PrintEmail This Page
Fares at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council
Full Transcript of Fares’ speech
Fares Awarded by Metropolitan Saliba
Meeting the head of the International Maronite Foundation

Fares, A Keynote Speaker at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in California& Guest of Honor at the 45th Conference
Deputy Prime Minister Issam Fares was the keynote speaker at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in California at the Conference Hall at Baltimore Hotel, in presence of a large crowd of economists, diplomats, businessmen, and correspondents. Among the high-level figures attending the conference were Lebanon’s Ambassador to the US Farid Abbud, former Lebanese Foreign Minister Dr. Elie Salem, Lebanon’s former Ambassador to the US Abdullah BouHabib, and the General Arab Consuls accredited in California. Mrs. Hala Fares was among the guests, sharing this special occasion. She was also joined by Mr. Nijad Issam Fares, the head of the American Task Force for Lebanon.

Fares takes the floor at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council: ‘Lebanon is a unique country in the Middle East’

Full Transcript of Fares’ speech
The National Dimension
Lebanon is a unique country in the Middle East. It is unique because of five fundamental principles in its political system. These principles represent its values and its claim to special attention. They are:
  • Freedom
    In the US freedom may be taken for granted. Freedom, however, is new comer on world stage. It is still a new idea in the Middle East, and highly controversial. In Lebanon, freedom is the essence of our political existence. We speak freely, we publish freely, and we enjoy most biting criticism on our TV stations. And every attempt at laying conditions on our freedom is met with severe opposition. We like it that way.
  • Plurality
    Lebanon, though small, is extremely diverse. There are Christians and Muslims in almost equal numbers. But Christians and Muslims differentiate in many divisions and subdivisions each of which insists on its uniqueness. There are more than a dozen political parties, reflecting the diversities in Lebanese society. This is an important feature in a region known for the one party regime or for regimes of no parties at all.
  • Constitutional Democracy
    Lebanon has the oldest continuing constitution in the Arab World. The Constitution adopted in the 1920s was amended many times but was never revoked. Even during our internal war the constitutional system continued to function and presidents of the republic changed in accordance with constitutional rules not a minor achievement in the Middle East.
  • Consensus
    Consensus is an integral part of our democratic process. Perhaps because of Lebanon’s plurality and its obsession with freedom, all important matters are decided by consensus. There is no majority and minority, if by some action a minority is endangered. A democracy is one in which the interests of the smallest minority are considered to be of greatest importance
  • A Liberal Economy
    The legacy of open markets, free trade, and international business is associated with the Lebanese since Phoenician times. Ours is an economy of free markets and free exchange. We deal with the East and with the West, with the North and with the South and we do that with minimum interference from the state.

    These principles gave Lebanon the reputation of being the “Switzerland of the Middle East”. We enjoyed that reputation; we thrived on it, until the tragic interruption of the war caused by the region’s contradictions that transformed Lebanon into a battlefield. It is true that despite, or maybe because of its democratic characteristics, Lebanon was facing internal problems but these issues were not enough to spark an internal war without the prevailing regional situation.

The Regional Dimension
We do not know the direction Middle East history would have taken if Israel was not established in 1948. We do know, however, the direction history took since that date. All Arab States, including Lebanon, opposed the creation of the State of Israel. They all believed that the Palestinian people, like all peoples in the region, under French and British mandates, were entitled to their own independent state. This did not happen, and history in the region unfolded as follows:
  • Successive wars took place between Arabs and Israelis, and these wars are still going on. If wars through regular armies have stopped, wars by proxy are taking place all the time. The Intifada is a type of war; it is the war of the weak against the strong. Stones versus tanks. And retaliation is a type of war too.
  • Palestinians were forced to leave their country and take refuge in the neighboring Arab states. Refugees, destitute, poor, frustrated with no solution in sight, took arms and attempted revenge. A few hundred thousand refugees live in Lebanon, many of them in camps. The Palestinian refugee problem is a major factor in the destabilization of the region.
  • Constitutional democratic orders in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, collapsed after they were discredited in a losing war with Israel in 1948. All these democratic regimes were replaced by military regimes. And the regimes sided with the Soviet Union, built armies with Soviet support, and mobilized their population in anger against Israel.
  • Western support and more specifically American support for Israel led Arab intellectuals to seek social and political remedies in the Soviet camp. A wave of socialism with an authoritarian muscle engulfed the region and weakened the defenses of the emerging democracies.

