEVEL


With 18 sects making up its social fabric, Lebanon is the only Arab state that allows all citizens the freedom to practice their religions publicly and without fear of persecution. Furthermore, there is an ongoing dialogue among the sects in the form of spiritual summits held by the leaders of the various groups to continuously work on building and strengthening interfaith partnerships.

 

ON THE CULTURAL LEVEL

 

Due to it’s geographical location Lebanon has historically been a place where east meets west, so it is not just a bridge, it is the space where East and West have most in common, and what better place to start a conversation than with our commonalities?

This is clearly manifest in our educational system, which embraces the best of the English, American and French systems, making it an academic destination for people across the Middle East (and the world).

 

Called the “printing house” of the Middle East, Lebanon has always been a haven for writers, thinkers, politicians and students to explore their ideas, and I cannot think of a better place to read, discover new ideas and in the process find yourself than in a printing house.

 

LEBANON: A COUNTRY OF REFUGE AND EMIGRATION

 

Lebanon is historically a country of refuge and emigration, Maronites and Druze escaped into its mountains for safety and freedom, in later years hundreds of thousands would flee its mountains in search of peace, today Lebanese expats number approximately 12 million, three times the Lebanese population currently in Lebanon.

 

This haven however, is threatening to break under the weight of the 500,000 Palestinian refugees and now the approximately 1,550,000 (registered and unregistered) displaced Syrian.

 

Without the proper financial support from donor countries and international organizations as well as the real fear of a new escalation that threatens a larger and greater exodus, this is no longer in the realm of inclusivity, but abnegation and self-denial (arguably the opposite of inclusivity)

 

IN CONCLUSION

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Pope John Paul said Lebanon is a message, but as I said earlier it’s more a ‘common space’ where the world can come together to learn from our successes and failures. But before any of that, an appeal, look around the room, we need more women, more people of color and more diversity in general, because inclusivity starts right here, in this room. It rests on us, those who have power, to share some of it. The onus is on the majority to include the minority and bring it into the fold. Last but not least, let us seek to be inclusive in times of peace, it might help us avoid times of crises altogether.