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Gebran Bassil

LEBANON - Diplomacy

Citizenship applications possible for Lebanese diaspora

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Lebanon

Bio

Gebran Bassil was educated at Saint-Coeurs college and at the American University of Beirut where he studied civil engineering (BE and MS). He began his political career as an activist in the Free Patriotic Movement before heading the political relations committee of the FPM. His official tenure of an executive office started in 2008 as Minister of Telecommunications, where he served for one year. He then led the Ministry of Energy and Water between 2009 and 2014. Bassil was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants of the Republic of Lebanon on February 15, 2014.

“We are talking about 14 million Lebanese compared to 4 million here—this is how large the diaspora is.“

What were the most significant foreign policy achievements of the past year?

Our foreign policy is dominated by the diaspora. It is truly influential in the formulation and shaping of our foreign policy regarding politics and economy. We are a small country that prioritizes preserving its modernity and entity as one country, united in how we are diversified. What we seek from our foreign policy is security and stability in the country. Our main messenger here is our diaspora, since it reflects the great image of Lebanon. We have been successful in terms of our performance and the progress we have made in gathering the diaspora together and making it more effective. We want to connect it with Lebanon and connect Lebanon with the world.

Lebanon hosted the Lebanese Diaspora Energy Conference to motivate its diaspora to stay connected, encourage citizenship applications and voting, and invest in the country. How would you evaluate the results of the conference?

The conference was successful; around 2,000 people participated from 100 countries. We launched many projects connecting them with Lebanon, setting up programs of Lebanese Diaspora Fund by Lebanese for investing in Lebanese resources. This is only in Lebanon to restore the identity and nationality of Lebanese people. This is why we granted, for the first time, citizenship to Lebanese descendants. It was not possible before; however, we have passed a law. This helps to solidify our identity and help people return to their roots when we are currently faced with a wave of displaced Syrians who have replaced the Lebanese. It is crucial for us to bring people back to Lebanon.

What initiatives has the ministry taken or planned to take to build bridges between expats and their homeland?

We have continuous initiatives; among them, for example, the restoration of citizenship. It is something that is ongoing and there are now people applying for citizenship from Latin America, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and North America. There are powerful people, including politicians, ministers, businessmen, academics, and famous people, seeking citizenship. The idea that they can come to Lebanon without speaking Arabic, owning land or a house, and seeking citizenship or inquiring about how they can invest in or tour around Lebanon is how we can bring people back. We are talking about 14 million Lebanese compared to 4 million here—this is how large the diaspora is. For example, the Speaker of the House in Brazil participated along with 16 MPs of Lebanese origin in Brazil. These are people with success stories in start-ups, industry, commerce, fashion, and medicine. There are people who invested medical machines or found cures for diseases. There are people from all across the industry spectrum, people involved with electronics and robotics, even a handmade carmaker. There is a Lebanese individual who has produced 60 luxury cars. We are setting up diaspora houses to host and receive them. While some of them do not speak the language, and might be Portuguese or Spanish, they still have a common identity. This is what brings them back to the land, which we need to make more prosperous and stable within a turbulent region.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri warned that Lebanon had reached a “breaking point“ caused by refugees. What role is the international community taking in this regard?

Unfortunately, I do not see the international community contributing in this regard. The only thing we can request is assistance in encouraging Syrians to return to Syria. This is the best thing for them and for us, for the security and stability of Lebanon. We do not want a Lebanon that is falling apart, after what we saw in Syria. To date we see a change and a shift in thinking, though there are no tangible initiatives.

What sectors are the most promising for foreign investment over the medium term, and what do you expect for 2017 in terms of inflows?

Energy is a promising sector, as is everything that is related, such as oil and gas. We will hold bidding in September for the first in Lebanon. Electricity and water are other important sectors, as are IT and tourism. These all require infrastructure, which is another important sector for investment. Any expectations for investment influx in 2017 will largely depend on the events in the region, as well as stability in Lebanon. If summer 2017 remains uneventful, then I expect a large inflow and a major improvement.

What are your priorities for the year ahead?

Our first priority remains the diaspora. We want to focus on bringing them back to Lebanon and granting them citizenship. It is also important to complete the many projects that are being implemented related to them. We want to win the fight against terrorism and 2018 is a reasonable year for this to be achieved, at least in Syria. We also want to see, with the new administrations and governments in Europe, a real move towards stabilization of the region. We need to get back on track to living together instead of fighting one other. This trend of Sunnis and Shias, as well as Muslims and Christians, fighting cannot be restricted to the region; it will only contaminate other areas and will be extremely dangerous. I see a comprehensive international effort to truly bring things in the region back to normality, diversity, and acceptance of one other. The eradication of borders and communities needs to stop.

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