Remarks by Walid Maalouf
Director, Public Diplomacy for Middle eastern & MEPI Affairs
Lebanese American Renaissance Partnership
Friday, September 12, 2008
This is our second mission to Lebanon. In 2006 we came with a strong determination to achieve the objectives of LARP and we did. In addition to the beneficial business transactions between the LARP delegates and their Lebanese counterparts, we discussed ways to keep this bridge between the Diaspora and the homeland active, productive and meaningful. We also made 4 grants of $15,000 each to Sesobel, the Association of Motherhood and Infantile, the Lebanon Family Planning Association, and the Children's Cancer Center of Lebanon at the American University Hospital.
In today’s mission we want to do more and bring about more precise results. We want to provide more grants to schoolchildren, to hospitals with programs that provide better health care, to orphanages so they will grow to be patriotic Lebanese and to employment services so we keep Lebanon's youth for Lebanon to grow.
We can achieve these goals by drawing heavily upon the resources of Lebanese Americans in particular and Lebanese of the Diaspora. Over half of Lebanon’s economy is based on international trade, and the civil conflicts in Lebanon have created a large Diaspora of emigrants and former refugees. LARP believes that it can leverage the resources of Lebanese Americans in this Diaspora to assist in building Lebanese imports and exports, the single most significant part of the Lebanese economy. LARP also believes in reconnecting Lebanese Americans to their roots in Lebanon. In short, LARP seeks to integrate Lebanese Americans of the Lebanese Diaspora into our efforts to provide relief to distressed populations by working to promote the economic, civic, and political development of the Lebanese society.
I want to thank all the Lebanese American leaders in the LARP delegation that took the time and made the journey to show what America is all about. Immigration has been the backbone of the United States of America, and we are proud to see successful Lebanese Americans looking back to their ancestral homeland to help. Lebanese have been migrating to the United State since the mid -1800s and they are patriotic Americans. Many of them have become judges, mayors, senators, congressmen and some have even served in the President’s cabinet. Several have excelled in the private sector - such as Engineer Ghassan M. Saab who is leading this delegation as our corporate leader and all the LARP business delegation.
We are so happy that our sister organization, the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce, has joined us in collaboration to make this trip as well as the last one successful. This partnership between both organizations has been very beneficial to Lebanon and its business community. I cannot thank the board of AmCham enough for their collaboration and belief in the LARP mission.
But most importantly our thanks to Salim Zeenni, a very sociable and energetic businessman who is passionate about his country and the success of its business community. He never left it even when he had the chance to at a young age. He’s been a vital element in the advancement of the business relationship with the US since 1990 when he gathered several businessmen to form the Lebanese American business association.
I know now why Salim is unstoppable - because he likes speed. He leaves at anytime, anyplace to watch Formula One. We have NASCAR in the United States and I don’t know if Salim would watch a NASCAR race, but I invite you to go anytime anywhere to watch it with my son Ben who is a big fan. Salim is a technology wiz, an environmentalist and a go getter.
Ladies and gentlemen please help me welcome a great Lebanese patriot Salim Zeenni>>>>
Who in the Lebanese American community does not know Ghassan Saab? I am not going to stand here reading his resume, I am rather going to tell you how Ghassan is known in America among all of us: his family, friends, associates, coworkers and the Lebanese American community at large.
This is a one man whose deeds are more eloquent than his words and more substantive than he likes to display. He is all altruism with no veneer or egotism, a philanthropic giver. His selfless deeds make him an icon not only for the Druze community but for all Lebanese. Since I've known Ghassan, wherever I travel and meet with the community in the States, I see his name in halls and schools, in churches and mosques, offering his support to organizations of our heritage with great generosity.
Ghassan is also a great athlete; he exercises every day – doing treadmill and kayaking, biking and spinning in addition to lifting weights. He’s also very competitive, a great sailor loves the water and lives on the water, be it in Florida or in Michigan.
Ghassan loves to kayak at sunrise regardless of the temperature in Michigan. One cold weekend in March, while Manal’s parents were visiting and as they woke up and went to have the morning “Matte” her mother pointed to two men in the lake out the window from the house and said “look at those two crazy Americans kayaking in 30 degree weather; and the lake is about to freeze but they still kayak regardless.” Manal looked at her mother and said “those two crazy Americans are my husband and his friend.”
Ladies and gentlemen the resilient Ghassan Saab>>>>
Ambassador Michele J. Sison does what she does because she believes in her capabilities. But she does not do it to prove herself or to shine; rather it is to serve our nation -- which she does with passion and commitment. For those of you who don’t know, she is a professional economist and she is very much loved at USAID. One of her unique qualifications is that she has strong analytical skills and is a prolific writer and editor.
Ambassador Sison is so dedicated to her work that she brings her lunch to work everyday and generally eats at her desk. She believes in outreach and meeting people. While the US Ambassador to the UAE, she set an all-time embassy record for the numbers of round trips between Abu Dhabi to Dubai in a single day, working her magic on behalf of the United States of America. She never saw a visitor she didn't invite to come back; she is very hospitable and welcoming. She is a booster of young women diplomats, especially those raising families. She has been there and done that herself, as the mother of two college age daughters. She received a Department of State award for lobbying the UAE government to get tough on Trafficking-in-Persons.
Michele is full of energy. She is a salt-water diver and a runner and works out at the gym daily --sometimes twice a day. She has a big heart, and her ability to master the complexities of Lebanese politics in 8 months demonstrates that she is one very smart American diplomat.
Ladies and gentleman the hospitable US Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison>>>>>
We are honored to be holding this conference under the auspices of the President of Lebanon. We are grateful that His Excellency President Sleiman accepted graciously to have it under his high patronage. LARP I, which took place in November 2006, was under the auspices of the Prime Minister. Our goal is to support those two important institutions of the Lebanese Government and help strengthen their role, their stature and their competencies. Foreign interferences in Lebanon always aim to weaken them, replace them with militias and other local powers. In the last 35 years, the Presidency and the Prime Ministry has been held back, controlled, manipulated, antagonized, pressured and, at times, physically prevented from carrying out their functions. Outside forces kept the Presidency of Lebanon vacant for six months. This is not democracy. That’s why we’re here, to raise our voices in support of Lebanon and the Lebanese democracy.
Ladies and gentleman the representative of the President of Lebanon Minister Mohamad Safadi>>>>>
For the rest of the day we will talk about the importance of the Lebanese Diaspora’s role in the new Lebanon, how we can increase communications between the Diaspora and the homeland by participating in the political process, making the Diaspora’s successes better known to the Lebanese people, and voting in the next election. What is it that the Diaspora is already doing on humanitarian level, philanthropic help; on health issues and how you can continue health reform in particular how can you make the Doctors of this country become accountable for their mistakes. How can the business community become more involved in creating good policies and lobby for the good of this country? And later in the afternoon we want to tackle how the youth in Lebanon can claim this country back and be a major player in making it a better place with the help of the Diaspora and its powerful business and financial know-how. How can they make the big change and shake up the status quo.
These are important discussions, we must find solutions.
These are important debates; we must take them head-on.
These are important for change, we must believe in.
Yes, change, change and total change.
Thank you very much.