• Posted on : December 30, 2011
  • Posted by : Tom Fletcher

Several Ambassadors were asked by Le Revue Diplomatique for an article on the Middle East over the coming year. Here’s the short version of my thoughts.

2011 was a tumultuous and breathtaking year for the region. At our end of year shura of British ambassadors in the Middle East, it was striking how tired everyone looked and felt – and compared to many, we’re just observers.

The Arab uprisings silenced those who argued that desire for freedom, rights and dignity was somehow a Western concept. They brought hope of a better life to millions, and demonstrated the raw, untrammelled power of the best of new technology allied to the best of old ideas.

Change has been led by the people of the region, not interfering outsiders. There was and is no one-size-fits-all model. But the net result could be the greatest gains for human rights and freedom since the end of the Cold War. So the UK should continue to press leaders to embrace reform or get out of its way; and to expose and challenge human rights abuses wherever they take place.

Of course, these changes are also marked by violence, anxiety and uncertainty. As one Chinese leader recently said of the French revolution, it is still too soon to judge the results. Forces of authoritarianism will hit back hard in 2012 against those who want greater rights. Change will be the work of a generation. But I have no doubt which side is on the right side of history.

What of Lebanon, in the midst of these storms? Given the history and diversity, we are right to prepare ourselves for challenges ahead. Given the neighbours, we are right to hope for the best while preparing for the worst. But everything I have seen in four months here convinces me that the forces holding this unique country together remain stronger than those that would seek to tear it apart. That the tolerant majority will put their families, livelihoods and Lebanon before the encouragements of outsiders to return to instability. Some in the international community may seek to divide the Lebanese, or to fight their wars here. I have no doubt that it is our role to oppose them, and to support unity, tolerance, sovereignty and stability.

So, as Syria continues its transition towards a better future, I hope that we can focus in Lebanon on the opportunities that lie ahead, and not just the challenges of the coming months. Like a nervous patient going to the doctor, we know that there will be some pain. But we also know that Lebanon will be stronger for it. So my greatest wish for the New Year is that Lebanon can insulate itself until the storm passes. 

If our support for democracy and freedom is to mean anything, the UK and the international community must also not give up on the Middle East peace process. A two state solution is the only viable, just and secure outcome for Israel and Palestine, whatever the actions of extremists opposed to peace on either side. 2012 is of course a US election year, which means that others in the international community must step up to share the lead.

One thing is sure. 2012 will be as exhausting, unpredictable, exhilarating and challenging as 2011. But I remain an optimist, especially about the courage, ingenuity and tenacity of the Lebanese people, who have weathered tougher storms in the past. For the wider region, including Syria, I take comfort in my favourite Martin Luther King quote: “let us not forget that while the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends towards justice”.


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