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Ban Ki-moon's Visit to Beirut: A Message of Trust in Lebanon's Role

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New York -- United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is inaugurating his second term this week with a visit to Lebanon, in which he intends to assert his courage in adhering to his principle, and his refusal to seclude himself as a hostage of fear-mongering and intimidation. He does not do this as a challenge to anyone, and will not go there raising a banner or hailing himself as a leader. Ban Ki-moon is certainly aware that he lacks the feature of "charisma", both in terms of the attraction that charms people or of the extraordinary ability to communicate with people. Nevertheless, he sees himself as a man of principle, one of strong character and patient determination, who devotes himself to carrying out the task entrusted to him; and does not back down once having reached resolve. He is going to Lebanon with messages for the Lebanese and for their Syrian neighbor, as well as for the broader Arab region. The gist of his regional message is that he is determined to continue supporting the democratic transformation in the Arab region, no matter what such change entails in terms of risks or surprises. Indeed, he has decided to wager on the awakening in the Arab region, even if what has been called the Arab Spring were to turn into the Spring of the Islamists. His message to Syria comes through his relatively lengthy visit to Lebanon, under the banner of emphasizing trust in this fragile country's ability to maintain cohesion and stability, no matter what happens in neighboring Syria. And his message to the Lebanese across the political spectrum is that, first, this little country is perhaps the United Nation's biggest project, and the Secretary-General is determined to support such an investment and to stand alongside UN workers there; and second, that the Lebanese government, headed by Najib Mikati, had been internationally isolated at the onset of its term, as it had been considered to be Hezbollah's government. However, by fulfilling its commitments to the UN and its resolutions, it is worthy of the Secretary-General inaugurating his second term with a visit here, a visit that would contribute to breaking its isolation if it perseveres in implementing UN resolutions. Lebanon is the first stop of his second term, but Ban Ki-moon's goals and aspirations are much broader.

At the beginning of his first term, while accompanying him on a visit to the Middle East, the author of this article held an interview with Ban Ki-moon, which was restricted to getting to know his personality. He surprised many when he described himself in this interview as a "bureaucrat", explaining that he concentrates on carrying out his task and separates himself even from friends, because he does not want to mix between the tasks assigned to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the man occupying the post. With time, Ban Ki-moon has grown in his post and no longer fears for the post from the man. He has now become comfortable with himself as Secretary-General. Yesterday's bureaucrat has turned into the executive director of the international organization. Today he speaks the language of vision, not of bureaucracy, and he is determined to earn for himself a political legacy that would give him a special place in history. And as chance would have it, the Arab region has provided him with an arena for shaping such a legacy, starting from the principle of non-impunity, which he committed to when Lebanon turned into a UN project in the wake of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri's assassination. This does not mean that Ban Ki-moon does not very carefully and closely observe the stances of major powers, or that he takes risks by haphazardly splitting away from them. Indeed, every Secretary-General of the United Nations understands perfectly how sensitive, and how important their relations with member-states are, especially those that are members of the Security Council, and most prominently, the latter's five permanent members. The balance of power between those five states dictates many of the Secretary-General's stances, first because he is entrusted with implementing Security Council resolutions, and second because he is important to any of these five states that wish him to side with them, not against them.

Five years ago, at the start of Ban Ki-moon's first term, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was at his peak, extremely self-confident, without anyone being bold enough to ask him what he has planned for the future of Russia and for his future in it. Today, Putin faces numerous challenges, at both the domestic and international levels; as he is no longer yesterday's man who stood above accountability. Rather, he sometimes seems very tense and adopts policies that also bear marks of tension -- his policies towards Syria being one example of this. Three years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama was surprising the whole world by entering the White House as a social and political activist, promising to lead in a pioneering way and pledging radical change. Today, Obama seems like an ordinary man to the world he had amazed only yesterday. Americans are holding him to account and demanding of him domestic leadership, at least as the head of the Executive Branch of Government, not as a political activist, in the United States. He is focused on getting a second term, as he enters into fierce competition with the expected Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, a man who enjoys the experience needed for a president, and who is of a moderate nature. They are both trapped in a situation of tug-of-war and defiance, and Iran falls in the forefront of the repercussions of such a formula.

