Lebanon and the Arab World in Transition

November 14, 2012 // 12:00pm1:00pm
Photo by Mona Youssef

Fuad Siniora, former Prime Minister of Lebanon, discussed the dynamism of the Arab Spring and expressed optimism that current trends can lead to greater dialogue and democracy in the Middle East.

On November 14, the Middle East Program hosted an event, “Lebanon and the Arab World in Transition” with Fuad Siniora. Michael Van Dusen, Executive Vice President and COO of the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated the event.

Former Prime Minister Siniora opened by pointing out “two fundamental transitions” he saw underway in the Middle East. The first is “dynamism,” in which the Arab world is seeing more elections and greater room for public expression; the “genie of freedom is out of the bottle,” he said. The second transition is the growing role of Islamic politics as Islamists move out from “forced marginalization” into the task of learning how to tackle “real world issues.” Siniora felt that these movements must “embrace modernity” in order to survive, and that the world should judge them on their performance, rather than on “preconceived notions.”

However, Siniora also discussed several of the obstacles that “can make the road longer,” first and foremost being the concept of Arab or Islamic exceptionalism. Despite a media focus on “setbacks” such as the “repugnant and immoral” violence in reaction to the Innocence of Muslims video, these do not reflect “broader Arab realities.” Only through democracy, Siniora argued, can the Arab world “self-correct.” The region needs more liberty, democracy, and free speech, not less, he said. As the region faces continued challenges, he continued, the West has a responsibility to promote reform “at all levels: political, social, and economic,” particularly to ensure smooth transitions, boost investments, and pursue shared objectives.

While “optimistic” about the future course of the Arab Spring, Siniora was also worried over its effect on such issues as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iranian influence in Lebanon and Syria, and Lebanese domestic security. Siniora stated, “We as Lebanese cannot continue to live” under threat of becoming “a launching pad” for regional conflict. He condemned the recent assassination of intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan in Beirut as one such attempt by Syria and Iran to exploit Lebanon for their own interests. Siniora followed up by saying that to avoid such regional tension and potential for external exploitation, Lebanon must form “a new non-partisan government” that could provide more leadership and internal dialogue.

Siniora concluded his presentation by congratulating President Obama on his re-election, seeing it as “a great opportunity” for the United States to resolve conflict, particularly regarding Syria, where militarization has proven “the nature of this brutal regime.” Siniora also hoped that Obama’s re-election would give the “necessary impetus to tackle the Palestinian problem,” the resolution of which he saw as necessary for a stable, democratic Middle East.

By Laura Rostad, Middle East Program

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