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Opportunities and Challenges in the Emerging Middle East


Opportunities and Challenges in the
Emerging Middle East

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

Remarks delivered at AbbVie’s
Global Ambition & Leadership briefing on
Eastern Europe and the Middle East

Paris, France
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tour d’Horizon of the Middle East
Need for Economic Development
Necessity of “Democratic Stability”


1. Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished participants in this Global Ambition & Leadership forum, good morning. To my friend Mr. Abboud Bejjani, thank you for that wonderful introduction, and also for visiting my home to brief me prior to this gathering.

2. Viewing the Middle East as a whole, one can say that in the decade or so following the year 2000, little momentum for change circulated within, or emerged from, the region. Today, in contrast, a wave of change is sweeping across the area. But we do not yet know if this wave ultimately will be creative, destructive, or some combination.

3. The business sector can and must play a decisive role in a great, creative project of positive change. After all, some of the most innovative organizations in the world are international ventures like AbbVie.

4. Today, I would like to address three major themes:

First, a tour d’horizon, or general survey, of Middle East geopolitics;

Second, economic issues in the region, including the status of the vital healthcare industry; and

Third, the necessity for a program of “democratic stability.”

Tour d’Horizon of the Middle East

5. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Middle East remains what it has been since ancient times: the strategic center of the world, the vital crossroads where the geographic, economic, and human resources of Europe, Asia, and Africa converge.

6. To understand the Middle East as a region, or to understand any of its component parts, a strategic perspective is required. This is so because the area is, in many ways, a cultural, linguistic, and economic unity. Therefore, no Arab country can really be understood in isolation from its connections to the wider Arab world.

7. The late U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, grasped a truth when he wrote to a friend: “...the Middle East is a complicated place—well not really a place, it's more a state of mind....”
[Reagan: A Life in Letters (New York: Free Press, 2003), p. 448.]

8. That was in early 1984, during the time when I was working with President Reagan to manage the complexities of Lebanon, which then as always could not be separated from the complexities of the wider region.

9. In the last few years the Middle East has confronted a series of new challenges, and these have followed in the wake of those longstanding challenges that were, in fact, longstanding even when Reagan and I were in office.

10. The collective and accumulating turbulence of the Middle East must be probed in all its dimensions. In this forum, however, I can only touch on certain aspects. In the interests of time I must, for example, set aside an analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has a persistence that is both remarkable and dangerous.

11. It is an unfortunate truth that Middle East tensions tend to remain in force for many years. Time, in this region, does not heal all wounds. And so I would urge those engaging the Middle East for the first time to condition their minds to think in terms of centuries and historical epochs, not merely in terms of headlines and current events.

12. If the weight of history is ever-present in the region, then one burden Arabs carry within their mental baggage is a sense of humiliation. Collectively, Arabs believe that history, at least in recent centuries—and especially in the twentieth century—has been unkind.

13. Cooperating in projects to enhance the dignity of Arabs through mutual respect and partnership must be a major goal of external actors—governments as well as business—hoping to succeed in the emerging Middle East.

14. Fortunately, by their own brave efforts, the Arab people have begun to reclaim their dignity. For this reason any strategic appraisal of the Middle East must include this encouraging note: 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.

15. 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 must emphasize—that has been attained by Arabs and for Arabs through their own agency.

16. Unfortunately, in Syria the Arab Awakening has become a nightmare. The war in Syria is now a war for Syria in which regional and global powers intervene directly or via proxy forces.

17. And so at this moment we can see in Syria how the emerging Middle East’s opposing forces are clashing in a relatively compact space: democrats oppose dictators, Sunni oppose Shia, Persians oppose Arabs, Americans oppose Russians, and terrorists who claim the sanction of religion oppose everybody—and if they “win,” they will certainly start opposing each other.

18. The war for Syria has escalated to its present heights of destruction, at least in part, because the United States has been reluctant to mediate more vigorously. Recently, however, Washington has been more involved in efforts to stabilize the situation.

19. International mediation efforts led by Russia and the United States must focus on a three-stage process: first, ending the overt violence in Syria; second, rebuilding confidence among the country’s ethnic and religious communities; and third, reconstructing the country’s political and economic capacities.