Domestic developments such as these have a great effect on the thinking of any UN Secretary-General, as well as on his actions, and Ban Ki-moon understands fully well both the restrictions and the opportunities that come with them. Indeed, he would never publicly challenge the United States or Russia, and he would never interfere between the two. He is also extremely careful when it comes to China, for many reasons, one of them being his Asian background. Concerning Europe, Ban Ki-moon is well aware of its insistence on sailing close to the United Nations, where Britain and France, for example, still enjoy a special position of influence, in view of their permanent membership at the Security Council. For all of these reasons, the Secretary-General will never be completely independent, but he is afforded a certain margin of vision and leadership -- if he so chooses and if the opportunities are available. And it so happens that opportunities today afford him such a margin -- and they are coming from the Arab region. Here, he seems convinced that the "Arab Spring", the "Arab Awakening" or the road to "democratic change" deserves investments in visionary ideas.

Behind such a conviction stands one of the "Secretary-General's women" -- as the highly qualified women occupying positions of Under-Secretary-General under Ban Ki-moon have come to be referred to. Doctor Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, (ESCWA) which has organized an international conference entitled "Reform and Transitions to Democracy" that will be inaugurated by Ban in Beirut during his visit this week. Rima Khalaf is not new to reform, having been behind the famous Arab Human Development Report (AHDR). She is also a pioneer in the fields of creating opportunities for future generations and of freedom in the Arab World. Her views have influenced Ban Ki-moon's thinking, and she is his top adviser on Arab affairs. Ban Ki-moon, by appearing at the "Reform and Transitions to Democracy" at the beginning of his second term, sends out a clear message stating his determination to continue supporting reform and the transitional process in the Arab region as a priority. He is saying: this is how I will build my political legacy.

Syria today is at the forefront of the transitional process. It is an international and Arab workshop, because of the cooperation and interplay between, on the one hand, the efforts of the League of Arab States and its Secretary-General Nabil El-Araby, and on the other, the UN Security Council and Ban Ki-moon's efforts. The Secretary-General's participation in the conference on reform and transitions to democracy in the Lebanese capital includes a message to the country's Syrian neighbor, one that signifies that the train of transition to democracy is in its neighborhood, and is heading towards it, regardless of the events in Syria. Indeed, the Secretary-General trusts in Lebanon's ability to move forward normally, and not as a Syrian hostage. At the Lebanese level, what Ban Ki-moon brings is a message of trust in the country about which it is often said is not ready for a visit by international figures because of the unrest there or because of its government's lack of power. But Ban Ki-moon saw no reason not to go through with this visit, and this is in fact one of the longest of the visits he usually makes, as he will be staying in Lebanon for about three days. By this he is saying: there is relative stability, the government is working and is not powerless, and the United Nations is persevering in its tasks in this country which is under "intensive care" from the UN, as per the expression used by one United Nations official. The United Nations has some of its greatest operations underway in this small country, from the reinforced UN troops in the South (UNIFIL) to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in addition to the presence of representatives of all UN agencies, alongside the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) and the resolutions issued by the Security Council that support extending the authority of the Lebanese Army alone, on all Lebanese territories; and disarming all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.

Ban Ki-moon will address UNIFIL workers in order to raise their morale, and he will cling to every Security Council resolution, no matter how aggressive some Lebanese circles may consider this to be. He is bringing along his team, with a clear message for everyone - that he is a man of principle entrusted with a clear mandate, and committed to carrying out the duties he bears. He will be asked to condemn Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace more strongly; Israel's persistence in illegal settlement-building: violating the human rights of Palestinians, -starting from the occupation; and the undermining of the fundamental principles of human rights that it entails. It will be said that he failed to force Israel to fulfill its international commitments as per Resolution 1701, such as withdrawing from the village of Ghajar, and that he avoids denouncing it while he does not hesitate to denounce Arabs who violate UN resolutions. And it will be difficult for Ban Ki-moon to defend himself as long as Israel is forcing him into a corner and embarrassing him, and as long as Western countries are determined to spare Israel from being held to account. At the same time, Ban Ki-moon's fundamental message, despite threats from some Lebanese circles, is that he is not Lebanon's enemy, but rather its friend. He believes in breaking the Lebanese government's isolation, and praises its fulfillment of its international commitments. He does not back down and is not afraid, as he wagers on the wisdom of political leaders, regardless of the threats and intimidation that might accompany his visit.

Ban Ki-moon's first visit in his first term had been to Paris, in order to participate in a conference in support of Lebanon. His first visit in his second term to that very same country is one that bears an important message reflecting the importance he grants Lebanon. Indeed, he carries with him international legitimacy and his wager on the Arab region, and he is inaugurating his second term and his political legacy with a visit he could have avoided, had he wanted to.

Raghida Dergham.Com