Fuad Siniora, former Prime Minister of Lebanon, presented his insights regarding the Arab Spring, the role of Lebanon, and possible ways forward on the path to progress and peace in the Middle East.
On May 5, the Middle East Program hosted a meeting, "Lebanese View of An Arab Changing Landscape" with Siniora. Michael Van Dusen, Executive Vice President of the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the event.
Siniora started by examining the implications of the recent uprisings in the Arab world. He stated that the changes are dramatic because popular protests brought down decades-old regimes within days by breaking through previously entrenched fears of expression. Siniora noted the role of social media as the vehicle by which the masses were able to freely express discontent and organize movements. Siniora also commented that the Arab Spring has shattered the dichotomy between "moderate" and "non-moderate" factions, the latter of which referenced extremist elements. Rather, he posited that the dichotomy is between "legitimate" and "non-legitimate," since this generation of activist youth is eager to be heard and to participate in their own progress with dignity to foment legitimate governance.
When speaking about Lebanon specifically, Siniora stated that the country is a democracy, although it has been used by external actors as a battlefield. As examples, Siniora listed proxy wars and conflicts between the United States and Iran and Israel and Iran that have, and still are, taking place in Lebanon. He commented on the 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon that resulted from the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He recalled that those protests were similar to the current ones in that the Lebanese people succeeded in calling for the withdrawal of Syrian forces and demanding rights. Siniora lamented that paralysis has since overwhelmed hopes for progress and inclusion in Lebanon.
In reference to Iran, Siniora noted that Iran uses Islamic rhetoric as a technique to infiltrate Arab communities while its real motive is to continue the exportation of the Iranian Revolution. Siniora maintained that Iran has played a large part in inflaming sectarian tensions in Lebanon, Gaza, and Iraq and that Iran exploits the plight of the Palestinians to further its own agenda. Moreover, Siniora commented that while Iran has rhetorically supported democratic movements in other countries, it continues to brutalize people who seek similar change in Iran.
Siniora also spoke of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, saying that an Arab peace initiative was needed so that peace with Israel is possible in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Siniora said that he thinks over half of Egyptians would like to see their government renege on the Camp David Accords. He concluded that the killing of Osama bin Laden was a positive achievement for the United States and for humanity, although it does not signal the end of terrorism. Rather, Siniora argued, if the United States would like to alleviate rallying causes for extremism, it should reinforce diplomatic efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so that the likes of bin Laden can no longer use the suffering of Palestinians as a mobilizing force.
Siniora emphasized the unique opportunity at hand for the United States to support peace and progress in the region. He mentioned the coincidence of the Arab Spring, the death of bin Laden, and the signing of an agreement between Hamas and Fatah, which have all come at a time when it is most important to move from stagnant contention to new approaches and to pull people away from radicalism while upholding values of positive engagement.
By Sara Girgis, Middle East Program