While all neighboring Arab states tightened their belts, centralized their governments, built their armies, and prepared for showdown with Israel, Lebanon did not heed these developments. It acted as if not much was happening, and frustrations resulting from regional conflicts were soon to explode on its territory. When they did explode the state was not ready.

Frustration magnified amidst the Palestinian refugees after the Arab defeat in the war of 1967. Palestinians decided then to take matters into their own hands. In Lebanon, they built militias; they armed, and became in effect a state within a state. They had Arab states behind them some guiding, some controlling, and some financing.

The Palestinians armed actions in Lebanon and from Lebanon led to the destabilization of the carefully built equilibrium. It also led to a vast regional intervention in Lebanese issues through Palestinians and their allies on one hand, and through the parties and militias that stood up against them, on the other hand. The Lebanese war was the natural result of this regional conflict on the Lebanese territory.

Regional conflicts triggered the war and kept it going. And Lebanon was plagued, during a certain period of time with a bad reputation that was exploited by its enemies in the West. God be thanked, this bad image is long forgotten now and Lebanon has regained his good reputation.

    The International Dimension

    We should keep in mind that until a decade or so ago the world was in a Cold War in which the US and the Soviets faced each other in every region, and especially in the Middle East.

    True, the US and the Soviets supported the rise of Israel in 1948, but interests diverged soon after that. The Soviets began to lean towards the Arabs while the US intensified its support of Israel. American policy in the Middle East took the following format:
    • To support the state Israel that it may maintain military superiority over any combination of Arab military forces pitted against it
    • To maintain direct or indirect control over the extensive oil reserve in the Arab World and to protect the ship lanes ensuring the flow of oil to Japan, Europe, and North America.
    • To defend the strategic routes in the region as to enable American forces to move freely in case of conflicts in Asia and Africa that might endanger American interests
    • To keep the Soviets out as they represented a threat to Israel, a threat to the flow of oil, and a threat to American strategic interests in the Middle East
    The Soviets on the other hand saw the matters differently, and opposed each of the points above. They tried to hinder any American role in the region. The Soviet ambassador to Lebanon has clearly expressed this stand in the mid-eighties.

    Neither the US nor the Soviet Union really had a policy towards Lebanon per se. Both Powers used Lebanon as a vehicle to transmit ideas and to influence developments throughout the region.

    The peace process in the region needs a concordance between the three dimensions. The same principle applies to Lebanon where peace depended on the concordance of the national, regional and international dimensions.

    I believe Lebanon has addressed the National dimension well, and with the help of its Arab friends, when it reached an agreement in 1989 known as the Taef agreement. In this agreement the issue of identity was clarified, imbalances in the political system were corrected, basic freedoms, once threatened, were reaffirmed, and relations with its neighbors were defined. There is broad consensus in Lebanon behind this agreement. In time some of its provisions may have to be amended, always in the spirit of the Lebanese philosophy as spelled out in the Taef introduction. The Agreement ended the war, restored Lebanese unity, dissolved the militias, and put the state on the road to reconstruction.

    The Middle East region continues to be hot, and tensions arising from the Arab-Israeli conflict impact on Lebanon, and on the region as a whole. Let’s not minimize what is happening in the Middle East now. Prime Minister Sharon is resorting to a policy that has failed in the past. It is failing now. It will fail in the future. The Intifada is the expression of a deep frustration. It only grows when met with violence. What looks like a skirmish or a type of war, as the Intifada might look, can easily spiral out of control and evolve into a real regional war. The consequences of such war are too terrible to contemplate.

    The need is for reason, not emotion, for conciliation, not confrontation. The time has come to bring peace to the Land of Peace. The peace can only be led by the United States.

    After the Gulf war president Bush made a valiant attempt to reconcile Arabs and Israelis. President Clinton made a similar attempt at the end of his Administration. I am pleased that President George W. Bush and Secretary Powell have decided early in their Administration to build on the achievements of past Administrations and attempt again to bring the conflict to an end. In this effort the U.S can benefit from the store of good will that Russia and Europe have in the region.

