الأحد - 01 آب 2021
بيروت 29 °

إعلان

Time for Citizen Diplomacy

From Abou Rakhoussa souk. (Photo: Nabil Ismail)
From Abou Rakhoussa souk. (Photo: Nabil Ismail)
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By Carmen Geha

Yesterday, the French Ambassador, Anne Grillo, basically told off caretaker Prime Minister and rebuked him for asking for help. The French alone have donated $100 million for the Lebanese people. Last week, the Canadian Ambassador, Chantal Chasteney, posted a picture of her queuing in a car for gas, a daily scene for anyone living in Lebanon – anyone except Lebanon’s politicians. The ambassadors and diplomats appear to connect more with people’s daily struggles than our own politicians – politicians who could not even walk in any one funeral of the victims of the port explosion. For decades, we as activists tried to formulate the argument that a century-old sectarian political system managed by a group of warlords was inept; it was not living up to our needs nor to our expectations. Some listened, others did not care to listen, and those who cared could do very little to sway the course of history. But the explosion of August 4th changed everything; their corruption and tyranny were too violent for us and for the world to unsee. Right now the world is listening but we need to act fast.

The concept and practice of citizen diplomacy rest on the assumption that states are not the only foreign policy actors. Politicians who appoint ministers are not the sole speakers on behalf of the people, citizens have a voice too and the right to forge foreign relations with other citizens, including diplomats. This practice also exists at an institutional level, among hospitals, universities and banks that all engage in foreign relations and create collaborative ties. We too can recreate and rebuild our relationship with the world, one person and one connection at a time. Diplomacy and foreign policy are about interests, mutual or conflicting interests. If we are to re-engage with the world, with ambassadors, institutions, private companies and with other people, we need to stop being a burden. This allows for global engagement based on person-to-person dialogue and exchange. The time for citizen diplomats, inside and outside Lebanon, to engage counterparts across the world is now, but this task requires two major strategic undertakings.

 
Highlighting what we have to offer
 
Lebanon cannot continue to be a burden on its own people, the region and the world. We cannot only beg for help, complain and blame other people. This is a country with no electricity, no fuel and with a garbage crisis. If we want the world to listen and provide us with support, we need to highlight what we have to offer. Is it our cumulative experiences and lessons learnt? Do we have expertise in certain fields that we can export or share? Is it our education or health systems? What is it that is our resource and that others should care to save and nurture? To me, losing the last remaining space for freedom of thought on this side of the Mediterranean is a cost too high to bear, not just for the Lebanese but for others residing here too. Placing explosives at the port, ruining the environment, sponsoring drugs, promoting terrorism and human trafficking – these are all what we do not want to offer and what the world has no interest to see happening. We need to engage as equal counterparts with the world, sharing a resource and getting something in return, not go around begging as victims.

Articulating a clear and viable alternative
The narrative that Lebanon’s problems are so complex is harmful to our efforts to engage in global diplomacy. Perceiving the country as rotten
 to the core, historically sectarian, and prone to conflicts is a wrong depiction of our reality. We do have a colonial legacy across the Middle East and Lebanon is part of it, but our endemic problems are about bad governance and stemming from corrupt leadership. We need to tell another story, a story of institutions that have resisted corruption, a story of movements that are collective and inclusive, and a story of survival and co-existence. These stories need to be embedded in institutions and models that have survived over time. I can list tens of these institutions, from blood banks to schools to clinics to businesses – all of which not only survived war and destruction but resisted the hegemony of corruption. The Lebanese people can live better and they know how to, and if the state and politicians refuse to show that, then people need to step in and tell a different story.

Citizen diplomacy has worked in contexts where the state was corrupt or violent. The anti-apartheid movement was a movement of people, students and local actors. Thought leaders across the world from Nigeria to Palestine challenge the monopoly of corrupt politicians over foreign relations. We too can do that, but we really need to get our act together and do some deep reflections. Lebanon should not remain a burden as it has been for so many decades, but an actor that can engage with and contribute to a regional and global conversation.
 
 
 
*Carmen Geha is an Activist and tenured Associate Professor of Public Administration and Leadership at AUB
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