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The Arab Awakening: “Stabilization” through Democracy, Human Rights, and Pluralism


The Arab Awakening:
“Stabilization” through Democracy, Human Rights, and Pluralism

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

Remarks delivered at the Italian Senate during the second lecture
jointly sponsored by the De Gasperi & Adenauer Foundations
18 April 2012


President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano,

President of the Senate Renato Schifani,

Your Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all.
It is a privilege to participate in these proceedings in the Italian Senate - a leading forum of modern democracy with very ancient roots.

At this critical time when the Arab world is embroiled in turmoil with both positive and negative consequences, there is a great need to formulate new thinking on political, social, and cultural issues relevant to that region.

If we view the state of the world through a democratic lends, then we can say that twenty years ago the collapse of the Soviet Union secured democracy in Europe for the long-term.
Over the last two decades, democracy has for the most part triumphed in Latin America, and it has made significant progress in Asia. Therefore, the regions of the globe that are today most in need of international support to enhance democratization are Africa and the Middle East.

It is fitting that we convene today under the auspices of two prominent foundations, each named in honor of a great champion of democracy: Italy’s Alcide De Gasperi and Germany’s Konrad Adenauer. Both leaders played central roles in the historic post-war arrangements that bound Europeans together, that enhanced ties between Europe and North America, and that redefined European relations with the Middle East.

It must be emphasized that developments in the Arab world profoundly affect Europe, and vice versa. Here, we can recall the words of De Gasperi himself, who once observed:

“In Europe, there is not only [the influence of] Rome.
How can one neglect or set aside the Near Eastern element…?”

If we take as our theme “Strategies of Social and Political Stabilization of Non-European Mediterranean Countries”, then—in my mind—there can be no more relevant, inspirational figures than De Gasperi and Adenauer.

For De Gasperi and Adenauer embodied, in both their political theory and practical leadership, two themes that are at the center of my analysis:

I. Transitioning a society away from dictatorship and towards democracy in countries deeply traumatized by war and dictatorship; and

II. The need to forge international partnerships among democrats as a basis of achieving stability with democracy.

In my remarks, I shall focus on these two themes, as well as a third, namely: the need for Arab democrats, and their international partners, to focus on building democracy, human rights, and pluralism as their core task.
Finally, I will close with a proposal to create a high-level committee that could help guide this democratization project.

Transitioning Society Away From Dictatorship

Please allow me to begin my reflections on transitioning a society away from dictatorship with a word of caution. More specifically, permit me call for caution in the use of a specific word, namely: “stabilization.”

Looking at the waves of turbulence sweeping across the Arab world today—including the Arab countries of the Mediterranean littoral - the people and governments of the European Union, quite understandably, find the concept of “stabilization” attractive. Stability, after all, is the foundation of social, political, and economic progress.

Yet, in the context of the Arab world - and the great transformation that has been called by many names, including the one I favor, the “Arab Awakening” - an undue focus on stabilization could be dangerous.

In short, the need for “stabilization” is essential, but the condition we seek must be stability together with democracy and respect for human rights, pluralism, and the sovereignty of states.

Stability without democracy is a formula for future unrest and conflict. As former U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice observed in 2005:

“…for 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East—and we achieved neither.”

At this moment in history, an undue emphasis on stability is risky because it could lead to the embrace of old or new forces of dictatorship. And we—“we” meaning the forces of democracy— must not forget that dictatorial elements are very much alive and active in the Arab world.

We should also remember that the transition from dictatorship to democracy is not an easy task but rather is one that requires tireless internal efforts as well as international support.

As we saw in the Arab Awakening in Tunisia and Egypt, the fall of dictators can happen practically overnight. But the fall of the underlying dictatorial system is another matter altogether.

When a military dictator exits power, the military structure he commanded remains in place. And the new leaders have an overwhelming interest in maintaining control of the political and economic system.

At the same time, foreign and domestic interests may align with the military structure in order to guarantee “stabilization.” But the price of such stability will always be paid in the coin of freedom, and the losers will always be the people and the institutions of democracy.

In addition to the old forces of dictatorship, another ever-present danger in the transition of a society away from dictatorship is the rise of new sources of dictatorship: in the Arab world today, the threat of new dictatorship could come from fundamentalist extremists.

Despite the threat of fundamentalist extremists, the forces of democracy must take into consideration the influence of religion in political life; they can do this most effectively by cultivating alliances with moderate and liberal forces.

In this way, a broad consensus can be forged on the need for a secular state that can act as a guarantor of democracy, human rights, and pluralism.

Fortunately, the existence of the kind of moderate political and religious element that supports a secular, democratic state is not theoretical. In Iraq, years before the Arab Awakening, Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani opposed violence in the name of religion, rejected theocracy, and supported the creation of a democratic political system.

Since the Arab Awakening, forces of moderate Islam have similarly embraced democratizing trends. Most importantly, in June 2011 Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Sheikh of the prestigious Al-Azhar in Cairo issued a charter on democracy. This charter declares, in part:

“Al-Azhar embraces democracy based on free and direct voting….Islamic precepts include pluralism, rotation of power,… ruling the state in accordance with its laws, combating corruption and ensuring the accountability of all people.”

I would like to quote also from a recent document issued by the Future Movement, the leading Sunni political grouping in Lebanon, led by former PM Saad Hariri. Analyzing the significance of the Arab Awakening, the Future Movement has declared:

“The change [that has been] ushered [in] by Arab Youth is a long term democratic process. [The Youth are inaugurating a new] culture, enshrining equality between all citizens, protecting public freedoms, [and] respecting diversity…”

Finally, it should be noted that Arab Christians—both religious and political leaders—have actively supported the Arab Awakening. For example, before his death the Coptic Pope, Shenouda III of Egypt was an eloquent champion of democracy, human rights, and pluralism.

