Ban Ki Moon’s Statements on Syrian Crisis "Insensitive to Lebanese Political Balance"

Article Summary
Al-Safir‘s Editor in Chief, Talal Salman, explores several contentious statements made by the UN Sectratary General during his recent visit to Lebanon. According to Salman, Ban Ki Moon’s frank and aggressive language when discussing the Syrian crisis from the podium in Beirut ignored Lebanon’s delicate political equilibrium. Until now, Lebanon has officially sought to detach itself from its neighbor’s present crisis out of concern for its own stability.

International and Arab figures of great stature and intellect have crowded Beirut’s hotels, conference halls, cafes and streets for the last two days. Some were here as guests of ESCWA [The UN’s Economic and Social Commission on Western Asia] to participate in a high level conference entitled “Reform and Transitions to Democracy.” Meanwhile, a number of veteran leftist militants followed [the meeting] from the safety of their refuges. [They listened carefully to the participants’] discussion about the “identity” of the change sweeping the Arab countries, and [tried to decipher] their stances in this issue.

[As the conference unfolded], a number of Lebanese spiritual and political leaders visited regional [communities] and put forth intellectual proposals to affirm the existential anxiety that [Lebanon] is facing due to its long standing sectarian system. Nevertheless, [it is this same system whose] unique brand of democracy brought forth the first of the Arab Springs.

The most preeminent guest of honor was Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. [Mr. Ban] took advantage of his inspection of the UNIFIL forces in Southern Lebanon to send two messages: The first was a set of internal instructions for the [foreign] UN soldiers living amongst their extended Lebanese family. [These soldiers] are sometimes the target, like other citizens of this country, of certain “trespasses” - [even if these attacks have greater political than homicidal intent].

The message, which was directed towards those newly-arrived soldiers are taken hostage by the ever present Israeli air force circling in the Lebanese sky, asserted the following: “You are building trust between the Lebanese and Israeli armies.” [He made it sound] as if Lebanon and Israel are friendly neighbors who share common interests alongside their long history of invasions, occupations and massacres, such as the ones perpetrated in Qana [where an Israeli air strike killed 28 civilians].

The second - and more dangerous - message that Mr. Ban chose to send from Beirut was directed towards Syria, its President and regime. [Mr. Ban] might have assumed that the geographic proximity between the two countries would give [his message] added impetus, [but in making this statement from Beirut] he disregarded to the distinct sensitivity of Lebanese-Syrian relations, especially at this particular time. [In his statement], the Secretary General launched his most severe attack yet on the Syrian regime and its President - calling him by name. [He appeared] indifferent to the effect his words would have on the officials in Beirut who have made the ingenious policy of  “distancing themselves” from the Syrian crisis their slogan, methodology and work ethic.

Ban Ki-Moon chose to [intimately] address the subject of the bloody crisis rocking Syria, pulling Lebanon and its government [along with him, although it had been trying remain detached from the conflict]. Nonetheless, the [Lebanese] government maintained its aforementioned golden policy, ignoring the words of their guest of honor who seemed to have lacked the time to carefully study his words which may not have even been heard [in Syria].

Another of the conference’s [esteemed guests] was Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu - head theoretician for the new Ottoman Empire - who was evidently delighted to be back in Beirut which he called “a second home to Turks and especially to me.”

Although Lebanon’s [sectarian] political system has indeed transformed it into a “house of many mansions,” [Davutoglu’s] emotional words were obtrusive and completely bewildering. Nobody knew that Mr. Davutoglu had such familial ties to Beirut. It is hard to comprehend why he chose this specific political moment - where tensions between Turkey and Syria are at their highest - to loudly profess his heartfelt feelings [towards Lebanon], which went beyond mere touristic salutations to emphasizing the familial bond that exist between [the two countries]!

