During his London visit, PM Fouad Seniora had to address diplomats, businessmen, students and UK government officials. I had the opportunity to address 2 of his talks, one at the London School of Economics, and the second at Chatham House (the royal institute for international affairs). Although both speeches had common points, the LSE talk focused on the currently debated economic reforms, while the RIIA talk emphasized regional and domestic political challenges. The content of the talks did not present any groundbreaking announcements, however some points are perhaps worth highlighting.
Although both speeches tackled different issues, they both strongly stressed on (and ended with) the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Seniora used the analogy of the 'law of communicating vessels' to express the idea that anything that takes place in Palestine affects the rest of the region, the Arab world and the muslim world. He talked about the 'great injustice' and the 'great crime' that has been committed against the Palestinian people. He spoke of the humiliation and anger and helplessness felt everyday by 1.4 billion muslims, and which fuels ongoing tensions in Iraq, Palestine, and the region. Solve the Palestinian problem ('the mother of all the problems in the region and perhaps the mother of all solutions') he said, and most of the problems faced by the countries in the Middle East and Muslim countries will disappear...We , as Lebanese/ Arabs, no doubt understand the crucial role that the Palestinian issue plays in regional politics, and the extensive repercussions it has. Nevertheless, I couldn't but wish that he had emphasized more stronlgy domestic factors, or at least ended with domestic factors, rather than regional ones, which cannot be greatly helped by Lebanon.
Just to recount an anecdote: the Israeli ambassador to London was present at the RIIA talk, and following Seniora's insistance on Israel's responsibilities and the Shebaa farms, he sarcastically asked the PM whether he truly believed that Nasrallah would be satisfied with the Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa and would disarm, or whether, Nasrallah being a 'creative politician', it was not more likely that Hezballah would find other excuses to evade disarmement such as Iran, political prisoners, etc. To which Seniora appropriately replied that Hezballah was not an issue in this matter, and that the Shebaa farms were Lebanese territory, and that Israel should therefore de facto withdraw, regardless of Hezballah's stance. (some clapping in the audience).
Another 'challenge' mentionned was Lahoud's presidency...nothing new on that front. As for the economic reform program, it includes a mix of higher revenue (through higher taxes and privatization plans) and management of expenditures (focusing on reducing the fiscal deficit and debt servicing). These reforms are the usual ones likely to be adopted by developing countries, and seem reasonably feasible (let's hope the devil is not in the detail). Seniora's view was that 'it is not the government's business to be in business' -ie let the private sector do the job, except for limited state intervention in certain sectors like the social sector.
The National Dialogue was mentionned as an indicator that the government did not want to impose anything on anyone, and that negotiation is the favoured path forward. Unfortunately it has become increasingly clear that what is supposed to be a constructive dialogue seems in fact to be another instance of politicians going round in circles.
Seniora's purpose was to seek the UK's support (its support of the government and its efforts for reforms, its support for Israeli withdrawal from the Shebaa farms) and to get the international community's vote of confidence, to translate into real financial support at the International's donor conference. Although essentially aimed at the international community, Seniora's visit and his speeches came accross as heartfelt, or at least as genuinely intentioned. Seniora and Lebanon may have won this round....all we can do now is wait and see.
By Reem A.