Foundations of Arab Reform: Democracy, Human Rights & Pluralism

Having sounded a cautionary note about the pursuit of stabilization to the exclusion of democratization, I would emphasize that I stand before you as a democracy advocate, one committed to the wellbeing and enlargement of the emerging, but still vulnerable, community of Arab democrats.

The vulnerability of democracy in the Arab world is something my family - the Gemayels - and my political party - the Lebanese Kataeb - knows only too well. Both have paid a heavy price in defense of Lebanese democracy and sovereignty.

I would like to address the question of how prospects for the emergence of a Mediterranean zone of democracy can be enhanced.

In this regard, it must be said that—perhaps more than any institution in the world today—the E U is in a position to help the Arab world succeed in five key areas:

I. Enhancing the role of Arab youth—who, after all, have been the main drivers of the Arab Awakening—through a comprehensive program of educational reform, especially to improve access at all levels;

II. Creating accountable governance by adopting the kind of checks and balances that prevent a dangerous concentration of power;

III. Partnering with the new media to create and spread a culture of democracy;

IV. Reducing poverty through socio-economic development and thereby eliminating a perpetual source of instability and extremism; and

V. Achieving, at long last, a just and durable settlement of the Palestinian issue.

I would like to return for a moment to a central theme of our discussion of democratization in the Arab world, namely pluralism. When we talk about pluralism in an Arab context, we must begin by acknowledging that virtually every Arab country is inherently pluralistic in some way or another. Such pluralisms appear in many forms, including ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural differences.

The remarkable pluralism that can be found in almost every Arab country has often been the source of national and even regional turmoil and conflict. Therefore, it is the very pluralism of the Arab world which makes democracy so necessary because only a democratic system can *accommodate expressions of diversity *while also upholding the vital elements of national unity and stability.

In the case of Lebanon, the raison d’être of my country is to be a land where harmonious coexistence prevails among diverse communities. Thus, Lebanon can be thought of as an Arab pioneer in creating a system that accommodates pluralism while maintaining stability.

In fact, Lebanon’s worst moments of internal turbulence have been provoked, or exacerbated, by external actors intent on interfering in the country’s affairs.

Here I should like to mention the charter I drafted and issued in January of this year during a conference held in Lebanon, jointly organized by the Lebanese Kataeb Party and the Centrist Democrat International. Along with other provisions, the charter *endorses a strong civic state, *upholds the inviolability of freedom, *supports gender equality in all spheres of life, and *opposes discrimination against any group based on religion or ethnicity.

Despite its internal challenges—and in a sense because of them—Lebanese society is well positioned to act *as a cultural bridge builder between the West and the Arab world *and a universal space for dialogue. .

“Marshal Plan” for Arab Democracy

I would now like to sketch a specific strategy that the E U —in partnership with Arabs of capacity—could consider implementing to help achieve a peaceful Middle East living in freedom and democracy. I proposed this strategy during the most recent Brussels Forum convened by the German Marshall Fund. There, I suggested the following.

Why don’t we imagine a new Marshall Plan for Arab democracy that seeks to promote a culture of freedom, democracy, human rights, and pluralism? This Marshall Plan could be supported by the European Union and dedicate itself to forging partnerships with—and among—the emerging democratic forces of the Arab Awakening.

Such a Marshall Plan for Arab democracy—whatever its formal name—is urgently needed to safeguard the emergence of democracy in the Arab world.

In short, since gaining national independence, most Arab states neglected *elementary democratic principles *or even minimum respect for basic human rights. Only a comprehensive plan to support democratization can enable the Arabs to overcome the negative legacy of decades of dictatorship.

Perhaps the first task of the Marshall Plan for Arab democracy could be collecting, translating, analyzing, and disseminating the numerous initiatives and statements on democratic governance that have been drafted and circulated by Arabs over the past year or so.

In this way, the Marshal Plan for Arab democracy — one that features genuine partnership and cooperation — *could become a powerful attractor, *bringing together various strands of Arab democratic thought and *helping to forge a regional consensus on the best practices of Arab democracy.

Conclusion: A Partnership for Democracy

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to conclude with this additional thought:
If a Marshall Plan for Arab democracy is launched, then one of its most important partners could be the Arab League.
The commitment of the League to consolidating a new era of democracy in the Arab world is symbolized by the presence here today of Their Excellencies Nabil Elaraby and Amr Moussa.

In fact, I recently had the opportunity to exchange ideas about the role of the Arab League with Secretary General Elaraby in Cairo.
Afterwards, I read with interest his eloquent statement outlining his ideas *for enhancing the capabilities of the League *and giving it a more prominent position in regional and global affairs.

Clearly, if a Marshall Plan for Arab democracy is to succeed, then the Arabs need an effective, robust, and combined voice that will enable them to contribute fully *first, to the worldwide movement for democracy *and, second, to collective governance on the global level and within the Euro-Mediterranean-Arab zone.

Therefore, to the secretary general, Nabil Elaraby — and to all those present in this assembly— I propose the formation of a high-level committee operating under the auspices of the Arab League and composed of senior Arab and international statesmen and thinkers.

This committee would have as its mandate the formulation of a consensus Arab view on the dynamics of a partnership between European democracy and Arab democracy.

In this way, the high-level panel on Arab democratization could help *consolidate the Arab Awakening *and contribute substantively to the achievement of peace, prosperity, and democracy in the Middle East.

If stabilized through a partnership between international democracy and Arab democracy —and among Arab democrats—: the Arab Awakening will be the dawn of progress guided by the star of freedom.

And the fulfillment of mankind’s dignity will be its sole horizon.

Thank you.

Amine Gemayel
Rome , April, 18 2011