“There is no democracy without dialogue and compromise”
Political science professor Walid Moubarak shares his experience and talks of the challenges of modern diplomacy in the region.
Dr. Walid Moubarak has been a professor of political science at LAU since 1992 and had, for six years, been on the steering committee for Lebanon’s National Dialogue, headed by former President Michel Sleiman.
At LAU, Moubarak teaches foreign policy analysis, theories of international relations, Middle East and international relations, and positions of weak states in international systems. As part of Lebanon’s National Dialogue advisory committee, Moubarak faced all the challenges he introduces in the classroom in real life, working alongside lawyers, retired army generals and former ambassadors to aid in the development of a defense strategy for Lebanon. For his efforts in this endeavor, Moubarak was awarded the National Order of the Cedars.
Here, he talks us through the challenges faced by the national dialogue process and those facing diplomats and diplomacy in the region.
MarCom: Is there still any value to be found for Lebanon in the national dialogue process?
Walid Moubarak: Absolutely. It is home grown, authentic and inclusive, ensuring all of Lebanon’s key political parties and groups are included in discussions of national interest. In a society of many sectarian groups with a system based on sectarianism so that none can overpower or be overpowered, dialogue is very important. The objective is to build trust and achieve practical and political solutions to problems that otherwise cannot find answers through existing constitutional institutions.
MarCom: Is it not however true that few concrete results can be attributed to the national dialogue process?
Walid Moubarak: The national dialogue process began in 2006 under speaker Nabih Berri and they were able to agree at the time on three very important issues - support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the need to delineate borders between Lebanon and Syria, and disarming and organizing arms of Palestinian factions outside and inside the camps. The latter two have not been implemented because they relate not only to Lebanon but also to regional politics. It is important that Lebanon reached a consensus internally, but when dealing with threats that emanate from both in and outside the country, the process of implementation is complex and takes time.
Under President Sleiman, the focus was on the development of a national defence strategy for Lebanon. The first challenge here is defining what that means and involves. Since the Taif agreement was not implemented as designed and the region was going through a seismic political shift during what is known as the Arab Spring, reaching a resolution among parties who don’t have a common definition for Lebanon’s national interest was always going to be challenging.
President Sleiman made strong declarations in this regard and the Baabda Declaration showed that the parties could unite in principle. The nature of the Lebanese system is that different parties are associated with different outside forces and that is exactly why it is essential we strengthen our national dialogue without foreign mediation.
MarCom: What advice would you give your students, budding politicians and diplomats?
Walid Moubarak: I would always advise them to support national dialogue. For without dialogue, there would be no Lebanon. Without it and compromise, there is no democracy. We now have dialogue but not yet compromise. This is related to the weakness of the state following a 15-year civil war and an even longer occupation. We haven’t enjoyed peaceful times like other nations but we are still managing as a country, and in fact more stable than many in the region now.
There is a need and challenge for diplomacy to rely on non-traditional instruments to reach conflict resolution. We can’t simply rely on traditional diplomacy anymore as issues have become more complex than before. NGOs, religious institutions, think tanks and humanitarian organizations play important roles, and that’s why it’s important for a diplomat to immerse themselves in the culture and people of the country they work in.
Having served as chair of LAU’s Department of Social Sciences and assistant dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, Moubarak has been involved in the development of the many LAU initiatives and instruments to promote an environment of dialogue and diplomacy among Lebanese youth.