Back to Lectures

Lebanon and the Dialogue of Civilizations:Internal and External Dimensions


Lebanon and the Dialogue of Civilizations: Internal and External Dimensions
Amine Gemayel
President of the Republic of Lebanon, 1982-1988
Remarks Delivered at the
6th Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade
Doha - Qatar
13 April 2006

The Need for a Dialogue of Civilizations
Lebanon & The Dialogue of Civilizations: The Internal Dimension
Lebanon & The Dialogue of Civilizations: The Internal Dimension
Lebanon & The Dialogue of Civilizations: The External Dimension
Essential Concepts to be Addressed by a Dialogue of Civilizations

It is a great privilege to address the Sixth Doha Forum for Democracy and Free Trade. I would like to express my gratitude to our distinguished and generous host, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and the members of the Organizing Committee for their excellent work.

There is no more fitting venue to discuss the agenda before us, namely democracy and free trade. The State of Qatar-like the Lebanese Republic-is one of those small, dynamic countries that play a key role in regional, and even global, affairs.
Under enlightened leadership, Qatar has become a model for how a culture of democracy and human rights can be inculcated in an Arab context. To cite just one example, this country has taken historic steps to increase the participation of women in politics and governance:

- In 1999, Qatar was the first country in the Gulf region to allow women to participate, both as voters and as candidates, in a national election;
- In 2003, Qatar was the first country in the Gulf region to appoint a woman minister;
- Finally, next year elections will take place for parliament; undoubtedly, Qatari women will play a significant and enhanced part in that landmark electoral process.

I have been asked to speak on "Lebanon and the Dialogue of Civilizations," and in the remarks that follow this theme will be explored in two dimensions: internal, meaning Lebanese domestic affairs; and external, meaning Lebanon's interactions with the wider world.
Because of immutable laws of size, geography, and demography, Lebanon is a country which depends on dialogue for its internal stability and its external security. Therefore, no country in the world has a greater stake than Lebanon in launching and sustaining a substantive Dialogue of Civilizations. The Need for a Dialogue of Civilizations
.Ladies and Gentlemen, the world community on the global, regional, national, and local levels has never been in greater need of true dialogue. True dialogue is defined by following: a search for common values that unite people in cooperative endeavors, including democracy, economic development, and cultural expression.
At the global level, the need for a Dialogue of Civilizations is apparent. After the Second World War, even as the U.S.-Soviet Cold War confrontation emerged, a second great issue arose in world politics: namely, the contraction of European power and the rise of the nations of the East.
This world-transforming process-ancient societies in Asia and the Middle East emerging to claim their place as equals in the community of nations-could only be peaceful if informed and guided by a sustained dialogue leading to mutual understanding. For the most part, such a dialogue has been lacking, a fact which accounts for much of the global turmoil we see today.
Since its founding in 1945, one of the greatest tasks faced by the United Nations has been to encourage, sponsor, and facilitate cross-civilization dialogue between those two great groupings which-for convenience more than for accuracy-we refer to as "the West" and "the East."

Lebanon & The Dialogue of Civilizations: The Internal Dimension
In the process mentioned a moment ago-the rising importance of the nations of the East in world affairs-Lebanon was in a special position. Lebanon was intimately connected to, and a part of, both the Mediterranean zone of civilization and the Middle Eastern zone of civilization, and it also enjoyed strong cultural links with Europe.
Because of Lebanon's special and unique makeup, its very existence as a nation and a state depended on coexistence between distinct groups. Therefore, dialogue and mutual understanding was, and is, essential.
Through national and local mechanisms of dialogue, the Lebanese people created a remarkable national system defined by democracy (meaning elected, representative government) and a market economy.
Prior to the 1975 war in Lebanon, the country's various communities coexisted for a hundred years in relative peace and harmony.
The challenge for Lebanon today is the same challenge it faced in the past: through the medium of dialogue, reconciling a variety of Lebanese identities into a coherent unity. The major Lebanese identities that must be addressed by dialogue include the following:

- Religious identity: Islamic & Christian;
- National identity: Lebanese & Arab;
- Geographical identity: Middle Eastern & Mediterranean;
- Ideological identity: Nationalist & pan-Arabist;
- Cultural identity: Traditionalist & modernist;
- Institutional identity: Centralized government & decentralized administration.
Lebanese society, like the wider global community, needs a set of common values upon which to build a spirit of solidarity and unity.
In the past, like today, the various elements of Lebanon's democratic system depend on dialogue and free speech. Dialogue and free speech directly affect the existence of Lebanon's:
- Rule of law;
- Institutionalized system of free elections (including toleration of political parties and dissent from government policy);
- Periodic, democratically contested changes in executive and parliamentary offices;
- Partially decentralized power structure;
- Independent judiciary (essential for the preservation of basic human rights as well as the market economy);
- Free press;
- Independent educational institutions;
- Independent religious institutions (operating in an environment of religious freedom).
It should be emphasized that Lebanon, even in its darkest days of civil war and external intervention, preserved the essential features of its democratic constitutional system.
Lebanon has also preserved its great tradition of national dialogue and consultation. In my capacity as President of Lebanon, in 1985 and 1986 I convened in Geneva and Lausanne a national dialogue conference. The main purpose of this dialogue was to reconcile the various Lebanese groupings and to reform and modernize Lebanese institutions.
Today, this process of national dialogue continues in Beirut under the auspices of the Lebanese parliament. The current national dialogue conference-which first convened on March 4, 2006-has three primary goals.
- First, to establish procedures and mechanisms for learning the truth about the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Most Lebanese agree that this task must be completed by a vigorous and credible international investigation. Also, after sufficient facts and evidence have been gathered, the Lebanese people hope to see the establishment of an international criminal court to judge the perpetrators.
- Second, Lebanon's ongoing national dialogue conference must explore ways to implement all the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which among other points calls for the election of a new Lebanese president in free and fair vote and the disarmament of all non-official armed forces in the country (whether Palestinian or Lebanese).
- Third, through their national dialogue the people of Lebanon are identifying the ways and means by which bilateral Lebanese-Syrian relations can be stabilized. Especially urgent questions are demarcating the Lebanese-Syrian border at Shabaa Farms in the south and the exchange of ambassadors between Beirut and Damascus.
A great deal has already been achieved by Lebanon's latest exercise in national dialogue, but more has to be accomplished over the next few weeks to insure ultimate success. Above all, the message must be shared with the world that Lebanon needs the active engagement of the international community. Only in this way can Lebanon's internal dialogue bear fruit and allow Lebanon to regain its role as a messenger of peace and coexistence to the various religious communities and ethnic groups of the Middle East.