We thank Mr. Davutoglu for recognizing that: “The first Arab Spring achieving democracy began in Lebanon, which has a rich heritage and culture and has witnessed free and fair elections, cultural and political exchange, and national reconciliation.” However, the vast majority of Lebanese haven’t truly experienced these “achievements” themselves, and are still trying to reach them. Mr. Davutoglu himself knows the bitter consequences of failing to reach these achievements. [Free and fair elections, cultural exchange and national reconciliation] cannot be achieved through parliamentary elections marred by sectarian and religious [disagreements]. [These tensions] have reached their apogee, and are fostered by asectarian leaders who view democracy, justice and all aspects of national unity as their foremost enemy. Sectarianism generates wealth in all every world currency - in the East and the West - but no one has been able to build a democracy with donated dollars and incessant sectarian hatred. Therefore, it is wrong for the Lebanese to hope that “other countries take Lebanon as an example due to its fair and free elections.” In fact, the vast majority [of Lebanese] would ask their Arab brothers and friends across the world to steer clear of the Lebanese model of “sectarian democracy,” which has proven its worth by igniting the flames of civil war every few years.

It is noteworthy that during his sermon at the patriarchal seat on Sunday, the Maronite Patriarch [Beshara Rai] asked - in what seemed to be an unintentional reply to the words of the Turkish minister - that neutrality be maintained, and that Lebanon be kept isolated from the region’s conflicts as they might threaten its exceptional status. These words came in contrast to other statements uttered by Patriarch Rai, that in the past fell on the ears of Lebanese and officials in capitals around the world - Washington in particular. Perhaps it was certain political developments [in the region] that led him to take such an unexpected position.

Meanwhile, [Samir Geagea], one of the main instigators of the ages-long Lebanese civil war, went to confer his expertise to his “friends in Kurdistan,” visiting Mulla Mustafa Barzani’s tomb. [From the site of the tomb], he spoke once again of minorities and their right to differentiate themselves [from their co-citizens] to the point of gaining independence. “Your situation here reminds of the one we lived and are still living in Lebanon,” he said.

[Geagea] then visited those [communities] who had made Kurdistan their safe haven from the [chaos] in Iraq - though maybe it was Kurdistan itself that chose to lure them there. The guest gave advice regarding the [situation of the] Assyrians, the Yazidis and the Mandaeists. He then concluded his trip in the Arab Gulf region, where he advocated a culture of resistance . [It is possible that he] was emboldened by statements made by the ruler of Qatar [Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani] during the first anniversary of the Tunisian revolution. [Sheikh Al Thani] spoke as if he had taken part in [the Tunisian revolution], and also mentioned that [he was willing] to send Arab military forces to Syria “to stop the killing, if need be.” [These words] might affirm his impression that Qatar has become a new superpower,” as a French analyst for Le Point magazine previously asserted.

It was also noteworthy that the former Secretary General of the Arab League, Mr. Amr Moussa repeated the statement issued by the Qatari ruler about sending Arab troops to Syria. He made this statement in Beirut and it wasaired on satellite news channels. Thank God that he clarified where these troops would come from, and didn’t burden Lebanon [with calls for] NATO troops be sent to Syria. [He last made this kind of a call] during the Libyan crisis, the final Qatari proposal he adopted during his tenure as Secretary General of the Arab League. We hope that Moussa’s new statement remains somewhat distorted so that his candidacy for the Egyptian Presidency does not suffer from acquiescing to those who ask for foreign intervention on any Arab land - no matter how severe the crises. [It was these same crises] that amplified the role of the Qatari ruler to that of a superpower.

Found in: unifil, syrian lebanese relations, syrian crisis, syrian, reform and transitions to democracy, reform, march 8, march 14, lebanon crisis, lebanon, lebanese sectarian balance, escwa, davutoglu, beshara rai, bashar al-assad, ban ki moon, arab spring, arab, amr moussa

Talal Salman was born in Lebanon in 1938. In 1957, he started his career with Al-Hawadeth weekly.  In 1974, he founded As-Safir daily, which would reach the second largest circulation of Lebanese newspapers after An-Nahar. He was the spokesman of the "Islamo-progressive" left wing during the Lebanese civil war.


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