Every summer, hundreds of Australians from Lebanese origins visit Lebanon. They come all the way from the West Pacific to the hustle and bustle of Lebanon, driven by their love and nostalgia for the country, or rather its idea, dream, hope…
They are fully aware of the details of its reality, tragedies, and crises but none of this alters whatsoever their love or determination to come to their birthplace or country of their ancestors. They eagerly search for opportunities and create events and the long distances have not weakened their relationship, passion, and attachment to the country. Even their children and grandchildren are keen on coming here to a place where they collect joyful experiences and friendships that extend well beyond oceans.
They come loaded with universal human values and democratic concepts, which they experience and practice back in Australia. They express their beliefs with no partiality, exaggeration, or undermining whatsoever.
In the past few days, under the patronage of Bishop Antoine Tarabay, a politically diverse Australian delegation unified by its love for its country of origin, visited a number of officials and politicians and concluded its tour by meeting President Michel Aoun.
The delegation included: Pierre Raffoul, Minister of State for Presidency Affairs who holds Australian citizenship; Glenn Miles, Australia’s Ambassador to Lebanon; Lebanese Jean Ajaka, President of the New South Wales Legislative Council; Journalist Anwar Harb, delegation spokesperson; Tony Khattar, President of the Maronite Council; Bakhos Gerges, President of the Maronite League; Joe Khattar, President of the Australia Lebanon Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Sydney; Michel Doueihy, Regional President of the World Lebanese Cultural Union (WLCU); Fouad El Deiry, Head of the Orthodox Congregation Council in Australia; Jean Tarabay, Director of the Maronite Center for Research & Strategic Studies; Anthony Hachem; Laudy Ayub, head of the Lebanese Phalanges party in New South Wales; lawyer Diana Farah, and other figures and businessmen, notably George Ghossein, Anthony Succary, Tannous Daher, Toufic Keyrouz, and Joe Maccary.
Tarabay’ Speech: The Audacity of Truth
Bishop Tarabay delivered a speech on behalf of the delegation, largely reflecting the thoughts of the Lebanese in general, and Lebanese expatriates in particular, in terms of their view of a number of Lebanese critical topics.
His words were characterized by clarity and honesty, backed by the church’s stances and clearly affected by the culture of freedom and respect for people’s rights, minds, and dignity. They were marked by an audacity that could only be drawn from the truth.
The delegation could not help but note some “officials”’ discontent with the Bishop’s honesty and positions which do not leave room for misinterpretation or confusion and which reflect the viewpoint of the delegation and the community it represents.
Tarabay began his speech with, “We are honored to visit your Excellency at the “People’s Palace”, the focus of attention of the Lebanese and their hopes, the symbol of their identity and pride, and the source of their national unity wherever they may be”.
“Our second home, Australia, may be far from you in terms of distance; however, it is close to you by heart and soul, and to Lebanon and its people by support and solidarity. [Australia] has and still plays a welcoming role for the Lebanese who were forced to emigrate because of futile wars in search of a better future for themselves and their families”, he added.
“You represent hope for the establishment of a State of law and institutions in Lebanon (…). Our visit today is to join your great project of building the pillars of a strong nation. We thereby put our potential at your disposal, hoping to contribute to achieving your promise to the Lebanese by “eradicating corruption and restoring a clean environment whatever it takes” as per your speech”, he continued.
Tarabay stressed, “Australian Lebanese are ready more than ever to lend a helping hand to Lebanon and to contribute especially to its economic growth. It suffices to note that if only 10% of the Lebanese’s investments in Australia were to be employed in Lebanon, we would be contributing to a major economic recovery and creating additional job opportunities that would drive the economy forward and inevitably limit the migration of youth and families. Nonetheless, we are fully aware of the many reasons that prevent emigrants from returning to or investing in their home country despite their great longing and readiness to do so”.
