SAT 31 - 10 - 2020
Date: Jul 24, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
UK Minister Cleverly reflects on his virtual visit to Lebanon
James Cleverly
Given the renowned status of Lebanese hospitality, I am particularly disappointed that I have been unable to visit the country in person since I was appointed the UK’s minister for the Middle East earlier this year. In a few short months, coronavirus has transformed the world, and we are now cautiously getting used to the “new normal.” I am glad that I was able to use technology to conduct a virtual visit to Lebanon – Taouk and Tabbouleh for lunch while video-calling colleagues in Beirut tasted much better with the Mediterranean in the background.

My visit has helped me gain a deeper understanding of the enormous challenges currently facing the Lebanese people. In conversations on the economy, I have learned first-hand how this crisis is impacting the lives of ordinary citizens. I also heard from those in the humanitarian, education and security fields about the tangible impacts being felt there.

The UK is a long-standing partner of Lebanon and friend to the Lebanese people. Last year we supported over 200 Lebanese SMEs, helped enroll 488,000 students in education, provided $39 million directly to Lebanese communities – and much, much more. Our people-to-people links, from bilateral trade to Lebanese students studying in the UK, have been growing stronger for years.

We are the proudest of partners to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) as the sole legitimate defender of Lebanon, training over 11,000 soldiers, and helping to secure the Syrian border for the first time. Our important partnership has helped to support the LAF to push Daesh out of Lebanon. We work with the Internal Security Forces (ISF) to improve its abilities, in particular community policing in Beirut.

And then there is COVID. The UK’s rapid response has provided over $2 million to fight it here in Lebanon. We must continue to work together to tackle this terrible disease.

Of course, the scale of the economic crisis facing Lebanon is unprecedented. The UK remains committed to supporting the Lebanese Army and Police, and will work to protect the most vulnerable citizens.

The scale of the crisis is so big that there is only one solution: Lebanon needs genuine change. Without reform, this crisis will get worse. We stand ready to support Lebanon on this path, but ultimately there needs to be a Lebanese solution backed by sincere political will. As my French colleague, Minister Le Drian, said last week, “We are ready to help, but help us to help you.” Only Lebanon itself can deliver 24/7 electricity, re-energize the private sector and rebuild confidence in the economy.

“In light of this, I had an honest conversation about the situation with Prime Minister Diab and Foreign Minister Hitti. Swift action is needed to prevent Lebanon sliding further downward, and inaction will burden the most vulnerable. We also discussed dissociating Lebanon from destabilizing, regional conflicts.”

I was deeply impressed by the passion and drive of the Lebanese I met, and I am confident that in the long-term this country can once again have a bright future. But they say that the night is always darkest before the dawn, and it will be a long and difficult road to recovery. For the sake of the Lebanese people, this road must be found. And soon.

James Cleverly is the UK minister for the Middle East.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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