20. Historically, Syria has been an influential power in the region, in part because of its central geopolitical position. When Syria is unstable internally, the region becomes more unstable. In contrast, when Syria is internally stable, the Middle East area is more stable. Likewise, if Syria emerges with a more democratic system, that will raise the prospects for democracy regionally.

Need for Economic Development

21. I would now like to share, from a political-policy perspective, some ideas about how individuals and organizations—including business—can help create a more secure, stable, and flourishing Middle East.

22. Above all, it is essential for international enterprises to understand, as AbbVie certainly does, that we—meaning humanity—are living in a global village. To succeed today and in the future, business cannot focus exclusively on markets in Europe, North America, and the other advanced economies.

23. Despite its turbulence, I believe that the Middle East represents a market with significant opportunity for growth. Alternatively, a Middle East with stagnant or negative growth will undermine the global economic recovery.

24. Surveying the Middle East as whole, the various economies of the region need greater investment from abroad to enhance their basic infrastructure and private sectors. Perhaps the three areas most in need of such financing are the environment, energy, and healthcare.

25. Why are investments in the Middle East a “good bet?” The main reason the Middle East should be classified as an opportunity for growth is because of its remarkable reservoir of human capital or, more properly, human spirit. Certainly, crises and wars are endemic to this troubled region, but so are the perseverance and triumph of individuals, communities, and nations.

26. A case study of growth—both political and economic—in the wake of decades of disaster is Iraqi Kurdistan. Under the despotic rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurds were subject to wars, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide.

27. Yet today, that region is an economic miracle, and one fully engaged with the international community. All evidence suggests that young Kurds are eager to participate in modernity in all its aspects; indeed, they have emerged as leaders in all walks of life, including business.

28. Iraqi Kurdistan, of course, is blessed with a resource well known to Arabs and the world: namely oil. The hydrocarbon industry has similarly fueled impressive post-conflict recoveries in places like Libya and the majority-Arab regions of Iraq.

29. Another case study of growth in the face of severe challenges is Lebanon. There, a capable populace, influential culture, and strategic position have served as a basis for economic prosperity. Additionally, a dynamic private sector led by regionally and globally connected entrepreneurs has contributed to growth, despite periodic domestic and regional turmoil.

30. Lebanon’s economy, in particular, has benefitted from dynamic banking and trade sectors that maintain high standards of probity and confidentiality. Such standards have reassured Middle Eastern and global investors alike.

31. Reflecting on my own term as president, I think there are lessons from the Lebanese experience that have wider, regional applicability. During my administration, for example, we drafted plans and regulations that provided a sound basis for postwar recovery.

32. Despite a destabilizing internal conflict, during my mandate we preserved the basic foundations of a liberal economy, while also innovating for the future. For example, we created for the first time a legal and tax framework for offshore and holding companies, which greatly encouraged foreign investment when postwar recovery began in earnest.

33. I would now like to say a few words about the sector that is of most interest to this distinguished audience, healthcare.

34. To state the obvious, a healthy population is the foundation of economic development—indeed, of all human development. And so when healthcare delivery breaks down, as in Syria today, it can initiate a long-term disaster not only for individuals but also for whole societies.

35. Unfortunately, the provision of healthcare has not been a priority for most, if not all, Arab governments. In fact, statistics demonstrate that spending on the health sector in the Middle East is among lowest for any region in the world.

36. Despite lagging indicators in the health field, in recent years Arab countries have achieved certain important gains. Between 2003 and 2007, for example, life expectancy improved and child mortality rates dropped.

37. To build on its real but limited gains in the health sector, Arab countries should look to innovative ideas and practices that have succeeded around the world.

38. First, the number of actors in the healthcare field needs to be increased. In too many Arab countries old, traditional, and in some cases narrow-minded medical establishments hold sway, blocking innovation and the implementation of best practices.

39. Second, in many countries the healthcare delivery systems run by the state on the one hand, and those operated by the private sector on the other, barely communicate or coordinate with each other. Public-private partnerships of the kind that have thrived elsewhere—especially in terms of improving the quality and efficiency of care—need to be adopted in Arab countries.

