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    Lebanese pre-occupation with Tribunal taking toll on reform

    Ziad Abdel Samad, ANND Executive Director

    Preoccupation with the court probing the death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is costing Lebanon sorely needed economic and social reform, according to the head of a pan-Arab civil society group.


    Ziad Abdel-Samad, executive director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (A.N.N.D.), speaking on the sidelines of a major regional NGO summit Friday, said security concerns were being used as a pretext to avoid necessary administrative amendments.

    “In Lebanon, everyone is paying attention to the tribunal and forgetting the reform agenda,” Abdel-Samad told The Daily Star.

    The Cabinet has not met since Dec. 18 and is divided among the issue of tribunal “false witnesses.” Meanwhile, several hundred items on the government’s agenda have been ignored.

    “Security is always used as a pretext by governments in order to prevent any kind of democratic reform,” Abdel-Samad said. “When talking about development you have to take into account that you are living in a region where peace is lacking, there is no security and lots of funds are being diverted from development to security issues.”

    The Regional Forum on Economic and Social Rights in Light of the Global Crises saw NGOs from across the Middle East and North Africa try to formulate recommendations that Arab governments can adopt as a way of sustaining development following the world financial meltdown of 2008.

    The conference ruminated on the role civil society organizations could play in influencing respective policymakers in Arab countries.

    Kinda Mohamadieh, A.N.N.D. programs director, said that NGOs were making an impact with governments in the region, in spite of inherent reluctance to reform from some administrations.

    “We see that Arab governments have taken a political decision to create a regional process for progressing economic and social reforms in the region,” she told The Daily Star.

    “We [as NGOs] are responsible for engaging with this process and to put together mechanisms of holding governments accountable to the decisions they are taking.

    “We first need to struggle for out space of existence and then voice our concerns. All these decisions on development are a reflection of power politics defined by the roles of governments and institutions.”

    The latest U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (Escwa) report on the Arab world made for grim reading in terms of social and economic equality in a region that contains the majority of the world’s known oil reserves – the report estimated that poverty had increased since 2005 due to inflated food and fuel prices.

    Magdy Abdel-Hamid, from the Egyptian Association for Civic Engagement, said that the region suffered from poor resource management.

    “The Arab world enjoys natural and human resources in plenty, but the problem lies in the lack of political structure and proper management of these resources,” he said.

    Hamid urged governments “address food shortages and formulate policies that address food security.”

    Lebanon demonstrated the need for more robust social reform and wealth redistribution organized by governments, according to Abdel-Samad.

    “Redistribution is a redistribution of growth, so if Lebanon achieved relatively good levels of growth over the last few years it does not mean that the revenue from the growth was handed out in society,” he said.

    Abdel-Samad argued that as long as virtually all of Lebanon’s administrative apparatus was centered in Beirut, crushing poverty would continue to affect distant areas. “You have to restructure the Lebanese administration. Municipalities are not able to be independent because of geographic or demographic factors,” he said.

    “We need to reconsider this to delegate power in order to enhance development. Everything currently is centralized to Beirut. Outside, you have slums and these are not only examples of poverty, these are threatening security.”

    Abdel-Samad added that while Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud had submitted a draft law aimed at spreading policymaking and resource management away from the large urban areas of Beirut, Tripoli and Zahle, the government’s reluctance to seriously consider social and economic development as priorities was harming the country. He said the pattern was replicated throughout the Arab world.

    Patrick GALEY
    The Daily Star

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