Back to Lectures

The Presidency of Lebanon: Its Significance for Internal and Regional Stability


The Presidency of Lebanon:
Its Significance for Internal and Regional Stability

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

Konrad Adenauer Stiftung
Annual conference of the Near East and North Africa Department
Beirut, 23 February 2015


Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much; it is always a pleasure and honor to participate in proceedings organized by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer heartfelt thanks to your distinguished Chairman, Dr. Hans-Gert Poettering, and to all of you here tonight—especially my friend Peter Rimmele—for the outstanding work performed by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung across this troubled region, including here in Lebanon.

For me personally, when I visit Germany—or even when I am in touch with the German scene at a distance—I enter a kind of intellectual refuge.

I first traveled to Germany as long ago as the 1950s, and so have witnessed first-hand—and at various stages—the emergence and development of your country: pre-Wall, during the era of the Wall, and post-Wall, one might say.

I mention this personal record of sympathetic engagement with democratic Germany because it helps inform the brief analysis I will share tonight. I am firmly convinced that elements of the German experience have direct relevance to what we can call “the crisis zone of the Middle East.”

To begin, today’s Middle East decision makers would do well to study the best aspects of traditional German statecraft, including Bismarck’s admirable grasp of limits and possibilities; especially the limits of military power and the possibilities of conciliating adversaries.

From the second half of the twentieth century, we should consult the inspiring record of Germany’s diplomatic, economic, and above all spiritual recovery from a cycle of catastrophic wars.

During the same period, your country achieved a remarkable political transition from dictatorship to democracy. This was mostly a German success, of course, but one carried out, we must never forget, with strong support given by bilateral and multilateral partners.

And to the next incumbent of the Lebanese presidency—soon may there be one!—I would commend the wisdom of the late Richard von Weizsäcker, one of the great statesmen modern Germany.

Here, please allow me to pause for a moment to offer my condolences on the sad event of his passing. My sentiments are especially heartfelt, because I had the privilege of holding discussions with President von Weizsäcker on two occasions back in the 1980s. In both instances, I came away deeply impressed by his unique blend of penetrating political analysis and effusive humanitarianism.

In 1989, as the winds of historic change swept across Europe, President von Weizsäcker declared to his fellow Germans, and to the world, and I quote:

“We are not a great power. But we are also not a plaything for others.”

[Quoted in Wolfgang Saxon, “Richard von Weizsäcker, 94, Germany’s First President After Reunification, Is Dead,” New York Times, 31 January 2015 (]

If adopted as a basic principle of foreign policy, this dual formula would serve Lebanon admirably.

Lebanon and the Syrian Crisis

In a time of acute global, regional, and domestic crises, the Lebanese people cling to their foundational principles and institutions. Foremost among these is the Lebanese constitution.

Promulgated in 1926, the constitution has braced the frame of Lebanon’s culture of democracy and survived a succession of challenges that have buffeted the country and region.

These challenges have included: the collapse of the European colonial empires and the emergence of new states; the cycle of Arab-Israeli wars; the fall of Arab monarchies; the rise and then fall of pan-Arabism; the dynamics of Cold War superpower competition; the self-destruction of civil war; and the turmoil of the Arab Awakening and resulting spread of extremism.

Lebanon’s constitutional order has survived because the Lebanese people—in tandem with key institutions of the state—have risen to defend their system. Here I must take a moment to salute the professional skill and bravery with which the Lebanese military and security forces have fought recent battles against extremists in Tripoli in the north and Arsal in the east.

Under the pall of blatant outside interference in its domestic affairs, Lebanon cannot meet an array of military, security, political, economic, and social challenges without the assistance of responsible international partners, including governments, NGOs, and multilateral agencies like the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the United Nations and the European Union.

As everyone here knows all too well, the ongoing Iraqi and Syrian wars are not only national disasters, they are regional and even global catastrophes. And the consequences for my country, Lebanon, have been tremendous. In January of this year, an official with the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, told America’s National Public Radio:

“…the international community has got to provide more support to Lebanon....They are totally overwhelmed. I mean, you imagine what it would be like if one-quarter of the U.S. population were refugees? It’s put an enormous strain on the infrastructure, education, health care, sewer, water, sanitation. Everything is being overstretched. [The Lebanese] need a lot more help than they’ve been getting because Lebanon simply is buckling under the pressure of 1.1 million refugees.”

[Ron Redmond interviewed by Steve Inskeep, “Lebanon Imposes Restrictions On Syrian Refugees,” National Public Radio, 6 January 2015 (]

Beyond immediate risks, the presence in Lebanon of a vast population of Syrian refugees threatens to upset Lebanon’s delicate national equilibrium, which rests on an intricate balance among constituent communities.

