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NEW ACTORS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN CHANGES The Role of Lebanon

posted Oct 1, 2012, 7:39 AM by Plural CentroStudiEuropeo

Interview with Giuseppe Morabito, Ambassador of Italy in Beirut

The name Lebanon comes from the Semitic root LBN, meaning "white", likely a reference to the snow-capped Mount Lebanon. Upon his arrival to Lebanon around 47 BC, Julius Caesar proclaimed "Lub" "Na'an", meaning "White-Land" in Semitic. ‘‘Our ancestors, the Phoenicians…’ The modern young Lebanese is not nourished from his earliest school days with his relations to a historic past in other climes, is repeated almost like a nursery rhyme. He is not insular for a quite simple reason - so many civilizations have succeeded one another in his country that he comes to regard himself firstly as a Mediterranean, secondly as a citizen of the world, but as a Lebanese all the same. Lebanon always has been a hospitable country - sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly – from the most ancient times, while still retaining those special virtues which are still to be found today among its citizens without the necessity of looking far for them” (A little history…and lots of stories by Gérard Boulad, 2011, Ed.). During the centuries, conflicts, occupations and civil wars created a fragile framework to carry out a solid growth. Italy has strong political, economic and cultural relations with Lebanon. Bilateral ties have been further reinforced in the aftermath of 2006 War, and Italy is Lebanon’s second largest commercial partner, and the first European one, with a strong presence in key sectors. Italy is providing a strong contribution to the development of Lebanon, making a sizeable effort on the front of humanitarian aid and reconstruction.  The work carried achieved a lot a positive results and this heritage is enriching the mosaic that makes Lebanon what it is and the different political and social identities that individuals and groups construct of themselves and of others. It also shows the value of cumulative work in pushing and achieving greater democratization and policy change: the Italian aid, in close coordination with national and local authorities, addresses the needs of the population all over the Lebanese territory. We talked about Lebanese perspectives and expectations with Mr. Giuseppe Morabito, Ambassador of Italy in Beirut.

Southern shore of the Mediterranean area is going on a complex phase: from the great hopes carried by the “Arab Spring” to real conflicts, as the Libyan war. What is your opinion about the situation in Mediterranean area? European Union and Italy which new action could begin?

It is never simple to give an evaluation of the Mediterranean situation. The so-called Arab Spring gave start to a structural change in the southern shore of the Mediterranean, pushing Europe to reflect about the old schemes of interaction and collaboration. As the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, has pointed up, there are several new instances in Mediterranean.  So, it is important to start a deep debate with the winners of last elections, starting from Tunisia and Egypt. Therefore, the necessity is emerging to keep faith on the expressed willing by citizens to found bases of democratic systems on the principle of legality, on human rights beginning from the respect of religious minorities. Terzi minister, taking note of difficulties and uncertainties of the current phase, stressed the importance to evaluate Governments and Parliaments to the proof of facts.  It’s important to recognize the persistent instances of collaboration- first of all, Mediterranean Union ( UfM )- that register a setback, leaving wide margins of improvement to restart a balanced and structured dialogue between North and South of the Mediterranean area.

The recent events in Cairo on one hand have demonstrated how is difficult the political-institutional transition process in the post-revolution sceneries. On the other hand, they recalled Europe to play his natural role as a pole of democracy and human rights. The joint communication Ashton - Barroso for European Neighbourhood Policy, presented last 25 May at European Parliament and Member States stresses that point. The deepening of the Euro-Mediterranean relations will find its concrete implementation through the strengthening of economic support tools related to the ENP for the southern Mediterranean and the encouragement of an inclusive social and economic development in the Arab countries. The challenge for Europe, therefore, lies not only in finding new financial resources but also to support an action of foreign policy, more unified and coherent. The conditionality of the ENP budget is an encouragement to the adoption of institutional models, bodies of law and practices more oriented towards the protection of human rights and individual freedom. Finally, the perspectives of a greater economic integration (the so-called "Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, DCFTA”) and not also (lanes for the issuance of Schengen visas) should provide a substantial incentive towards democratic transition and the rapprochement of the two shores of the Mediterranean. As regards of it, the Partnership of Deauville should be also mentioned. This initiative currently includes Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco as partners, and Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE in the role of associated countries. The Partnership, launched at the highest political levels, seems to give encouraging results

 

 In that context, what evaluation you can give about the situation on the Middle East?

The activism of Palestinian leadership for the recognition of Palestine nearby the international organizations (UN Security Council, General Assembly of UNESCO) amplifies the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian issue not only for the Middle East, but also for the entire Mediterranean region. It does not escape to the observers of the Mediterranean events that Israeli-Palestinian issue is a controversial point in the Euro-Mediterranean political dialogue. On the wave of the so-called "Arab Spring", the Israeli-Palestinian conflict risks to push a major portion of Arab public opinion of radical positions (Islamism, anti-Zionism, Arab nationalism), to the detriment of the fragile democratic transition in course, and obstructing, ultimately, the cooperation between the two shores of the Mediterranean. In a more interconnected world, conflicts across the Middle East are inevitably reflected on Europe, plumping attitudes of closure and mutual mistrust. On the delicate Israeli-Palestinian question, Italy supports the work of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Lady Ashton, in order that the two parts may resume direct negotiation, under the path indicate by the quartet (EU- USA-Russia- UN).

Italy and European Union have the duty to multiply the efforts in order to reopen a constructive dialogue.

In these days we can see the active role of Turkey - a democracy composed by a moderate Islamic party and a new reality marked by a positive economic development - which could be a reference for many Countries on the southern shore. What do you think about that?

The visit of Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi in Istanbul (which opened one of the first journey abroad by new Government) and the simultaneous press conference with his counterpart represented by Davutoglu, has emphasized the centrality of the Italian's role assigned by Turkey among the protagonists of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern politics. The characteristics of Turkish democracy could represent one of the models viable for many countries of the "Arab Spring" (for example Tunisia, Libya, Egypt), seeking to reestablish strong state institutions after the fall of totalitarian regimes. The emergence from the ballot of moderate Islamic majorities (the first signal to this effect comes from Tunisia) should push the new governments of the southern shore to seek the moderate Islamic government of Ankara as an interlocutor and a point of reference, also whereas its role as "natural intermediary" between north and south of the Mediterranean, and "Door of the Orient".

More Regions and Cities have become actors in international cooperation in connection with their national governments and with UN agencies. How do you assess the phenomenon?

This phenomenon is certainly positive. For example, Italy carried out a fruitful dialogue with local authorities through important initiatives of cooperation;  not only in development aid, but also in economic and cultural fields, in particular about the respect of human rights and democracy.  Obviously, the application of subsidiarity principle make stronger the efficacy of initiatives at local level, but what is important, also in the case of non European Countries, is the added value of decentralized cooperation. The local and regional institutions have an immediate relationship with the territory, stronger than the national level, so they are easily able to mobilize the resources of their territories through cooperation initiatives. These actions, if good set, are strengthening democracy and accosting citizens to the institutions. Local authorities can definitely play an important role in strengthening relations between Europe and the Mediterranean in order to create a zone of stability and peace.

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