Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher

Former British Ambassador to Lebanon

Part of UK in Lebanon

7th September 2012 Beirut, Lebanon

In Lebanon’s Hands

Lebanon tends to be high on our August watchlist. This year there was no major single crisis, but five developments raised anxiety. Israel accused Hizballah of involvement in the Bourgas terrorist attack. A pro-Assad former Minister was arrested. Kidnappings returned in a dangerous 48 hours. Some Gulf countries told their nationals to leave. The Tripoli powder keg re-ignited. Throughout, the media were quick to accentuate the negative.

Lebanon has learnt to live with a certain level of instability. Periodically, for millennia, it has gone through phases of fragility, as regional tectonic plates and delicate demographics shift. The result is often conflict and political realignment. Are we in such a phase? Not yet. But I think there is an increasing realisation among Lebanese that Assad’s ability to directly influence political life in Lebanon is reducing. The system of Syrian patronage, reinforced over 30 years through brutality and corruption, is unravelling. This is a difficult but necessary phase. There is uncertainty, hedging, and recalculation.

The Lebanese are quick to blame outsiders for their woes. But what has changed over the last month is that there are clearer signs that both sides in the Syrian conflict are more willing to provoke or respond to violence within Lebanon, especially in Tripoli.  As ever, conspiracy theories abound.  To the optimist, there are positives: the Lebanese army has responded well; mainstream political leaders are trying to find consensus, including through President Sleiman’s national dialogue; business and life go on (a sign of both, I’ve just opened Mamas&Papas), and ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. On the other side of the balance sheet, more arms are flowing in;  the state is struggling to deliver many services; the media anxious; borders porous; refugee numbers rising; sectarianism worse; the international community distracted by diplomatic jousting on Syria; and, perhaps, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you more determined to kill your opponent first’.

Wherever I go in Lebanon, people ask ‘what next?’. I have to disappoint them by saying that we don’t know either. Lebanon will continue to feel tremors from Syria. But a more pronounced breakdown is not inevitable if the Lebanese people resolve to avoid it.

For Lebanon more than any other country in this troubled neighbourhood, the regional dynamic has the potential to make or break: we need to deliver  a stronger consensus that regional and international players  should avoid any action that undermines Lebanese stability. So I think UK actions should be guided by a simple principle: get the international community and Lebanese leaders to start treating Lebanon as an independent state with its own interests, rights and responsibilities, not eternally seen through the Syrian prism. Tricky, given the extent to which events in Syria are hitting Lebanon, but important.

More specifically, we must build up practical support to Lebanon to help manage contagion from Syria, including through increased training for the army, and increased funding for Syrian refugees. We’re working to support police reform, and preparations for elections in 2013. We have projects to help the state reassert itself, and to develop a more effective relationship with the Palestinian camps.

As Syria continues its transition, I hope therefore that we can focus in Lebanon on the opportunity to unshackle Lebanese talent. Like a nervous patient going to the doctor, we know that there could be some pain. But Lebanon will be stronger for a new and equal relationship with Syria and for a clearer commitment to Lebanese interests first.  Unsettling it may be to adjust to it, but the future is in Lebanon’s hands.

3 comments on “In Lebanon’s Hands

  1. Hi Mr Fletcher

    It sounds like an exciting and potentially historic time to be in the Lebanon.

    I am a British citizen, currently working in Turkey.

    I am looking forward to visiting Beirut 26th – 29th October (during the Islamic holiday), with my turkish girlfriend.

    Kind regards


  2. September 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Laura Abboud
    Dear Mr. Nabih Berri July,23,2012
    and Lebanese Parliament Members,
    Ramadan Kareem. In this holiest of times, we write to you to ask you to do the will of Allah, to restore the property rights of all Lebanese citizens. You now have the power to correct this unconstitutional miscarriage of justice that previous administrations have allowed to continue for so many years by issuing the new rent law. This new law will complete a free market place in Lebanon’s Real Estate market and will give back to all Lebanese citizens their God given property rights. That will be the legacy of this Lebanese parliament. That is why Lebanon needs this law right away!
    The time has come to stop the suffering and the losses we have incurred for so long. The opportunity costs alone have been unbearable. Losing the opportunity to do whatever we wanted with our properties has damaged us in ways you can’t even imagine, for over 40 years! It is time to end this agony and distress and to have legal equality for all Lebanese.
    The new rent law will prevent further loss of lives and injuries from more collapsing buildings and will uphold The Constitution of Lebanon. It will reinstate our property rights! Indeed, many old buildings cannot endure much more deferred maintenance. So, resolving this unjust situation by passing the new law is a win-win outcome for all. That’s why it was studied for so long. We know it is not a complete cure for both sides, but it is a fair compromise that needs to be implemented now.
    Please do not let future Lebanese generations inherit this unjust misery in our country. Help us resolve this chaos. We are counting on you to give us back our dignity and to give Lebanon back the respect it deserves. Let us stop this discrimination in Lebanon. Please issue the new rent law.
    Concerned Lebanese Citizens
    Old owners of Lebanon

  3. dear mr fletcher,
    you say you are working on making more effective relationship with the palastnine camps.. how exactly us that? if there is anything the lebanese agree on in this world is deriving the refugees from their rights. howevee it is cirrculated now that during the cabinet meetings the ownership of houses for the palastinians will be brought about for those who purchased houses before the year 2000 which is directly related to the salary chain to be paid with retro effect and the fundings needed to do so is by giving a little taste of freedom to the it true?

Comments are closed.

About Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic in August 2011. Tom was born in Kent, and studied at Harvey Grammar School (Folkestone) and Oxford University (Hertford…

Tom Fletcher was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic in August 2011.

Tom was born in Kent, and studied at Harvey Grammar School (Folkestone) and Oxford University (Hertford College), graduating with a First class degree in Modern History. He has an MA in Modern History, and is a Senior Associate Member of St Anthony’s College for International Studies, Oxford.

He is married to Louise Fletcher and they have two sons, Charles (born 2006) and Theodor (born 2011). Tom enjoys political history, cricket (Strollers CC), and mountains, and is the co-founder of 2020 (a progressive think tank).

Tom was awarded the Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 2011 New Year’s Honours, for services to the Prime Minister.