Former Prime Minister, Foud Siniora, delivered the following speech at the Arab Bankers’ Association Gala Dinner in Jumeirah, Carlton Tower:
“I am delighted to address this distinguished audience at a time the world is going through changes of immense repercussions on us Arabs. A world that is heading either to a new global order or a new global disorder. A period that is characterized by the absence of global leadership, less cooperation, more uncertainty, and lower levels of faith in international institutions. In this environment, we come to talk about the Arab World, and its position within the global scene and to talk as well about the role you, as Arab bankers and business leaders, may play in creating more venues of cooperation between the Arab economies and the world at large.
Several events of the previous century shaped the destiny of the Arabs, starting from the Nakba to the Naksa to the Arab Spring and beyond. This is in addition to the fundamental changes and developments that featured major socio-political tremors, including the impact of the technological revolution in the field of communications that led, among other things, to the collapse of the barriers of fear and silence.
But I would like here to emphasize the importance of a major earthquake that has played a crucial role in putting us where we are in the first place.
The US invasion of Iraq and its dismantling of the Iraqi army, and later of the Iraqi state, led to a major destabilization of the Middle East region in favor of Iran. Later shocks such as the wars in Libya, Yemen but especially in Syria led to greater meddling by regional powers and I mean Turkey and Iran. They also led to the major comeback of Russia, reflecting a great strategic void in the Arab World.
Today, it seems that the Arabs are the weakest factor in determining the destiny of the Arab world. Surely this is not just the making of others. Decades of oppression and injustice that have been exerted on millions of civilians in several Arab countries by authoritarian regimes have led to furthering political and economic marginalization and, consequently, to frequent turbulences within these countries and beyond.
The primary lesson that should be derived from these developments is that unless effective and sustainable reforms that could contribute towards creating political systems built on freedom, democracy and respecting diversity and human rights are enacted, problems would continue to emerge in the Arab World, leading to more conflicts within these countries, to more confrontations and wars and to further loss of dignity of the Arab population, and less hope and opportunities for the Arab youth.
Let me be very clear here: reform in its broader sense, is a dynamic process and a continuing journey. Delaying this journey will make it more costly, more painful and more difficult to implement. It will also render it more susceptible to failure and mistakes.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In addition, the unresolved Palestinian problem remains the most dangerous crisis of modern history and constitute an important key to unlocking many problems in the Middle East. Israel continues to inflict on the Palestinians the most inhuman uprooting policies to force them out of their hometowns. But what makes this situation more complicated is the fact that it has lately been suffering from compounded and far reaching setbacks, namely:
the recent US decision on relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem that certainly violates International law;
the cancelation of funding to the UNRWA;
Increaed US acquiescence regarding expanding the Israeli settlements in the West Bank;
The new and very dangerous definition of Palestinian refugees to only mean those actually born in Palestine.
All of these factors are further endangering the prospects of a sovereign Palestinian state. Moreover, recent Israeli laws, especially on the Jewish identity of Israel, coupled by the harsh Israeli practices and the disgraceful apartheid measures against the Palestinians are unhuman to say the least.
Meanwhile, the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and of parts of Syria and Lebanon, remains a major source of injustice and instability in the Arab world.
Arab failures in dealing with occupation and failures to address needed reforms, have allowed Iran to claim a bigger role in Arab affairs mostly through fueling sectarian rifts to further its hegemony in the region. Consequently, it has contributed to an intra-Palestinian divide, and to deepening conflicts in several Arab countries including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain.
These conflicts as well as others that had their impact on the Arab region will continue to have growing negative and destructive effects on the entire region and beyond. Among other results, they are fueling significant waves of migration from the region towards Europe and beyond. These waves have negative political and social consequences which are being experienced in many countries outside the region, contributing towards the rise of populism and of extremism in many European countries. Brexit is one example. Other examples lie in the rise of the far-right in elections in many European countries as well as perhaps in South America.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Here is the single most important message I would like you to take from tonight’s event.
It is your role, and I would even go further to say it is your duty, as Arab bankers and as business leaders and entrepreneurs with international presence and global reach, to underscore this simple yet powerful idea to your global counterparts and to the global policymakers that you come across: The idea that the unresolved political and security problems in the Middle East will continue to have disruptive repercussions on the worlds’ political and economic landscapes.
This is the theory of interconnected vessels, which is more and more relevant every day, despite the waves of isolation and seclusion and wall-building that have been on the rise recently. Actually, if anything, the rise of isolationist instincts is proof of the extent to which the world is connected wherein all far-right parties gained as a knee-jerk reaction to the migration crisis and refugee infux from the Middle East and North Africa.
We as Arabs do not want to be scared of the rest of the world, but we also don’t want the rest of the world to be scared of us.