In this context, the Bishop cited some of these reasons, “hoping to find suitable solutions for them as soon as possible”, namely:
- Confidence restoration: The Lebanese’s loss of confidence in institutions given the rampant corruption in public administrations and among many political officials does not encourage expatriates to invest (…) that is why the work required aims at restoring the confidence of the Lebanese in their country and its institutions, which has started since your election as president”.
- Arms control: The proliferation of illegal weapons outside the State’s control raises the concerns of both nationals and expatriates alike. These weapons have the ability to turn at any time or circumstance into a disruptive factor of civil peace and free national decision-making, both at home and abroad. No country in the world accepts the proliferation of weapons outside its authority. Add to that the arbitrary spread of weapons among people and all the intentional and unintentional murder incidents resulting from this chaos. Australia for instance, along many other developed countries, did not resort to intimidating people with the adoption and implementation of the Law of Execution to reduce crime rates, but rather sought to eliminate its causes with firm decisions on the disarmament of people”.
- We join our voice to that of His Beatitude Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros al-Rahi demanding the right of Syrian refugees to return to their home. The Syrian refugee issue first requires a rationalization of the subject and therefore entails two major responsibilities. The first is national and consists of serious action towards ensuring Syrians’ return to their country and securing safe areas for them there. The second is moral and requires approaching the issue without apprehending Syrians and adopting a discourse that does not beget violence and hatred towards the neighboring people who had to flee their land and who deserve to be treated with proper sense because they are human beings just like us”.
The Bishop then cited a number of “achievements which have been made”, the most important of which being “the reconciliation between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces” and called for “its extension to include all Lebanese across all sects and parties, by launching a serious national dialogue in this direction”.
He further noted the “consensus on finalizing the electoral law”, emphasizing the “importance of enabling expatriates to have a say in the national political life as well as working to remove administrative obstacles delaying this right to participate in parliamentary elections”.
Tarabay praised “the role of the army and security forces, notably the Army Commander General Joseph Aoun who seeks to fully fulfill his national duty”, noting the “overall positive performance of the government headed by HE Saad Hariri who is known for making sacrifices for Lebanon and its people”.
Ajaka: Towards strengthening ties
Senator Ajaka then delivered a speech in which he expressed his pride to be “representing the New South Wales legislative council at the meeting in his capacity as its president and its first president of Lebanese origin”.
“The message I carry today is that we, at the New South Wales legislative council, would like to continue working hand in hand with you and the Lebanese government in order to maintain relations and ties between the two people in their journey towards progress and prosperity”, he said. He then noted the major investment opportunities available in the fields of infrastructure, commerce, import and export, and tourism “thanks to these relations and ties”.
Harb: Fairness towards expatriates
Anwar Harb then said, “The delegation puts in the hands of the President of the Republic the standby force which the Lebanese diaspora constitutes in all that it has got in order to save the promised and dreamt Lebanon (…). We urge you to extend the FPM-LF reconciliation to include all Christian parties and to serve as a prelude towards an overall Lebanese reconciliation. He asked, on behalf of the delegation, for fairness towards expatriates with a larger number of parliamentary seats in order for them to better serve their country.
Aoun: Three Crises
In his response, President Aoun called on members of the delegation to “maintain their love for Australia which embraced them and offered them citizenship and for Lebanon, their homeland; because there is no contradiction between the two, given the great human notions and values they share”.
“We are facing three crises, the first being the economic crisis and wars in the Middle East and the Syrian displacement which has affected us economically and security-wise,” he added.
“After being elected president, my bigger dream now is to build the Lebanese State. The mistakes we have made over the past 26 years cannot be corrected in a matter of days or months. They need over a year or two, because those mistakes have affected all sectors of the State, including economy, security, and corruption”, he continued and expressed looking forward “to meeting the needs of expatriates in order for them to return to their homeland. Putting an end to migration is at the top of our priorities”. He then praised “the delegation members’ initiatives to help Lebanon both politically and economically”.