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    Lebanon’s Foreign Policies

    lebanese-diplomacy.jpgAs I watched Mohammad Chatah and Nawaf Moussawi drone on and on about foreign policy on New TV Sunday night, and try to justify the different positions of both sides, not only did it remind me why I never watch political talkshows but it drove home how pathetic the idea of foreign policy is in Lebanon. Actually let’s strike foreign policy, and replace it with foreign anything – and here I mean everything to do with our representation abroad.

    Our first problem is that we don’t actually have a foreign policy – we have two foreign policies, and worse, they are both being implemented at the same time by different Lebanese factions. So foreign governments have good relations with some Lebanese factions and bad relations with others (let’s not talk about our poor State). So for example, if you’re a Shiite planning to travel to Egypt, you might have to wait several weeks to get a visa, if you get it at all. Or Bahrain for that matter. And of course, the Hezbollah-controlled General Security also makes it difficult for Egyptians to enter Lebanon. So much for Arab Unity. Maybe this is something we should ask Amr Moussa about on Thursday when he gives his lecture at the Issam Fares Institute at AUB.

    This brings to mind two related issues. I recently applied for a visa to Bahrain. A Bahraini can enter Lebanon freely, but Lebanese have to apply for a visa to enter Bahrain. Worse, we can’t do it from here – a Bahraini citizen has to apply on our behalf from Manama. When a friend went to submit my application, they were told not to bother, because Bahrain was currently restricting the number of visas given to Lebanese. So the question is: why is there no reciprocal visa procedures between the two countries? Why is a Bahraini allowed to enter Lebanon freely, while we face restrictions and discrimination? Is it do with Hezbollah and the majority Shiite community in Bahrain which the Manama government is apparently trying to contain? Again citizens have to suffer from the clash of foreign policies: Hezbollah’s regional ambitions alienate many Arab regimes making it difficult for us to travel to them, while March 14’s openness to the Arab Gulf countries means that they can enter Lebanon freely to spend money and keep our economy going.

    Another issue is the deplorable state of some of our embassies and of course by extension our Foreign Ministry as an institution. First of all, our embassies don’t have websites. If you want information on visas and travelling you have to visit the General Security website – but how is a foreign visitor supposed to know this? The second problem, is the embassies themselves. Since there are no websites, visitors cannot download applications from the web, and have to go to the embassy to get applications. Some embassies are prone to giving applicants wrong information, forcing them to make several visits back and forth, and often actively discriminating against East Asians. The biggest scandal, is that the Foreign Ministry does not even have the correct phone numbers for some of its embassies. I can go on and on but I think the picture is clear.

    This negligence is not just about bad management and lack of funds – its symptomatic of a country that doesn’t care about foreign representation; or rather a country where the poor State is not allowed to be the only authority in charge of foreign relations. So political parties have sophisticated foreign policy units and experts, while the Foreign Ministry stagnates and rots under bland shady ministers (can anyone remember the current minister’s name?) and diplomats who are appointed because they are well-connected and not because they can represent us properly abroad.

    Foreign policy is not about making the biggest hummous dish and letting everyone know that we invented tabbouleh. It is employing smart diplomats who can, then, lobby for Lebanon’s interests, which includes challenging the decades of fallacies that Israel has been spreading in the international arena.

    10 responses to “Lebanon’s Foreign Policies”

    1. Fadi Boulos says:

      So sad but so true. Not to mention all the things going on in the Foreign Ministry completely controlled by Mr. Berri’ brother and party…

    2. Omar says:

      Completely agreed. 

      I’m sick of politicians dragging Lebanon into regional conflicts and not paying attention to matters that influence our daily lives. We shouldn’t tolerate it. Turning off the TV may be a good first step, but it’s not enough.

    3. Rami says:

      the Minister is called Ali Al Shami… walaw ya Darine!!!
      congratualtions. very good article

    4. Nassim says:

      It is such a shame! I can’t take the unfairness. We are paying the price of our fractured country and our “terrorist” organizations. Can anyone tell me what differs me from a European cititzen who travels all around the world with no visa?or the Canadian? Why should we wait to travel and see our relatives when we are as innocent as we may seem?While others certainly don’t have to worry about it and only pay the ticket(knowing that they can go with the cheap economic ones) and visit wonderful countries anytime they wish. Its a shame that we are less priviledge, and honestly sometimes I think we deserve it, it is our own fault. However, sad to the peacefull Lebanese.

    5. Rami H says:

      maybe we should pay the new york times to do the diplomacy and promotion for us.
      good article.

    6. Doreen_K says:

      Today we find out in Annahar newspaper that the Lebanese embassy in Egypt embezzled a million dollars from 2003 till 2007 and the cabinet sent an investigation team to Cairo to find out what’s happening… the consul is apparently close to Berri, surprise surprise.
      Also, Mr. Nasrallah yesterday proved my point perfectly, I thank him. Two foreign policies: Hezbollah and everyone else.

    7. Joseph says:

      Short of paying the NYTimes, you should submit this as an op ed to the international press. Its good and it explains a complex situation in a way that can be easily understood. Bravo.

    8. SALIM YASSINE says:

      dear Doreen
      You are compdeletly right. Lebanese state don’t have foreign policy, because every religious community is bounded to a foreign power. It was like this since the foreign intervention in Mount Lebanon in 1860 where maronites where protected by France, druzes by the British, orthodoxs by the Russia, and so on.
      Dont forget that all the civil wars and clashes between lebanese since the independance were due to a contradictory attitude toward foreign policy. During the mini civil war of 1958, most of the Christians where with the pro-occidental regime af Chamoun and accused most of the muslims of encouraging Nasser to swallow Lebanon.
      , Now it is a little different Sunnis and 14 march christians are with conservative arabs state and Shias and pro-Aoun chistian with the front of reuzniks, I mean Syria and Iranian. The internal situation evolute not in terms of internal considerations but due to the balance of power in the region.
      The sole solution to get rid of those interference is to get rid of the confessionnel system. There is no another solution.
      But instead of this situation we had in the past great foreign ministers like Charles Malik, Moussa Moubarak, Fouad Boutros, Salim Lahoud (the father of Nassib Lahoud) and geat diplomtas like Ghassan Tuéni, the father of the resolution 425

    9. Nadim Jalbout says:

      Two thumbs up for such a smooth article.

      In my opinion, there is no point in referring to the past for understanding the behavioral implications of such a developing country and its foreign policy. I see it this way, it is the lack of proper economic policies, visionary political expansion plans, and a strategically weak government with no strong social foundations that created a snow ball of political events, one of which is the agreement on foreign policies! One thing to mention though, as long as Hezbollah has such enormous power along side a weak government that believes it has to agree on every decision before hand, the country will never stand on its feet! Imagine what will happen with its foreign policies then!

    10. Mona says:

      well I am delighted to read your insight into Lebanese Foreign Policy and yes we’d better it give it a more appropriate name such as:” Foreign Mess”…. and instead of Embassies: “Special Liaison Bureau”… and instead of Republic of Lebanon, The “Business Center of Lebanon”! and our Parliament is very similar to UN forums such as UNCTAD which ironically stands for “Under No Circumstances we Take Any Decision”!

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