What more can Lebanon’s friends and partners do to help ameliorate this country’s predicament? I would suggest the urgency of a three-point program.

First, countries outside of the Middle East need to take in far larger numbers of Syrian refugees. Small, already burdened countries like Lebanon and Jordan simply cannot accommodate the refugee populations they currently host.

Second, the Lebanese government needs a significant increase in financial support. To its credit, late last year the government released a “Lebanese Crisis Response Plan,” which lays out a comprehensive strategy to manage the refugee situation. But the plan calls for over $2 billion in funding, which has not yet materialized.

Third, the pillars of Lebanese national security—the army and security forces—need infusions of money, equipment, personnel, and training. Of course, the Lebanese people and leadership deeply appreciate the international support that has been received to date.

Among this support, I must highlight the generous and urgently needed Saudi grant of four billion dollars for the Lebanese military. But even this impressive figure needs to be supplemented by one billion more, just to meet current needs.

Turning to the long term—it means, the regional dimension—it is clear that the Middle East and especially Lebanon will enjoy neither peace nor stability as long as the Syrian crisis rages. Therefore, from a Lebanese perspective it is essential that responsible actors work toward a Syrian settlement.

In this regard, recent indications that the United States and Russia are again exploring the contours and content of a coordinated diplomatic approach offer some limited hope. Certainly it is true that, at the bedrock level of national security interests, both Washington and Moscow are threatened by the extremist tides flowing into, out of, and between Syria and Iraq.

The Lebanese Presidency

If the international community should do more to support Lebanon, then the Lebanese must demonstrate that they are worthy recipients of assistance. I refer here to the embarrassing, counterproductive, self-defeating, and partially self-inflicted vacancy of the Lebanese presidency.

Simply put, the Lebanese system of shared powers among its various communities, by definition, cannot work if it is disrupted at the summit, where the Christian president, the Sunni prime minister, and the Shiite speaker are expected to provide individual and collective leadership. Individually, each leads their respective community; and collectively, they lead the country as a whole.

Beyond the formal constitutional duties of the president, a skillful incumbent in that office enjoys an unmatched ability to initiate and sustain the kind of national dialogue that enhances reconciliation and builds solidarity.

With a mandate fortified by dialogue and consensus, the next Lebanese president can advocate on behalf of urgently needed public sector reforms. These reforms must nurture a new generation of civil servants who can implement internationally recognized best practices to serve the needs of the Lebanese people.

Today, in the midst of wars and rumors of wars—and unprecedented external intervention in internal affairs—Lebanon urgently needs a capable president and credible presidency more than ever.

Yet the deliberate crippling of the executive has been tolerated and even encouraged by certain misguided Lebanese actors, who have allowed personal ambition to cloud all notions of national interest.

Conclusion: The Arab Marshall Plan

Before concluding, I would like to focus for a moment on the regional dimension. You—the distinguished members of the Near East and North Africa Department—require no summary of Middle East conditions. The pressing question before us, then, is this: What can be done to rescue the situation?

I submit that we must think in terms of comprehensive, region-wide solutions that can be applied according to local conditions. For example, since 2003 I have called for an approach called the “Arab Marshall Plan.”

Evoking the historic plan helps highlight a key parallel between post-World War II Europe and today’s Middle East: namely, the specter of extremism haunting the scene and consequent need for countervailing measures of moderation. In Europe, the threat came from political extremism named Communism; in the Middle East, it is religious extremism called terrorism.

Similar to its predecessor, a program such as the Arab Marshall Plan could counter extremism by enabling:

First, what can be called “inspirational moderation”;

Second, physical reconstruction and economic development; and,

Third, new systems of governance, both domestically and on the level of regional cooperation.

The theme of the Arab Marshall Plan—like that of the original Marshall Plan—would be true partnership and deep cooperation; in this case, between the international democratic community and the emerging Arab democratic community, a battered but still resilient force for change.

The Arab Marshall Plan could focus on four key areas, namely:

Accountable governance;
New media as partners in democratization;
Socio-economic development; and,
Educational reform.

Almost a year ago, within the welcoming environment of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung/Berlin, I had the opportunity to share my ideas about the Arab Marshall Plan. And I am grateful that I have been able to do so again tonight.

I welcome every opportunity to engage with the KAS and I have no doubt that you shall continue, and even redouble, your commendable efforts to build a better Middle East.

I also hope and expect that the KAS will find ready partners across the region, including here in Lebanon.

Thank you for convening this forum, and I would be happy to continue our dialogue by taking your questions and exchanging ideas.