"Lebanon has survived many upheavals by compromise"
Thursday, November 19th, 2009
Lebanon is regarded as the gateway between the Orient and the Occident. Numerous cultures have left their legacy there on the eastern rim of the Mediterranean, while others have spread out into the world from there. As a meeting point for cultures and religions, this land known as the Switzerland of the Middle East gained the reputation of being very liberal, which has always made it attractive to artists and merchants. The balance of power of the religious factions anchored in the constitution provides stability. But the country had recently become the pawn of vested interests involved in the Middle East conflict so that news of war and civil unrest were dominant. Lebanon has now found its way back to the stability it once enjoyed with the latest presidential and parliamentary elections. ARAB FORUM spoke with H. E. Ramez Dimechkié, Ambassador of the Lebanese Republic in Berlin, about the future of his country.
S. E. Ramez Dimechkié, Botschafter der Libanesischen Republik in Berlin
ARAB FORUM: What future prospects does the election of a new parliament hold for the political scene in Lebanon and on a wider regional scale?
Dimechkié: We are currently having a difficult period of government building, but there are a number of very positive elements. We had presidential elections last year; these were followed by parliamentary elections which, by all accounts, were free and fair; relations with Syria were normalized and we now have mutual diplomatic representation. Mr. Saad Hariri has been nominated to form the government. He is facing some difficulties at the moment in doing so, but the time will come when the various parties will overcome their differences, which vary and depend very much on the so called “weather.” A compromise acceptable to all parties will be worked out. Lebanon is a country that has survived many upheavals by compromise.
ARAB FORUM: How will the diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon evolve now that a Syrian Embassy has been established in Beirut? What impact will that have on potential peace negotiations with Israel in the future?
Dimechkié: The core problem of the region must be settled. By this I mean that the Palestinian problem must be seriously addressed by the international community. The Palestinians need a solution based on UN resolutions and a sovereign, independent, and contiguous state of their own. In addition, Israel occupies Syrian and Lebanese territory. Until these issues are resolved, there can be no peace with Israel. The Arab Initiative proposed by King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia at the Beirut Summit of 2002 offered Israel an opportunity for peace with all its Arab neighbours, but the offer so far has been rejected by Israel and ignored by the international community. The U.S. and Europe should do more to promote real peace in the Middle East. We all hope that President Obama’s new initiative will not fall on deaf ears in Israel.
ARAB FOUM: There is an ongoing attempt at peaceful coexistence amongst the several sectarian religious groups in Lebanon, a balance which is also reflected in the constitution. Freedom, diversity of the press, and a vivid cultural scene are the main pillars of the Lebanese image. After years of civil war and proxy conflicts, is it possible that Lebanon could enter a new stage where sectarianism is progressively phased out?
Dimechkié: The Ta’if Accord, which ended a fifteen year civil war and was agreed by all Lebanese factions, made provision for the phasing out of sectarianism in political life. Some progress has been made, but there is much more work to be done in that respect. Cultural life remains very active. Lebanon remains the publishing capital of the Arab world and several international festivals take place every year in Baalbeck, Beiteddine, Tyre, and Byblos. The art and media scene are also very active, and true freedom of expression ensures that the media represent the diversity of the Lebanese political and cultural scenes.
ARAB FORUM: Lebanon has always been a country from which people immigrate to come back at a later stage? Could this be considered part of the Phoenician heritage of trade and travel?
Dimechkié: Certainly, the Phoenicians settled throughout the Mediterranean and beyond – in Cyprus, Carthage, Algeria, Morocco, Sicily, Italy, and Spain. Similarly, the Lebanese have emigrated to every corner of the world where they have succeeded in every walk of life. They also maintain close contact with their homeland.
ARAB FORUM: The expected growth rate for Lebanon in 2009 is 4%. What economic policies and strategies are to be employed to maintain and increase this growth rate? Tourism and the service industry constitute a big chunk of the economy; what other sectors could be developed?
Dimechkié: In fact, we expect the growth rate to be closer to 7%. There are two primary assets which have helped our economy remain prosperous. The service oriented infrastructure and the banking laws have helped Beirut maintain its appeal as the financial hub of the Middle East. The liberal economic atmosphere has also encouraged investors to invest in Lebanon. Of course, the relatively stable political climate boosted the tourism and hotel sector this year.
ARAB FORUM: Germany has taken part in the UNIFIL mission in maintaining peace in southern Lebanon. What other relationships between Lebanon and Germany are to be strengthened in the future, especially in economic and cultural fields?
Dimechkié: Germany, France, and Italy are our primary trading partners in Europe, and I expect them to remain so in the future. However, there is much room for improvement in the balance of trade with these countries. This depends not so much on our European partners, but on our ability to provide the goods and services required by these markets.
Culturally, relations with Germany go back to the 19th century. The Goethe Institute, the Orient Institute, the German Lebanese University, and several German secondary schools in Lebanon are a testament to that.
Interview: Rainer Schubert