BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said Tuesday Lebanon’s stability should not be sacrificed for the sake of the Arab Spring uprisings, noting the small Mediterranean nation had paid the price of enjoying a democratic system for decades amid authoritarian regimes.
“Our country has for more than six decades suffered from the grace of democracy in the middle of this East. This grace has made it a subject of envy and exposed it to crises that had on many times threatened its existence and entity,” Sleiman said.
The threats to Lebanon’s stability had emanated mainly from foreign states’ conflicting interests, which led to the outbreak of “regimes’ struggles” on its territory, he said.
“Since we have agreed that Lebanon will no longer be an arena for these struggles or a platform for an exchange of messages, we must not allow our stability to be sacrificed for the sake of the Arab Spring,” Sleiman said in a speech at the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the AUB Medical Center’s new Academic and Clinical Center.
He was referring to the so-called “Baabda Declaration,” during which rival March 8 and March 14 leaders agreed at the June 11 National Dialogue meeting to “keep Lebanon away from the policy of regional and international conflicts and spare it the negative repercussions of regional tensions and crises.”
Sleiman’s speech came as Lebanon faces threats to its stability and civil peace from a spillover of the 18-month turmoil in Syria as well as sharp political divisions between the opposition March 14 coalition and the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc over the conflict next door.Syria’s violations of the Lebanese border in the north, clashes between Syrian forces and rebel groups in areas near the common frontier, and off-and-on fighting between armed supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tripoli have raised fears of the Syrian unrest spilling over into Lebanon.
Following last week’s attack by the rebel Free Syrian Army on a Lebanese military post near the northern border with Syria, the Lebanese Army brought in reinforcements and vowed “not to allow any party to use Lebanese territory to implicate Lebanon in events in neighboring countries.”
The government has adopted a policy of disassociation from the conflict in Syria. But March 14 parties have criticized the policy and accused the government of siding with the Assad regime.
In his speech, Sleiman said Lebanon has always been an “open space” for different political opinions and was committed to individual freedoms and religious beliefs, in addition to its openness in its policy, economy, social system and educational programs. “Isn’t this climate of democracy, freedom and liberalization an incentive for an environment of knowledge and progress?” he said.
The president applauded the university on its initiative.
“We congratulate the university on its new center,” Sleiman said at the groundbreaking. “Lebanon was renowned, before the winds of [sectarian] conflict blew, as the hub of the university and the hospital of the Middle East, and it will remain so, thanks to those who are aware of Lebanon’s role.
“We are proud to see the educated Arab generation graduating from this university,” he added at the ceremony held at AUB’s Issam Fares Hall.
The new building – located on Maamari St. facing Saab’s medical library – will include psychiatry, oncology, ophthalmology and pain management centers as well as a number of other new clinics and educational spaces.
It is part of the university’s plan to become an even larger medical presence in Lebanon and the Middle East. AUBMC is considered one of the leading hospitals in the region. Sleiman and university representatives laid the cornerstone of the new complex, which is expected to be completed by 2015.