Lebanon & the Dialogue of Civilizations: The External Dimension
It is clear that the internal and stability of Lebanon cannot be achieved without dialogue. This internal dialogue in many of its aspects-especially the religious- crosses civilizational boundaries.
Similarly, Lebanon's external position can only be secured in an atmosphere of dialogue that transcends the three civilizational zones that converge in Lebanon: Islam & Christianity; Arab & Muslim; the East & the West.
The Lebanese people look outward beyond their national and even civilizational boundaries thanks to their free market economy (which is dependent on international trade), their cosmopolitan outlook (Lebanon is, perhaps, the most culturally open country of the Arab Middle East), and their democratic system (for more than half a century Lebanon has been a member of the global community of democracies).
Modern Lebanon has actively participated in global and regional international organizations. It was a founding member of both the United Nations and the Arab League (the Arab League has special significance as the first non-Western international organization); in addition, Lebanon is a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Lebanon, as an internally diverse society and a small country located in a volatile neighborhood, has always depended on the United Nations as a central pillar of its security. If the U.N. is in a sense the world parliament of peace, it has also been Lebanon's court of last resort.
Lebanon's strong connection to the United Nations is demonstrated by the fact that its affairs have periodically been the subject of discussions and resolutions in the Security Council. Much credit is due to those dedicated diplomats and international civil servants who have conducted initiatives on behalf of Lebanon through its years of turmoil.
Lebanon has been a leading participant in the Dialogue of Civilizations, in part because the Lebanese people are a world community. An article published last year in a prestigious American periodical stated:
"Lebanese emigrants (some ten million people, from Mexico to West Africa to Australia, claim Lebanese origins) make up one of the most widely dispersed, successful, and influential global diasporas. In the rich Arab Gulf they dominate such professions as advertising, entertainment, and banking. Lebanon itself remains, despite its violent unrest, a well-educated and surprisingly prosperous society, with a level of personal income that is more than double Jordan's and triple Syria's."
SOURCE: New York Review of Books
Volume 52, Number 7 · April 28, 2005
"A New Lebanon?" By Max Rodenbeck
Above all, Lebanon is an example of vibrant democracy, one which can inspire democratic movements in the Arab region, the Middle East, and indeed the world. Just over a year ago, a veteran British journalist witnessed "people power" at work in the streets of Lebanon and was inspired to write the following account:
"Never before have we seen anything like it in Lebanon. Never before have we seen anything like it in the Arab world. Almost a third of the population of Lebanon was there; they walked many miles through the city to Martyrs' Square, they arrived by bus from the far north and from Sidon in the south, most of them young, many of them children.... This was not just a game of power. Nor was it, per se, a democratic revolution. It was an insurrection by the people against the lies and corruption of government as well as the foreign control they have lived under for so many decades."
SOURCE: The Independent (London), p. 24
March 15, 2005
"Cry Goes Out for Freedom in Beirut's Martyrs' Square" by Robert Fisk
Clearly, prospects for the emergence of a democratic Middle East will significantly improve if the Arab world's only longstanding democracy, Lebanon, is permitted to reestablish itself as such.
In some sense, all countries seek to justify their existence before the judgment of history. This tendency can be called the "national mission." Today, Lebanon's national mission consists of two primary elements: promoting Christian-Muslim dialogue and-like Qatar-enhancing the viability of democracy in an Arab context.
Lebanon's status as a vibrant democracy is still of critical importance to the worldwide community of democracies and to the peoples of the Middle East. Recently, the democratic wave which seemed to be rising in this region has receded. The restoration of democracy in Lebanon might well be the decisive step helping to propel democratic reform in the Arab region forward once again.

Essential Concepts to be Addressed by a Dialogue of Civilizations
I would like to close with brief remarks on some of the essential concepts that must be addressed by a Dialogue of Civilizations.
First, in parallel with a "Dialogue among Civilizations," the peoples of the East must engage in a frank "Dialogue within Civilization". Such an internal dialogue must clarify the following issues, among others: democratic governance, minority rights, the status of women, and the structure and content of educational systems.
When engaging in an intra-civilizational dialogue, the peoples of the East can draw on inspiring examples from their own history. Centuries ago, India and China conducted a dialogue through scholarship and culture that brought both societies to a remarkable level of mutual understanding. Now, in a new century and a new millennium, the diverse peoples of the East must practice the complex arts of mutual understanding to a much greater degree.
If a Dialogue of Civilizations is to be a prelude to a more peaceful global society, then it must address following issues:
- Standards and systems of international law;
- Minority rights and protections;
- Access to education and teaching tolerance, togetherness, and majority-minority integration;
- Giving questions of personal security equal weight with issues of national security.
Finally, the key issues that must be addressed at the start of a Dialogue of Civilizations are philosophical. The questions we face are these: How do we interact with "the other?" And how do we imbue willingness to engage in genuine dialogue with "the other" in our cultures and institutions?

Thank you.