Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher

Former British Ambassador to Lebanon

Part of UK in Lebanon

23rd April 2013 Beirut, Lebanon

Lebanon’s Gas: Blessing or Curse?

I spoke this week at a conference on Lebanon’s gas sector. Interest in the subject is rightly high. This could be one of the largest gas finds anywhere in the world in the last decade. It could pave the way to a Lebanese renaissance – to Beirutopia. It could be the basis for a gas peace dividend in the region, as Mediterranean powers agree maritime borders and work together to maximise the collective benefit of their shared resource.

I hope so.

But there are alternative, grim, scenarios. One in which vested interests, in some cases with the connivance of outside powers, manipulate the sector to make themselves fabulously wealthy. Another where the resources curse that has blighted other parts of the world hits Lebanon with even greater force, perpetuating poor governance and conflict. Or another where inefficiency and division leave other countries to benefit while Lebanon gets its act together.

I think there are three tough questions the Lebanese people have to answer, if you are to have the best chance of the first scenario.

The first seems quite philosophical, but is in Lebanon about profound, raw politics: do you have the courage to coexist? I’ve posted on this already. Without it, gas makes your lives worse, not better. With it, you can make clear that this gas does not belong to the oligarchs. Nor is it Sunni gas, or Shia gas, or Christian gas. It belongs to the Lebanese people.

The second question is, do you have a national vision? What kind of Lebanon do you want to see in 2020, when the gas revenues start to filter through? Nobody knows how the Arab uprisings end, and there are immensely difficult challenges ahead. But if Lebanon is not to be blown over by the regional storm, it must hold fast to a strong set of national interests, and take the opportunity of flux in the region to secure – in this 70th anniversary year – meaningful independence.

The third question is more practical. How do you hold the state to account in delivering the benefits of these resources to the people?  The good news is that you’re not the first to face that question. There is a framework – the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – that allows countries to manage resources in as transparent a way as possible. If you care about Lebanon’s future, I encourage you to press for its adoption. Unlike previous generations, you have a superpower that helps you to stand over the way resources are used, the smart phone. You can use it to post photos of cute animals. Or you can use it to hold your leaders to account through initiatives such as Publish What You Pay. Or both, if that’s what floats you boat.

Whether you succeed has implications for all of us: Mediterranean gas could stop or start World War Three. It is also in our interests that all Lebanese people benefit from the potential revenues. And we have an obligation not just to help you extract your gas, though – in the case of UK companies if selected – we’ll do so with expertise and transparency. We also have an obligation to support you as you answer those three tough questions.

With the courage to coexist, with a genuine national vision, with a population that feels more empowered to hold the state to account, the gas off Lebanon’s shores can underwrite meaningful independence. It can fund the Lebanon 2020 that the Lebanese deserve.

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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.