Amine Gemayel

President of Lebanon 1982-1988

A Guiding Charter for Arab Democracy


Monday, March 25, 2013

The Arab Awakening: Prospects for Democratic Empowerment


The Arab Awakening:
Prospects for Democratic Empowerment

Amine Gemayel
President of the Republic of Lebanon, 1982-1988

Remarks delivered at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
Washington, DC
25 March 2013

The Nature of the Arab Awakening
The Syrian Nightmare
Lebanon as a Crucible of Arab Democracy
A Marshall Plan for Democratic Empowerment


President Kennedy, my dear friend, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, Thank you. It is a privilege to participate in this briefing organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

For more than four decades, the German Marshall Fund has served as both a symbolic and substantive pillar of the Atlantic community. In this way, the Fund has contributed materially to creating the world’s leading zone of peace, prosperity, and democracy.

For this reason, I am delighted that, more recently, the German Marshall Fund has also focused on creating an infrastructure for democracy in the Arab world. In December of last year, for example, the Fund launched an important civil society initiative for the Middle East and North Africa.

Cultivating a pattern of partnership between the old, established democracies and the new, emerging democratic forces will be vital for the triumph of liberty and human rights in the Arab world.

That is why I hope together we can imagine a new Marshall Plan supported by the Atlantic community and dedicated to forging partnerships with—and among—the democratic pioneers of the Arab Awakening.

The Nature of the Arab Awakening

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to begin with this declaration: we have to state that despite negative trends that cannot be denied and should not be ignored, the Arab Awakening remains one of the great, hope-inspiring developments of early twenty-first century history.

I say this because today, across the Arab world, millions of people live under governments, and within societies, that are far more responsive to their hopes and aspirations. This alone is a remarkable achievement and one—we should emphasize—that has been attained by Arabs and for Arabs through their own agency.

More than two years after the Arab Awakening captured the world’s attention and concern, its dual nature is apparent.

On the first level, the Arab Awakening is a struggle between old, dictatorial governments and the forces of change. We have witnessed this struggle between dictatorship [,] and change play out in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and—most destructively—Syria.

On the second level, the Arab Awakening is a clash between the forces of freedom and democracy—led by a youthful vanguard—and religious extremists bent on imposing a puritanical ideology that, if it seizes power, will result in a new dictatorship founded on a perversion of divine doctrine.

In short, the nature of the Arab Awakening is two-fold: it embodies both the promise of a new era of hope and democracy and also the peril of a new age of darkness and dictatorship.

The promise and peril of the Awakening is on display across the Arab world. Tunisia and Egypt, for example, have experienced a lightening transition from stagnant, repressive dictatorship to a new condition that can, perhaps, be described as the start of democracy.

In both countries, civil society activists have achieved some remarkable successes in laying the foundation for a vibrant democratic culture. On the other hand, in both Tunisia and Egypt newly installed Islamists have maintained ambiguous—and therefore alarming—relations with extremist elements.

Thankfully, when governing Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt have overstepped the bounds of accepted democratic practice, pro-democracy civil society advocates have pushed back by demonstrating their firm commitment to freedom and diversity.

The Syrian Nightmare

Regarding Syria, perhaps nowhere has the dual nature of the Arab Awakening—part progressive democratic movement and part retrograde religious extremism—been more apparent than in Syria. In fact, precisely because the Syrian government has chosen to make war on its own people in a fruitless campaign to crush the Syrian awakening, it has unleashed the forces of religious extremism. And these extremists threaten the democratic future of the country.

As we think about the crisis in Syria, we should above all recall the suffering of the Syrian people. Earlier this month—two years into the Syrian revolution—the New York Times reported, and I quote,

“The United Nations has estimated that at least 70,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011, nearly a million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries, more than two million people are internally displaced and more than four million are in urgent need of assistance.”
[Hania Mourtada and Rick Gladstone, “Syria’s Education System Is ‘Reeling,’ Unicef Says,” New York Times, 5 March 2013 (available from [ syrian-rebels-fight-to-hold-northern-city.html]; accessed 6 March 2013).]

