US-Arab Partnerships Are Critical, Says Former Lebanese President

July 8, 2003
Doug Gavel

The US must seek partnerships with Arab nations or terrorism and extremism will be the consequence, warned formerLebanese President Amine Gemayel during a luncheon at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government Monday.
The US has removed a regime and occupied an entire country, Gemayel said of recent actions in Iraq. "Now the US is itself Middle Eastern power," he said, noting that people of the Middle East have a right to ask what is the nature and purpose of the Iraq war. "Where will this dominance by the US lead?" he asked.
While he said that it is indisputable that the US is a pre-eminent power today and can proceed in Iraq with whatever agenda it chooses, Gemayel warned that for the long term it will be Arab nations that will determine success or failure in the region. "Is the US seeking [Arab] partnerships?" he asked. If Middle Eastern countries view US presence as occupation only, there will be extremism and violence.
The former Lebanese leader noted that the US has a unique opportunity to spur a new Middle East, but only in partnership with nations in the region. He recommended that Arab officials be included in senior positions in the rebuilding in Iraq and urged the creation of sort of representative council with Arab representation. Gemayel also suggested that an Arab peacekeeping force in Iraq should be put in place. He noted that several Arab governments have offered troops, but only under a United Nations mandate.
Gemayel countered critics who say democracy cannot flourish in the Middle East. The US should find ways to support democratic elements in the region even at the expense of alienating current governments and allies. Democracy, should be allowed to flourish in the Islamic context, he said. He cited Turkey as a good example of a nation where democracy is taking root, he also noted that in Iran, there is a younger generation that is looking for democratic reform and a say in the role of religion in their lives.
The former President praised international efforts to bring peace to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He urged the US to continue to try to broker an agreement that leads to permanent peace, adding that any peace plan must guarantee peace for Lebanon as well. "Syria should withdraw its army from Lebanon and [stop] interfering with internal affairs," he said.
The luncheon was sponsored by the Kennedy School's Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

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