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Lecture at the Center for Lebanese Studies in Oxford- London - October 2004
His Excellency Deputy Prime Minister gave a conference in London under the title ‘Lebanon and the Regional Problems’ during a remarkable ceremony to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Center for Lebanese Studies in Oxford, London. The CLS is an independent academic institution founded in 1984 by a group of Lebanese concerned with the state of affairs in their country. Their objective was to set up an institution that would undertake impartial and balanced research and contribute towards Lebanon's recovery. The aim is to promote better understanding of Lebanon and to help find solutions to its problems.

The Centre is now established as an institution that plays a pivotal role as a focus for academics, journalists, business-leaders, policy-makers and students. Through its conferences, publications and contacts, the Centre has become a major international resource for Lebanon.

The event was followed by a dinner banquet thrown in honor of the distinguished speaker Mr. Issam Fares, his wife Mrs. Hala Fares, his daughter Miss Noor, and his sons Mrrs. Michael and Fares. The occasion was attended by Lebanon’s Ambassador to London Mr. Jihad Murtada, as well as scores of Lebanese and British political, social, diplomatic, academic, and economic personalities, as well as the head of the Center’s Board of Trustees Mr. George Asaily, the Center’s Director Mr. Nadim Shehade.

H.E. Mr. Fares & Mrs. Hala Fares upon their arrival at the Center in London

Mr. Fares takes the floor as the guest speaker of the Center for Lebanese Studies
Below is the speech of H.E. Mr. Issam Fares:

Mr. Chairman Georges Asseily,
Distinguished guests

I am delighted to be your guest speaker at the twentieth anniversary of the Center for Lebanese Studies. This Center, founded by Lebanese residing in the United Kingdom and by their friends, plays a significant role in focusing world attention on Lebanon.

I wish first to acknowledge the role of those who founded the Center, and of those who now guide its steps, under the able direction of the Chairman of the Board Mr. George Asseily.

In the same spirit I wish to applaud the dynamic leadership of the current director of the Center, Dr. Nadim Shehadeh.

Dr. Shehadeh is supported by a wide circle of Lebanese, Arab and British leaders from many fields. To all of them I express the deep gratitude of the Lebanese - both public and private.

The Center has published major books and studies. It has attracted scholars, journalists and statesmen to participate in seminars, discussion groups and lecture series. It has become a distinguished forum addressing major issues relating to Lebanon with the view of reforming its institutions and enhancing its role in the region.

It is in private institutions such as this one that the genius of the Lebanese lies. We shall in time translate our excellence in the private realm to excellence in the public. Laying the foundations of a modern democratic state is a challenge facing all Arab states, although to varying degrees.

To be sure, Lebanon has its share of problems. It was a combination of problems in its public life that led to its internal war in the 1970s and 1980s. It was an internal war in the Lebanese soul before it became a regional war on its own land. Here is an area which you have addressed in your deliberations. It will remain with us as we define and refine our concepts of identity, loyalty, and citizenship.

We looked long and deep into our own failings. With determination and with the will to make a new start, we reached an Agreement at Taif in 1989. This Agreement is Lebanese through and through. It is all inclusive. It addresses the pluralism of our society. It defines issues that were vague, and it gives each of our communities its due.

Arab brothers, particularly Syria, worked closely with us in reaching the Agreement. The Taif Accord was accepted by all parties, even by those who oppose it at present and question its validity. It is true, some of the Taif stipulations have not yet been implemented, and some were not clearly defined. There were also items that were to be expanded upon later. We trust that these will be dealt with in due course.

Since the adoption of the Taif Agreement, Lebanon has made great progress.
Beirut has been rebuilt. Our economy has regained much of its vigor. Security has prevailed; and Lebanon's place in the Arab World has been restored. The tourists who flooded Lebanon this summer, both Arab and international are a most eloquent testimony to our recovery.

However, what concerns Lebanon the most, is the region in which it lives. Lebanon's long term security depends largely on the security of the Middle East. If Lebanon is secure, investors will still ask “is the region secure?” “Will the problems of the region end up inside Lebanon?”

The problems of the region are inseparable from our problems. What happens in one part of the Arab World immediately affects other parts. Small countries must raise big questions: what about the future? What is happening around us? How will changes in the region impact on us? How will international interests blend with ours?
Of the many concerns that occupy us, I will allude to three only:

Our First Concern is the Arab-Israeli problem, rightly known as the Middle East Problem. How this problem will be resolved affects Lebanon directly. Lebanon shelters some 300,000 Palestinian refugees. They are poor, restless, and frustrated. Our southern frontiers, our ports in the South, our airspace all are continuously violated. Lebanon, being free, open, and democratic is a platform for all those who wish to express their frustration and this frustration remains high because of delays in solving the Middle East Problem.
The more this problem is allowed to fester, the more difficult it is to resolve. It is most unfortunate that in the past few years the Middle East Problem was relegated to the back burner. Important steps were taken within the Madrid Framework in 1991 initiated by President George Bush, Senior. A major effort was invested by President Bill Clinton in the last days of his Administration. He told me that if he had one more month, he would have succeeded in resolving it.

