The following is an interview conducted by The Daily Star with former Tourism Minister and head of the General Maronite Council Wadih al-Khazen.
Q: How do you assess the last National Dialogue session in light of recent local developments?
A: First it must be said that what President Michel Sleiman is achieving is noteworthy. The most important achievement is Pope Benedict XVI’s historic Lebanon visit, which was very positive given the pope’s repeated calls for dialogue. [Dialogue is needed] to ensure sustainable political and economic stability and security, the country needs understanding among its people. Based on this need, the president is insisting that National Dialogue ... convene at Baabda Palace regardless of who attends because it is the only means to restore the state’s authority and the people’s trust in it.
Sleiman, who always relies on the Constitution upon which he took his oath, is eager to increase the Lebanese people’s trust [in the government] as much as possible in order to reassure them of their present and future. That is his main concern.
As for the his proposal for a national defense strategy, it is very important because it is written in a way that satisfies the president’s conscience and suits all Dialogue participants. There is a great need for all those engaging in dialogue to study the proposal in detail and take its contents seriously, and look with a positive attitude at the suggestions the president included in the proposal in order to reach the necessary solutions and put an end to this turmoil. After that, officials can start improving the [country’s] economic and living situation which needs great care due to the deterioration which has taken place on all levels.
Q: Are you satisfied with the pope’s visit to Lebanon and its results?
A: The pope’s visit must yield results and not just words. The experience we had in 1997 after Pope Jean Paul II issued the first Apostolic Exhortation was not good because we implemented only a little of the exhortation. We can summarize all the sermons and guidance Pope Benedict XVI gave us in one word and that is dialogue. Let us, Christians and Muslims, engage in dialogue and strengthen Lebanon’s stability because without it there are dangers that can harm our coexistence and destroy our country’s special characteristics.
Q: What is the latest on inter-Christian reconciliation and what is the fate of appointments?
A: The president and [Maronite] Patriarch Beshara Rai are always concerned with the fastest means to reach an inter-Christian reconciliation [between parties] and resolve this thorny and explosive issue, which we as Christians and as Maronites in particular have suffered from. In the General Maronite Council, we have sought to bring opposing views together and bridge gaps while coordinating with the president and patriarch in order to revive the situation of the Maronites and establish a renewed Christian role in and outside government that integrates with the Muslim role, which [also] represents an essential part of the Lebanese mosaic.
As for appointments, it is strange and surprising that a country can continue without appointing civil servants in vacant posts, especially today when we have a great need to fill these posts given the ongoing delay in public institutions’ meeting people’s needs. If we look back, we see that since the country’s independence in 1943 we have always had problems with administrative appointments. But, now the president has developed a mechanism, in agreement with premier Najib Mikati and Speaker Nabih Berri, that will allow appointments to take place based on qualifications.