Encounter with Mr Paul Sawaya, senior program manager (UNHCR) and project development officer (USAID)

François Nader: Good morning Mr Sawaya, I am François Nader, at La Gerap+ our goal is to promote transparent and valuable information; this is the reason I address you today. I thought it would be interesting to get your opinion on a few matters, through a series of questions. We recently interviewed Mr Jean-Philippe Gry, director of Porcher Industries; and Mr Georges Corm, former Lebanese Minister of Finance.

Following, are the questions we would like to get your opinion on, after a brief introduction of yourself.

Mr Paul Sawaya: Dear Francois, thank you for giving me the space to express my opinion about these topics.

As an activist and observer since the end of the Lebanese civil war (1990) and member of several crisis groups (UNHCR, USAID) and local civil society organizations (Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, Mercy Corps, Search for Common Ground) I have seen the changes coming especially after the 09/11 attacks on the USA and the wars initiated by the USA in Afghanistan and Iraq and the consequent disasters following.

The Arab world is experiencing a very unstable phase that started in Tunisia in 2010 and is still going strong in Syria and Iraq. What is, in your opinion, the major world event that led to this crisis?

The Arab spring which started in 2011 and turned into a bloody winter immediately afterwards for several countries like Egypt, Bahrein, Syria and Yemen happened as the world powers interests in the region shifted from protecting dictatorships and sponsoring their parties to another approach meant to show the world that freedom and democracy can also be part of these countries. Of course this was not the full truth about the real motivations behind the shift of attitude towards some of the countries in the region. The main interests were to divide the region into sectarian entities but taking advantage of the widespread use of social media and the youth to generate the changes to serve the ultimate goal of redesigning the Middle East. The youth of the area was in strong need of democratic changes and the world powers seized this opportunity to serve their agenda.

Would you consider this crisis as originating from the insides of aforementioned countries? Or triggered by other world powers?

The changes were both initiated internally when the regimes in place in these countries were no longer « sacred » but also by the international community which stood aside if not encouraged the changes. Of course there were some good intentions at the beginning behind seeing those changes happening that immediately shifted to serving the international community own agendas like in Syria to topple the Assad regime seen as too close to Iran and Egypt to get rid of a dictator who became a burden for the USA.

Who in your opinion, would benefit from such a war in the Middle East? And who is the main loser?

Arab countries and diverse and multicultural societies are the main losers of the changes. Instead of having more democratic regimes and freedom of expression, the area shifted into chaos with deep sectarian divides and the surge of extremist groups and ideologies. This of course served the cause of other totalitarian regimes in the area and Israel which has now no powerful opponents in its immediate neighborhood and would build on these sectarian divisions and hatred to reinforce itself and its image.

How do you classify Middle Eastern countries, in terms of safety, in the light of the crisis? (Countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrein…)

None of the countries mentioned above are safe nowadays, except Lebanon which has become immune to the attacks over the past 4 years when finally the political establishment agreed to politically cover the work of the different security forces and intelligence apparatus and their coordination and information sharing. The international community is also putting Lebanon under an umbrella which allows a minimum security stability for the country to sustain a political deadlock and an ongoing protracted crisis in neighboring countries. The extremist groups will still try to destabilize the countries where Shiite and Sunni live. The coming days will be crucial in demonstrating the above.

Geographically speaking, where do you see the war in Syria and Yemen extending?

The war in Syria has already extended to Iraq and will maybe extend to Jordan. It has impacted Lebanon of course by further deepening the existing political and sectarian divides of March 8 and March 14 and led to a political vacuum in the presidency and a paralysis of the other state institutions like the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The Gulf countries are likely to be more hit by the Yemen ongoing war between the GCC led forces and the Houthis backed by Iran. This struggle will be exploited by extremist forces to put off balance these countries and redistribute the cards. Signs have begun with the attacks on the mosques in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia targeting the Shiite minorities there. Bahrein is still a vivid conflict that the West and the Arab media blackout in order not to upset the Saudi Arabian monarchy.

How would you describe the group ISIS: what led to its establishment? What are its main goals? How is it funded and kept in order?

ISIS is a creation of multiple interests to serve the purpose of redesigning the region’s geography at a lesser cost, without a real war. The deep reason behind its creation is the Sunni frustration due to the USA policies in the region after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The traditional Sunni leaders serving in the army and the other state institutions have been removed to the benefit of a vacuum. These Sunni elements founded ISIS. ISIS has shown after a year of its creation that it has a structure, objectives and is capable of mobilizing youth. The group has been authorized and accepted by the regional powers like Turkey and Qatar and was funded initially to counter the Assad regime. Its survival is only linked to the completion of the agenda of its creation.

What are the possible impacts of the fighting in the Middle East, on the division of world powers such as the USA, Russia and Europe?

World powers have been affected by the Middle East turmoil, mainly Europe which is witnessing vast movements of refugees seeking to settle in it, but also the extremist groups who will one day upon returning to their home countries in Europe trigger terrorist attacks.

Russia has put considerable resources in Syria to back the regime and is also faced with threats from extremist groups internally. It is also in confrontation with the West in the Ukraine crisis and has been sanctioned. The big question remains how long can Russia sustain the above and what costs can it still be able to afford.

The USA policy in the region has shown its weakness and major flaws. It is improbable that air strikes or support to moderate groups can change much of the actual situation.

How can a country like Syria recover from the devastating war it’s going through?

Syria can only recover through an internal dialogue between representative people or parties on the future of the country. This dialogue should start by a transition phase where all fighting parties would sit together in a transition council who’s mission would be to draft a political agreement ending the war under the umbrella of the United Nations. The world powers should fully support such an initiative as it happened for Lebanon through the Taef agreements but not seeking to impose an agenda on the Syrian parties.

What is the best political solution for Lebanon, to survive the crisis with the least damage done?

Lebanon should understand that the political deadlock can’t go on, elections should be held for a new parliament, a president should be elected and a national salvation plan triggered to support democratic and economic reforms. The parties should all disengage from the Syrian conflict as a start and support a political solution to the Syrian crisis where Lebanon can play the role of mediator between parties.

Do you think peace in the region will be established soon? And what might accelerate such a process?

Peace in the region will prevail but not in the near future. It might take another 4 to 5 years for the region to find stability by the time the world powers interests converge and a general agreement is found for the people of the region. The actors of the war should also accept to seriously discuss political solutions to the crisis.

Thank you Sir.

François Nader

La Gerap+

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