Lebanon is presented with the most serious challenges it has faced in the past decade. The economy is struggling, the internal security situation is deteriorating and the country’s neighbors pose real threats. In these circumstances the very fact that the country continues to operate can be seen as a success. And amidst everything, there are opportunities — not just in newfound offshore oil and gas but also within the country’s ingenious population.
As we head into 2013, what can be done to help the country unite, to overcome its challenges and ultimately to grow? Over the course of this week, eight influential figures will address seven important topics, each suggesting one proposal to help the country move forward. In this article, British Ambassador Tom Fletcher urges foreign powers to allow Lebanon the space to develop.
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.
You only have to stand on the rubble of 17 civilizations in Byblos to feel humbled by the way that the country has absorbed the changes around it — you can still see the tidemarks of empires as they have ebbed and flowed on these shores. Now, in a turbulent 21st century, Lebanon again has its geography to thank (or blame) for its position at the nexus of international interests and influences, a vector for regional instability. As an anxious state in a tough neighborhood, there is always someone outside to blame.
Political factions in Lebanon often define themselves on the basis of their international allies. We on the international side have tended to encourage this. It is a habit that we all need to break.
I hope that one positive of the change in the region is that the Lebanese will look less to outsiders, and more to their own extraordinary talents. The 2013 election should be about policies, not personalities, a vision for Lebanon based on Lebanese interests, not those of any of the rest of us. The elections should be an opportunity to hold leaders to account, and to demand delivery on the issues that matter to all Lebanese, not to any individual faction.
So as Lebanon braces itself for challenges ahead, it needs to extend the policy of disassociation from the situation in Syria, to disassociation from the region more widely. I hope we will see Lebanese leaders challenged to set out their vision of #Leb2020, based on the interests of Lebanese citizens rather than external players.
As the international community, we have to play our part too. We need to deliver a stronger consensus that regional and international players should avoid any action that undermines Lebanese stability. We should be guided by a simple principle: get the international community and Lebanese leaders to start treating Lebanon as an independent state with its own interests, rights and responsibilities, not eternally seen through the Syrian prism.
This isn’t to say we should stand silent when abuses of human rights and democratic principles occur. We will always continue to support Lebanon as it develops towards a stable, sovereign and pluralistic society. But what that society looks like and how to get there is a vision for the Lebanese people, not for us outsiders. We in the international community should resist the temptation to come up with our answers, and give Lebanon the space to do so itself. Maybe we need to do some benign disassociation of our own.
Tom Fletcher is the British Ambassador to Lebanon
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