40. Third, the Arab world suffers from a curse common to traditional societies, namely an undue emphasis on the education of boys to the detriment of girls. In other regions of the world, educated girls grow up to be educated mothers empowered to seek out healthcare solutions for their children of both genders.

41. If I may do so yet again, I would like to describe a healthcare reform implemented during my presidency that may have wider applicability in the Middle East.

42. During my mandate, my government created new medical, dental, and pharmaceutical faculties open to low-income students who could not pay the exorbitant fees of the existing private universities. Over subsequent years, graduates of these low-tuition public institutions became a great national resource for Lebanon, delivering healthcare to communities that had been underserved.

43. Ladies and Gentlemen, reform of healthcare and other key sectors—like social security—will have little traction if the Middle East does not end its armed conflicts. Such conflicts not only destroy existing healthcare infrastructure, they divert resources away from future investments in health.

Necessity of “Democratic Stability”

44. In the little time that remains for my formal remarks, I would like to say a few words about the necessity for a program of “democratic stability” in the emerging Middle East.

45. This troubled region, so full of peril and promise, will never master its destructive tendencies without a strong commitment to stability. But what is most definitely not needed is the old, damaging “stability” of the military dictatorships.

46. Yesterday’s military dictatorships, now crumbling everywhere, provided stability of a kind, but at the cost of personal freedom and social development. Rather than ruling well, they incubated noxious strains of political and religious extremism.

47. What the Middle East needs in the twenty-first century are legitimate, law-based, and democratic governments that respect all their citizens without reference to religion, ethnicity, or gender.

48. Under the auspices of the Arab Awakening, many—especially the youth—are striving for democracy, pluralism, and socio-economic development. But the forces of positive change desperately need partnerships with governments, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses from the established democracies.

49. In a future Middle East environment in which democratic stability prevails, international enterprises such as AbbVie will operate within a context that is both more complicated and less predictable than the old Middle East of dictatorships.

50. In short, in the emerging Middle East, businesses like AbbVie will have to navigate a more complex landscape. As I have suggested, in the new Arab societies modern institutions and dynamic actors will multiply. The old model of static Arab leadership—a dictator for life who remains in power for decades—is finished.

51. In the absence of a top-down, command model of society, business—like other sectors—will have to manage pluralism and diversity and turn these into sources of strength rather than contention. One way to do this is by supporting educational reform and accountable governance, both priorities for the emerging Middle East.

52. The first step to achieving democratic stability in the Middle East 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.

53. Above all, new curricula at all educational levels must emphasize the teaching of tolerance, togetherness, and partnership, the conditions for peacefully managing pluralism.

54. In other forums, I have shared a proposal that I will only touch on here. Recently, I have highlighted the need for a comprehensive, coordinated strategy for democracy and development in the Arab world. I have called such an initiative “a new Marshall Plan for democratic empowerment.”

55. The theme of this new Marshall Plan, like that of the historic Marshall Plan that helped Europe recover after World War II, would be true partnership and deep cooperation, in this case between the international democratic community and the rising Arab democratic community.

56. I am delighted to report that just a few days ago a leading think tank in Washington, DC, endorsed the Marshall Plan for democratic empowerment. A detailed action plan is being drafted.


57. Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for this opportunity to address AbbVie’s leadership group on the vital theme of the emerging Middle East.

58. In my view, the central reality of the region is this: Arabs are struggling mightily to secure a place in the modern world, even as they grasp that they no longer can exist outside of it.

59. For the first time in the span of a human lifetime Arabs can view a hopeful, democratic future on the horizon. Genuine democracy means more than a single, high profile election. Rather, it means controlling one’s own destiny through local institutions, including economic institutions.

60. To secure a place in the modern world, Arabs need to cultivate a mindset that is open to new ideas. For its part, the outside world needs to create channels through which such ideas can be exchanged.

61. By championing innovative concepts and approaches tailored to the new realities of the emerging Middle East, AbbVie can achieve its farsighted objectives of Global Ambition and Leadership.

62. Thank you.