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Lebanon 2016 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Gebran Bassil, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, on the vitality of Lebanon's diaspora and the growing role Lebanon is taking on the regional stage.

HE Gebran Bassil
BIOGRAPHY
HE Gebran Bassil was educated at Saint-Coeurs college and at the American University of Beirut where he studied civil engineering (BE and MS). He began his political career as an activist in the Free Patriotic Movement before heading the political relations committee of the FPM. 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. Bassil was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants of the Republic of Lebanon on February 15, 2014.

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 stability, 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 2 million refugees, a number that not even Europe, 500 times bigger than Lebanon, could cope with but that we still accommodate with no major problems to date. 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 summer, 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.

You have been an advocate of economic diplomacy to attract the millions of Lebanese living abroad. What outcome do 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; however, we are now materializing it into a state policy. After all, the flows of capital coming from the diaspora have maintained Lebanon's economic standing during adverse times. We receive around USD8 billion annually from the diaspora; therefore, we are trying to build bridges to bumper their contributions to the homeland.

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 have expressed that it is in our 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 bloc that could be doing so much more for the integration of our nations.

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.