Aug. 31, 2016


Gebran Bassil

Lebanon

Gebran Bassil

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Lebanon

"Lebanon is at the heart of the Arab world."

BIO

Gebran Bassil was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants of the Republic of Lebanon on February 15, 2014. His official tenure of an executive office started in 2008, as Minister of Telecommunications, where he served for one year. He then led the Ministry of Energy and Water between 2009 and 2014.

Despite the recent adversities Lebanon has faced, the country stands strong. How is the country coping with both regional instability and its own domestic challenges?

It is like we have been vaccinated. We adapt with strength to all the challenges we face and prove our resilience as a nation. We have faced obscure moments in previous years with terrorist attacks, threats to our instability, and gargantuan challenges that we surfed with determination, yet we remain the safest country in the region. Our reality has also been altered by the large refugee influx. We currently host nearly two million refugees, a number that not even Europe, being 500 times bigger than Lebanon, could cope with but that we still allocate with no major problems until now. We know that these are not signals of good health, and this reality is distant to the one we want to live, but they show how strong we are as a nation. In Lebanon, life always goes on; we keep walking. Right now in the height of summertime, there are people heading to the streets. We have festivals, artists coming from all over the world, and enthusiasm is in the air. This is the Lebanese spirit: we celebrate life regardless of the circumstances.

The International Donors Conference and the UN Secretary General have called attention on the need to further extend assistance to Lebanon to alleviate the effects of the refugee crisis. How will this assistance strengthen the country's stability?

The Lebanese model is that of coexistence and tolerance, and it must be preserved to guarantee the stability in the region. Frankly, it is more about the international community being ready to preserve Lebanon's stability rather than the other way around. We believe assistance should increase due to the short availability of resources the country has been left with to counter the refugee crisis and terrorist threats. We also need more physical assistance to overcome these problems. The Lebanese state is carrying a burden of $15 billion to get through the Syrian refugee crisis, and we need this cost to be shared with the international community. We already have enough problems allocating resources for our own population; we have water and electricity shortages and services have already been split with the refugees. We cannot continue on this path unless the international community intervenes with assistance.

You have been an advocate of economic diplomacy to attract the millions of Lebanese living abroad. What is the outcome you expect from this strategy?

We have around 40 million Lebanese expatriates residing in 167 countries around the world. We have presence in every single corner of the globe, and this represents a golden opportunity for us. What we are trying to do is to reconnect these expatriates through cultural exchanges, monetary interests, and the Lebanese traditions so they can have a positive impact on the economy. This concept has been going on for years, but we are now materializing it into a state policy. After all, the flows of capital coming from the diaspora have maintained the economy standing during adverse times. We receive around $8 billion annually from the diaspora, so we are trying to build bridges to bumper their contributions to the homeland.

With the recent appointment of a new Secretary General to the Arab League and your participation in the Arab Foreign Ministers Summit, how would you assess Lebanon's role in the Arab world today?

Lebanon is at the heart of the Arab world, and we have always participated actively in regional integration projects. We had the first democracy in the region, and we are a cherished nation among our Arab brothers. Moreover, we have always stayed away from regional tensions, and we have expressed that it is in out interest to serve as a communication channel to find peaceful and long-term solutions to regional disputes. We want to build bridges that go beyond religious or political differences. We also have large communities of expatriates in the Arab world who are active in building networks and tightening bilateral relations with those countries. We will continue working in this line, and the recent appointment of the new Secretary General to the Arab League has injected fresh blood into a regional block that could be doing so much more for the integration of our nations.

French President François Hollande recently came to Lebanon. What was the outcome of his visit, and how is France contributing to strengthen the stabilization of Lebanon?

In a certain way, France has always been regarded as a mother nation to Lebanon. It represents our first link to the European continent, and we are an open door to the Arab world to the French. Lebanese people feel a huge affection for France, its people, and its culture. We have always had strong relations and the recent visits of President François Hollande and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault confirm that it is in the interests of France to maintain Lebanon as its gateway to the Middle East. On the other hand, France is also showing deep interest in contributing to the stability of Lebanon. It is mobilizing international donors to focus their attention here to alleviate the effects of the refugee crisis and to strengthen Lebanon's position against terrorist risks. France has also showed its valuable support to solve our internal political crisis, although making it clear that no foreign power should intervene in our domestic policy. France represents one of our major partners in the international community, and this tight relationship will continue going strong.

What do you envision for the near future of Lebanon?

We want to build up relations based on values rather than interests. We want to preserve our country's stability by preserving our values. History has shown us that the prevalence of power makes us lose, that we need to build up on a chain of values to maintain solid foreign relations and a good domestic situation. We want Lebanon's message of coexistence and tolerance to prevail and to echo all across the region to bring peace to the Middle East. We are a small player in this chessboard, but we can be a significant one if we put our values beforehand and form bridges between regions, between our Arab neighbors and us, and between the Arab world and Europe. I certainly hope that peace in Syria will come soon and that it will balance things again and improve investments and confidence in a region that has long awaited stability. The creativity and entrepreneurship of the Lebanese will, of course, shape the future of our nation. We will keep providing unique services in the hospitality, tourism, arts, and fashion industries. We will also see the advent of good times for our oil and gas sector, a sleeping giant in economic terms. Furthermore, I hope more people will be interested in visiting Lebanon, investing in it, and becoming attached to this nation.

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