    Peace in the Middle East will be an achievement of historic proportions. It paves the way for closer ties amongst Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It opens the Arab East to new economic opportunities. It eliminates the enmities that have arisen between the Arabs and the US and it will free the region from the spirit of violence and revenge that has pervaded it for half a century. Furthermore, it gives all peoples in the region the opportunity to plan for the long-term future.

    In working for a just and comprehensive peace the US will be drawing not only on its strategic and economic interests, but more importantly it will be drawing on he very values on which its free political system was founded. It will not be out of place, in the context of a just and stable peace, to think of these values: of freedom, justice, equality, human rights, fair play. These are your values. We admire these values, and we share them, and always attempt to translate them from theory to fact.

    Again, I thank you all for the privilege of being with you and sharing my views about Lebanon and the region. I am ready to discuss with you any of the points I have mentioned or any other issue you would like to raise.

    Mr. Fares then answered questions raised by the audience insisting that a peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved by intermittence but should be comprehensive and based on justice, rights and international resolutions. He said: A peace agreement has been signed between Israel and Egypt, and between Israel and Jordan. Then there was the Oslo agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Is this the peace we really want, especially in view of what is taking place today in the West Bank and Gaza strip between Palestinians and Israelis? What happened to the slogans of the Madrid peace conference? What happened to “Land for Peace”?

    Fares assured also that the Chebaa farms are Lebanese and that the relations between Lebanon and Syria are very solid. He said that the Lebanese government is working towards achieving economic, financial and tourist prosperity in Lebanon in order for the country to regain its reputation as the Swiss of Orient as well as the confidence of businessmen. The Lebanese government, he said, has adopted new legislations and regulations that will strengthen the world confidence in Lebanon and allow businessmen and capital owners to work in Lebanon and make profits.

    He insisted on the important role of the Lebanese diaspora, especially those who are living in the US, in investing in Lebanon and championing its just causes.
    Fares Awarded by Metropolitan SalibaThe following day, Metropolitan Philip Saliba presented to His Excellency Mr. Fares the Order of the Orthodox Parish in appreciation of his good offices, amid high applause and appraisal from a large crowd of participants in the dinner banquet held on the heels of the conference at Century Plaza Hotel.

    The conference had taken place in presence of 2500 people among who were present Mrs. Hala Fares, the head of the Orthodox Congress for North America& Canada Metropolitan Philip Saliba, scores of Arab Ambassadors and Consuls, US Senator Darrel Issa of California, former Minister Dr. Elie Salem, former US Ambassador to Syria Edward Djerjian, and the head of the American Task Force for Lebanon Ambassador Tom Nasif, Mr. Nijad Fares, former Lebanese Ambassador to Washington Abdallah BouHabib, and a large crowd of religious dignitaries, and Arab-American political and economic figures.

    On the occasion, Metropolitan Philip delivered a speech in which he welcomed the keynote speaker and guest of honor Mr. Issam Fares, portraying him as the successful challenger, the national compatriot, and the distinguished citizen in the service of his nation and people.
    Meeting the head of the International Maronite FoundationFares met at his residence in Los Angeles the head of the International Maronite Foundation Dr. Edward Salem and the members of the Executive Council in presence of Mr. Nijad Fares, the head of the American Task Force for Lebanon and the Director of the ATFL’s bureau in Washington George Cody.

    Salem warmly saluted Fares, highly applauding his role in assuming responsibility and praising the considerable esteem he enjoys among the Lebanese communities on the regional and international levels. Dr. Salem raised hopes for the Lebanese Government to double its efforts, to devote attention to the Lebanese-American community, and to enhance its Lebanese diplomatic presence.

    Dr. Salem briefed Fares about the role the International Maronite Foundation is playing to promote cooperation and coordination among the different Lebanese communities and about the ongoing preparations for the holding of the Second International Maronite Congress in Los Angeles in June 2002, under the auspices of His Beatitute the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir.

    Salem awarded Fares the Golden Decoration of the International Maronite Foundation that was only bestowed upon Cardinal Sfeir, in appreciation of Fares’ relentless efforts, high ethics, human values, and continuous support of Lebanon and the Lebanese people.

    The head of the International Maronite Foundation Dr. Edward Salem awards Fares