These are the shocking facts with which any discussion of the crisis in Syria must begin.

And yet even amid the death and the destruction in Syria, some reason for hope exists. In this regard, we can cite the fact that for approximately a year the only “weapons”—and I use that word in quotation marks—the only “weapons” deployed by the Syrian opposition against their dictatorial and increasingly murderous government were peaceful demonstrations and songs of freedom.

This is powerful evidence that radical sectarianism is not the preferred option of Arab peoples. Without a doubt, history shall record that the crisis in Syria has been instigated by the malign will of its government, and not by the free choice of its people.

After Syria’s internal war ends, the whole range of Syrian state institutions—especially the military, judiciary, and administration—will have to be physically reconstituted and politically reformed in accord with democratic norms. This historic task will be infinitely more difficult to achieve if these institutions are allowed to collapse completely under the slings and arrows of war and anarchy.

In other words, the best interests of the Syrian people, of Arab democracy, and of the international community will be served if Syria follows the Egyptian model—a transition of state institutions—rather than the Iraqi model—a dismantling of the state.

If its state institutions fail and Syria becomes an “ungoverned space”—which is a distinct possibility given current trends—then it will be an incubator and exporter of mayhem, including terrorism and destabilization, to its neighbors beginning with Jordan, and could spread to the already fragile to Gulf countries.

Another grave danger of the intensifying chaos in Syria is the threat it poses to the uneasy Syrian-Israeli non-belligerence regime, which is based on the 1949 armistice agreement, subsequent UN Security Council resolutions, and the deployment of UN peacekeepers. None of these measures will survive in meaningful form if extremists emerge as the dominant force of post-Assad Syria.

Similarly, the transfer of conventional or unconventional armaments from Syrian government stocks to Hezbollah will precipitate a harsh and destabilizing Israeli response against targets in Syria and Lebanon. Given Iran’s massive intervention in support of Assad and Teheran’s ideological and material patronage of Hezbollah, the danger of a regional spiral of conflict is acute.

If the Syrian nightmare is to end—and along with it the risks of state collapse and regional instability—then the war must be brought to an end as soon as possible. In my view, the best prospects for some kind of negotiated settlement repose in United States-Russian relations.

A wisp of hope for a diplomatic solution can be found in Secretary of State Kerry’s publicly expressed desire to work with the Russians to manage the Syrian crisis. Secretary Kerry’s efforts in this regard have been constructive and should be accelerated and facilitated.

Lebanon as a Crucible of Arab Democracy

Regarding Lebanon, I would like to focus for a moment on the destabilizing influence of Syria on my country. It must be understood that Lebanon is [w]racked by a crisis that is directly tied to the Syrian crisis.

Most importantly, Lebanon is ill equipped to care for its ever-growing, desperate Syrian refugee population. Unfortunately, the international community has been grossly negligent in providing even a minimal level of support. The longer the Syrian crisis drags on, the more drastic will be the negative spillover effects in Lebanon—possibly including armed conflict.

The presence of mass refugee populations strains every aspect of Lebanese society: the already delicate sectarian balance, food supply and distribution, employment opportunities and wage scales (both of which are dropping for Lebanese citizens living in their own country), public safety and crime, and of course political and social cohesion.

In short, the destabilization of Syria that we have witnessed over the past two years means the potential destabilization of Lebanon, and the rise of extremists in Syria means the potential rise of extremists in Lebanon.

On the other hand, the emergence of a democratic Syria will almost certainly mean the triumph of democracy in Lebanon. Similarly, enhancing the forces of democracy in Lebanon will have a positive multiplier effect by empowering democratic elements in Syria.

By dint of its democratic heritage and civil society traditions, Lebanon has been and remains a crucible of Arab democracy. In present circumstances, it could also become an incubator for disseminating a culture of tolerance and diversity. Therefore, the Arab Awakening has not reduced Lebanon’s significance as a force for democratic empowerment; rather, the importance of this national mission has only been enhanced.

A Marshall Plan for Democratic Empowerment

Speaking before this distinguished audience—and in this auspicious venue—I would like to highlight the need for a comprehensive, coordinated strategy for democracy promotion in the Arab world. I have called such an initiative a “Marshall Plan for democratic empowerment.”

