I want to thank all the Lebanese-American groups for organizing this event, and I appreciate seeing so many distinguished colleagues, guests, and friends – especially our elected representatives. It is a special honor to appear here today with Maura Connelly, our distinguished ambassador to the Republic of Lebanon.
A number of speakers tonight have referred to the ongoing upheavals in the Arab World. These have been different in different countries. Revolution in some; reform in others. Suppression as well as achievement. What has become known as the Arab Spring or the Arab Awakening has looked very different from Tunisia to Egypt, to Libya, to Syria, and the Gulf.
Yet two elements are constant: One is a yearning: yearning for dignity, for opportunity, and for respect between governors and the governed. The second element common to the popular movements across the region has been a triumph over fear. Too often, the authority of the state attempted to strangle dissenting voices; to imprison and intimidate, to torture and even kill political opponents. As dignity was confiscated from the public and concentrated in the hands of the few, it was fear that kept the people at bay. But in 2011, Arabs across the region vanquished their fear. And it was the Lebanese people who had first shown the way.
As most of you know, I served as United States Ambassador to Lebanon from summer 2004 to early 2008. I remember with vivid clarity the day former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated. It was a day of great tragedy and shock, yet very quickly the Lebanese people told the world they had had enough. They would be intimidated no longer. Fear could not stop them.
The Lebanese people in 2005 took their place among great and historic movements of the past by showing the world their resolve in the face of tyranny. Much like the South Africans who stood proudly against Apartheid in 1993, and the Central Europeans whose courage helped reshape the European continent in 1989 – Lebanese demonstrated that the power of people seeking dignity could not be denied. It was that bedrock principle – that the Lebanese should be in charge of Lebanon’s future – that caused hundreds of thousands of people from all confessions and all walks of life to go into the streets on March 14, 2005. With voices raised the Lebanese people demanded an end to political assassinations, an end to outside military occupation and an end to the full-scale theft perpetrated by the Asad regime and its local partners in crime against the people of Lebanon.
Lebanese pushed fear aside to realize the simple principle that citizens must have a say in how they are governed. The right to chart a brighter future, for themselves, their communities, and their children. That right belonged to them. Who could have imagined that six years later Arabs across the region would attempt to realize for themselves those same universal values that brought the Lebanese people to the streets in March of 2005?
Today, it is the Syrian people who reject the Asad regime’s campaigns of arrest and torture. Today, it is the Syrians who engage in a struggle the Lebanese know all too well, to rid themselves of Asad-Makhlouf kleptocracy. For all of us who care deeply about Lebanon, we have a moral as well as political obligation to stand firmly on the side of those Syrians trying to wrest their country out of the hands of a murderous mafia. No one outside of Syria understands the brutality of Bashar al-Asad better than the Lebanese. No one outside of Syria has more of a stake in the outcome than the Lebanese.
As all of us gathered here know, the Cedar Revolution’s dream of a Lebanon free of Asad’s manipulation and a Lebanon free of Iranian interference remains incomplete. The inevitable fall of Bashar provides new opportunity for Lebanon. In 2013 Lebanon will hold its next parliamentary election. I hope those Lebanese who are here with us today, along with millions of others back home in Lebanon, will again show the world how they can transcend fear – in order to use those 2013 legislative elections to defeat the remnants of the Syrian occupation and reject the apologists of Asad’s butchery. Let the Lebanese people join together to tell Hizballah and its allies that the Lebanese state will no longer be hijacked for an Iranian-Asad agenda.
The history of the Lebanese people is one of struggle and triumph over adversity. On this day, as we pause to celebrate the Cedar Revolution – one that foretold and inspired the revolutions of the present – we remember those whose lives were lost or who were grievously wounded in the struggle and celebrate the union of Lebanon’s diverse people. Tonight is an occasion to acknowledge all that Lebanon has accomplished and look forward to an even brighter future.