But for this to happen, the rest of the world cannot go on believing that problems in the Arab world are only problems for the Arab people. A deprived Palestinian, Syrian, Iraqi, or Yemeni kid who lost everything today and who is living below the poverty line, may be a terrorist in the making who might blow himself up on the streets of London or Paris tomorrow. That is why there is a great need for a more profound understanding of these major potential risks and ultimately a need for more serious efforts in finding solutions to the root causes of these problems.
This does not only apply to the West. Our regional neighbors, and I mean here specifically Turkey and Iran should also draw the right conclusions from the painful economic impacts, partly because of their often disruptive role in Arab affairs in varying degrees. These two regional players are both bleeding financially and economically and therefore they must realize that we share with them not just common borders but also common threats and common interests.
The use of some Arab countries by regional and global powers as a war stage rather than a zone for economic trade and prosperity, is starting to have a grave, unsustainable impact on the entire region and beyond.
So what should be done, ladies and gentlemen?
And how do we avoid further deterioration, and accordingly build sustainable solutions that may guarantee justice, peace and stability to prevail in the Arab world– for the sake of the region as well as for the sake of the entire world? Moreover, how and in which way may you contribute to the betterment of the prospects of economic relations between the Arab world and the rest of the world?
Three factors need to be kept in mind:
– One is that fatigue from the state of conflicts and wars is starting to show on most regional and global powers, politically and economically.
– Two is that the region is spreading geo-political and economic risks that reach beyond the Arab World.
– Three is the great potential of economic coordination and integration within the resource-rich Middle East region which is a source of investment, reconstruction and growth for the entire world, at a time in which the world economy seems to be slowing down and running out of other engines of growth. The region contains a huge reservoir of human resources and of economic opportunities that could have a positive impact on the economies of Europe and elsewhere.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let us look around us and draw the right conclusions from the example of the recent reconciliation and historic peace agreement that took place between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. After decades of wars and conflicts that depleted them economically and politically, they realized that the only way out was to collaborate and to partner together to get out of the deep hole that they were digging with their unstoppable fighting.
Arab countries and regional players need to realize that the common interests among them as well as between those countries and the West can be used as a good catalyst to open the door for higher levels of collaboration among those countries and with the rest of the world.
But for this to happen Egypt and Saudi Arabia, urgently need to step up their collaboration and work together on unifying and leading the Arab world.
In this context, the Arab League should take an initiative supported by the major Arab countries to fill the Arab void and exert serious efforts to achieve Arab-Arab reconciliations on the bases of dignity and common interests. Simply speaking: The Arabs need to stand up to counted. This should be followed by regional reconciliations starting with Turkey, which represents a strategic economic horizon for the Arab region.
Meanwhile, it has to be said that it is in the interest of the Islamic Republic of Iran to understand that what brings it and the Arab World together- ranging from history to geography to common interests- is much more than what separates them. Iran should thus realize that gains from peace and stability in the region are much higher and more sustainable than the temporary and costly gains of wars if there is any.
When that happens theArabs, together with the main regional powers, should then stand united behind finding a comprehensive, just, and lasting solution to the Palestinian problem which urgently calls for a two-state solution as per the Arab Peace Initiative (Beirut, 2002).
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Sustainable solutions in Syria based on eliminating the root causes of the conflict in that war-torn and tortured nation must be found. Only a political solution that is acceptable to ALL, and I underline ALL, will open the door for the POSSIBLE and SUSTAINABLE reconstruction of Syria, and I underline possible and sustainable.
What holds true for Syria holds equally true for Libya and Yemen. Reconstruction requires stability and unity, which in turn require acceptable political solutions and national reconciliations that limit and ultimately eliminate all foreign intervention in these states.
The Arab world desperately needs new approaches that highlight the values of human development, hard work, productivity and discipline all under a civil state which constitutes a guarantee for inclusivness and contribution for all components of the Arab societies, as well for respecting human rights, diversity, and dignity. This path also calls for a reformed and modern religious discourse that is adapted to the major changes of the 21st century and which values diversity and critical thinking.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The continued disorder and instability in the Middle East and the Arab World is a major part of the disorder in the world at large. If and when progress can be achieved by striking peaceful solutions in the region, everybody will find that the level of fanaticism, polarization, and isolation will recede, and that there is so much to gain from greater economic cooperation and integration. Moving in that direction would contribute to the prevalence of a new world order that is much more sustainable than the current one.
The clock is ticking and the choice is clear. We either address our collective problems or we could dig deeper in the hole of sectarianism and introverted political and economic instincts of isolation and fear. We can either leave our kids a better world than the one we inherited, or we could leave them one that is much worse. And that, my friends, is a freightening thought.
I thank you for your attention.”
Source: National News Agency