The theme of this new Marshall Plan, like that of the historic Marshall Plan, would be true partnership and deep cooperation, in this case between the international democratic community and the rising Arab democratic community.

True partnership, not Western paternalism, will only come to pass if Arab democrats assume leadership, with the assistance of the established democracies.

A Marshall Plan for democratic empowerment could focus on four key areas:

1) Educational reform and the introduction of new technologies;
2) New media as partners in democratization;
3) Accountable governance; and
4) Socio-economic development.

Allow me, briefly, to share some thoughts about each dimension.

The first step to achieving Arab democracy is to give the region’s youth tangible proof that their lives are improving. Here, we must remember that the Arab Awakening was at heart a movement by the young in favor of change and against a present filled with despair and a future without hope.

To inspire Arab youth to support universal values of freedom and democracy, access to primary and higher education must be enhanced, especially in those countries like Syria where the educational system has all but collapsed.

Above all, new curricula at all educational levels must emphasize the teaching of tolerance, togetherness, and partnership.

In the new age of Arab democracy—if such is to arise—information and information technology will be as important as education in promoting and institutionalizing democratic empowerment. In a global age with global communications, the international community must play its part in this process. In this way, the new media will continue to engage students and youth and provide them with the means of enhancing their knowledge and applying it to improving their societies.

The new Arab media must become partners in creating Arab democracies. The new media—along with education reform—are the best means to promote hope and the ideas, principles, and values of democracy. Therefore, international agencies affiliated with the United Nations—as well as private sector NGOs—should help train media not only in technical areas, but also in the norms of democracy.

In terms of accountable governance, to consolidate the Arab Awakening countries need to create those classic institutions that brace the frame of democracy, namely: parliaments, executives, and courts with independent identities and constitutionally expressed powers. Of course, free and fair elections must supply the broad popular mandate upon which legitimate democratic government rests.

There is a trend in the region toward more progressive ideas as key religious and political voices call for a new era of accountable governance. For example, in 2011 Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Sheikh of the prestigious Al-Azhar in Cairo—the world’s leading center of Sunni Muslim thought—issued a statement endorsing democracy.

In Lebanon, the Future Movement—Lebanon’s foremost majority-Sunni political grouping led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri—has declared:

“The change [that has been] ushered [in] by Arab Youth is a long term democratic process, which goes beyond holding elections that result in a ruling majority. [The Youth are inaugurating a new] culture, enshrining equality between all citizens, protecting public freedoms, [and] respecting diversity and the right to [express] difference[s].”

I would also like to mention a charter I drafted and issued last year during a conference held in Beirut and jointly organized by the Lebanese Kataeb Party and the CDI (Centrist Democrat International). Among its key provisions, the charter upholds freedom, supports gender equality in all areas of life, and opposes discrimination against any group based on religion or ethnicity.

Finally, historical experience demonstrates that socio-economic deprivation and poverty lead to extremism, which in the Middle East often means religious fundamentalism.

The new approach that could be championed by Arab democrats—most importantly the educated classes—must focus on sharing the benefits of economic development as broadly as possible. Otherwise, continuing economic hardship will surely remain a source of national, regional, and even global instability.


Ladies and Gentlemen, despite the ongoing Syrian nightmare we can take comfort in signs that the Arab Awakening is producing vibrant societies that cling to norms of democracy and freedom.

Since the Arab Awakening, Arab democracy has been energized and empowered; if not yet ascendant, this movement is a rising element that could—in the right conditions—take root and flourish.

To empower democracy and to brighten prospects for good governance, let us take concrete steps now that will help shape the future.

In this regard, I would like to propose that the German Marshall Fund, together with Arab partners—including Arab think tanks—convene a meeting in Beirut to assess the possibilities and sketch the outlines of a Marshall Plan for democratic empowerment.

Today, the Arab world is positioned for the kind of transformational changes that only surface once in a hundred years. History will not forgive us if we forsake this historic opportunity.

Thank you.