News & Media

January 7, 2013
How do Britain and Lebanon succeed in the 21st Century?

On Monday January 7, 2013, following the invitation of the Higher Institute of Political and Administrative Sciences at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, the British Ambassador in Lebanon, H.E. Mr. Tom Fletcher gave a conference entitled: “How do Britain and Lebanon Succeed in the 21st Century?”

Firstly, the Director of the Higher Institute of Political and Administrative Sciences, M. Georges Yahchouchi, welcomed the British Ambassador and stated that “Mr. Fletcher initially visited Lebanon at the end of 2011 when he was Foreign Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister H.E. Mr. David Cameron. Previously, from 2007 to 2010, he had been Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Security and Development to the Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Gordon Brown. Mr. Yahchouchi added that the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik aimed to strengthen its relations with the United Kingdom, through the University of Chester, which hosts more than twenty USEK Faculty members for their higher studies; and that the Ambassador is an active diplomat with high influence, who always expresses his opinions frankly on the Embassy’s website.

H.E. Mr. Fletcher took the floor, stating that “Lebanon remains a country of staggering complexity, potential and vulnerability. Over the years, external influences have always played a disproportionate part in shaping its history; perhaps inevitable given the geography…Looking for ideas on this speech over the weekend, I asked Twitter for the answers. I thought I would get some cynicism. Yet the ten words I heard back most persistently? Transparency, rights, opportunity, youth, innovation, hope, bravery, adaptability, determination, vision. These are the right ten words. So today, I want to look in more depth at practical steps that should accompany these values… I want to identify the ten changes that I think can help to make you the next Singapore or Qatar. A program for Lebanese Renaissance.”

He added, “I think you need to take the features of Lebanon that are traditionally seen as weaknesses, and turn them to your advantage. First, your location. You only have to stand on the rubble of seventeen civilizations in Byblos to feel humbled by the way that Lebanon has absorbed the changes around it. Now, in a turbulent 21st century, Lebanon again has its geography to thank for its position at the nexus of international interests and influences – a vector for regional instability. Second, the ‘Brain Drain’. The talented quit, especially the young… The Lebanese are everywhere where there is business to be done. The diaspora retains huge affection for and links to Lebanon; expat remittances to Lebanon were a staggering $8.2bn last year. I hope that whoever is elected this year will find a way to make that work for you, to enable Lebanon to become the Globe’s most effective network. I want to internet ‘matchmaker’ UK and Lebanese traders.”

He continued: “Third, lack of infrastructure. Unless Lebanon gets developed country infrastructure, you can’t expect to have a developed country economy. You can’t continue by simply buying bigger generators… Electricity, the internet and traffic lights were three great British inventions, and it is time they arrived here. I hope that whoever is elected this year will have 24/7 power and high speed internet as top priorities. Fourth, Confessionalism – Often held up as a factor that impedes Lebanon’s development…The smallest decisions become caught up in political bargaining. But the unique confessional cocktail you have here should also be strength. That diversity gives you a far greater global understanding and global reach… Fifth, experience – Memory of civil war and conflict does create anxiety, and can be an obstacle. But it also builds resilience and muscle memory and the reason why Lebanon has been relatively immune from storms across the region is that people remember all too well the pain that conflict can bring, and do not want to go back.”

“Sixth, Vision. You need the vision, you need to get people to believe in it, and then you need, in the painstaking hours ahead, to deliver it. Instead, in Lebanon, all too often I see fatalism… Real strategy is all too often absent. People conclude that they should work around rather than confront challenges… Seven, Resources. You have the human resources already. You have the only non-oil Arab economy that has not gone to the IMF. And now you have gas, and lots of it. But this makes the decisions taken in the period ahead even more important… Get them right and you have a strong incentive for regional stability and restraint… Eight, The Rule of Law. It is a basic fact of economics that sustained growth is more likely where there are credible systems of justice and legality to underpin it – not corrupt networks. I hope that whoever wins the next election will establish a much more assertive anti-corruption effort…”

H.E. Mr. Fletcher continued, “Nine, Security. You can’t run your lives with the threat of instability. Stability will allow Lebanon to showcase its exceptional tourism. I hope that in the coming year, the army will set out a clear vision as to how it will defend Lebanon from its difficult neighbors… Finally, Ten – you need the English language… because it is the language of the 21st century… You will quite rightly ask – but how do we deliver this? The answer is social media and its extraordinary impact… The Arab uprisings showed the power of the best old ideas allied with the best of new technology.”

Let me conclude by saying why this matters to the UK. Basically a more secure and prosperous Lebanon leaves us more secure and prosperous. It is in our interests that Lebanon succeeds. This is why I reject the argument that it is none of our business; one way I think we can help is by holding out a hand of partnership and solidarity, in good times and bad times. Great Britain and Great Lebanon.”

Finally, he stated that “…the main priority for the coming months must be to hold together hard to preserve stability. But it is also true that if we are to get through the tunnel, we must be able to see a light at the end of it. We think that new groups, often disenfranchised, should be central to this conversation: business, civil society and youth… So, let’s talk about the challenges, and ensure that we are prepared for all outcomes. But let’s also talk about what unites rather than divides… Let’s talk about how to give people what they want – security, justice and opportunity. Let’s talk about 2020 vision.
Holy Spirit University of Kaslik
Tel.: (+961) 9 600 000
Fax : (+961) 9 600 100
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