Perhaps the most important step taken by the Arabs with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict was taken in the Arab Summit held in Beirut in March 2002. In that Summit, Crown Prince Abdallah made a daring proposal. The Chairman of the Summit, President Emile Lahoud, shepherded the Crown Prince’s Proposal and ensured full consensus for it. The Proposal is the following:

The Arab states agree to offer normal relations and security for Israel in return for all occupied Arab territories, for recognition of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds Al-Shareef (East Jerusalem) as its capital, and for the return of the Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN resolutions.

This remains the policy of Lebanon as well as of all Arab states. Recently, Prime Minister Blair declared his readiness to give the Middle East Problem top priority and to work closely for its resolution with the U. S. President after the November 2 Elections. We, in Lebanon, are pleased by Mr. Blair's commitment, and we urge him to follow through. Britain at one time was part of the problem. Now, it has an opportunity to be part of the solution.

Our Second Concern is the course the Iraqi conflict will take. This conflict is now another Middle East Problem, indeed another International Problem. The Iraqi conflict has dangerous potentials.

It could drift into confessional wars; it could bring up the ghost of partition; it could become a theater for settling scores. We have experienced some of these ills in our own war.
We have therefore something to say about them. We may not have much control over what Coalition Forces, and other external powers, and movements might or might not do in Iraq, but we have something to say to the Iraqis themselves. Of the three dimensions of the Iraqi conflict – the international, the regional, and the internal, - the internal is of pivotal importance.

The Iraqis must first help themselves before they can expect the help of others to be of great effect. We tried the external dimension to no avail, and not until we spoke with one voice were we able to receive the external support we needed.

From the day our war erupted in 1975 Lebanese leaders, intellectuals, clerics, and heads of parties began to write position papers, to hold conferences, to reach out to each other with the view of agreeing on the fundamentals. The fundamentals included, among others, the question of identity, the form of government, the nature of representation, the question of social justice, and relations with our neighbors. Once agreement was reached in Taif, militias put down their weapons, and a new chapter in Lebanon began.
Iraqis may have to follow a similar course. They have to reach agreement on the fundamentals of their future; should they fail to do so the Iraqi conflict will rage on into the future.

It might take new and unforeseen dimensions that could seriously shatter the already precarious system prevailing in the Arab East. Our third Concern lies in the conditions of Middle Eastern Society itself. We in Lebanon are part of the larger Arab Society. We may be more developed in certain areas, less developed in others, but ultimately our future is inseparable from our Arab environment. The values and symbols of the Arab World are pretty much our own values and symbols.

There was a time when the Arab World was supreme. It was the world leader in science, in the arts, in medicine, and engineering. People traveled from all over the world to Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo to study and to advance themselves. Now things have changed. Our region is rated by a United Nations study as amongst the poorest, the least literate in the world. The status of Arab women remains very low. The Arab economy is described as among the least productive. These are dangerous indicators. They give us advance notice of the dangers that lie ahead.

They lead to frustration, rebellion, religious fundamentalism, and other forms of extremism. They are likely to be as dangerous, if not more so, than the violence we now witness in Palestine and Iraq, because they might carry within themselves passionate slogans of medieval times that easily arouse the masses and disrupt the course of progress.
As regional peace and stability are primary concerns for small, free and democratic Lebanon,

So, also, the social conditions prevailing in its region are of great concern.
Governments must commit themselves to extensive reforms. Daily, we read about the adoption of this or that type of reform, even in the most conservative of the Arab states.
These reforms span the entire Realm of public life, from representation in decision – making, to the rise of civic organizations, to expanding the role of women.
But the pace of change is not as fast as the situation demands. Globalization has eliminated distance and what gains people have made in the Far East or in the West are seen in the Middle East and sought after.

The challenge facing us in the Middle East is how to modernize without losing touch with our roots. How to live fully in the contemporary world without losing our values and traditions?

To effect peaceful transitions we have to be more practical than ideological. We have to accept compromise, and yet we have to remain authentically ourselves. Lebanon has made headway in this regard. It still has many challenges to overcome and many burdens to bear if it is to have the impact it desires in its region. Our region needs peace and stability to make leaps in the direction of science, in the promotion of standards of living, and in equipping our people with the blessings of knowledge.

The Center for Lebanese Studies is doing its share in this regard. It is spreading knowledge about Lebanon and its environment. It is calling on the best in the Western tradition to come to its help. In strengthening Lebanon you will be strengthening its role in the region as an agent of freedom and democratic values. For over a century our region has been a problem in world politics.

Let's hope we can make a fresh start at the dawn of the 21st Century, and thus bring about peace instead of war, cooperation instead of conflict, and knowledge instead of ignorance.
For us, this is a challenge; for the West, it is an opportunity. Thank you for your care and for your continuing support. Lebanon needs it. Lebanon deserves it. And many thanks for inviting me to share this joyous occasion with you.

Mr. Issam & Mrs. Hala Fares attend the gala banquet thrown in their honor in London