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Cablegate: Education Leads to Democracy, Mps Tell Codel Price

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLB #1249/01 3281119
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241119Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6098

UNCLAS BEIRUT 001249

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM EAID PTER OREP LE
SUBJECT: EDUCATION LEADS TO DEMOCRACY, MPS TELL CODEL PRICE

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Lebanese parliamentarians from all sides of
the political spectrum told visiting Codel Price November 10
and 11 that they welcomed the United States Congress' support
for the Lebanese parliament. They suggested that technical
assistance, particularly through a staff resource center, and
discussing shared experiences would be the most useful
cooperation. Parliamentarians stressed that only a unique
Lebanon-specific brand of democracy would succeed in their
country, and cited education and eradicating poverty as the
best means to build a "culture of democracy" in Lebanon.
Civil society representatives echoed similar themes in a
November 11 roundtable meeting with the Codel, describing a
variety of programs being implemented to engage the Lebanese
population. End Summary.

2. (SBU) As part of the House Democracy Partnership (HDP)
program, Codel Price, accompanied by Ambassador and poloffs,
met with Lebanese members of parliament (MPs) from a
cross-section of political parties and with civil society
groups on November 10 and 11. Codel members were HDP
Chairman David Price (D-NC); Rep. David Dreier (R-CA),
Ranking Member; and Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA), Keith
Ellison (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Charles Boustany
(R-LA).

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FORTUITOUS TIMING
-----------------

3. (SBU) Rep. Price told MPs that the United States Congress
looked forward to resuming and enhancing its relationship
with the Lebanese parliament, which had been postponed since
2007 due to a political vacuum and the absence of a
functioning Lebanese parliament. Although Codel Price was
unaware upon departure from Washington, DC, that they would
arrive the day after a new Lebanese cabinet was named, they
welcomed the fortuitous timing.

4. (SBU) Rep. Dreier noted that the U.S. House Democracy
Partnership sought to help Lebanon build a strong parliament
that could serve to "check and balance" the government. The
U.S. Congress and the Lebanese parliament had "tremendous"
expertise and could both benefit from collaboration, he
emphasized. Codel Price noted that Lebanon's democracy would
serve as an example to other countries in the region that
sought to develop their own unique brand of democracy.

PARLIAMENT OPEN TO COORDINATION
-------------------------------

5. (SBU) Majority and opposition parliamentarians alike
expressed willingness to work with members of Congress to
improve the resources and skills of parliament staff and MPs.
Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) MP Walid Khoury noted that, as
a full-time surgeon and MP, he would benefit from
parliamentary resource assistance on budgetary issues. He
supported practical collaboration with the U.S. House or
Senate because Lebanese parliamentarians have good intentions
but lack an understanding of the steps necessary to achieve
their goals. FPM MP Alain Aoun agreed that the U.S. Congress
could help most through its "know-how" and technical support.
Amal MP Anwar Khalil expected that the UN Development
Program's (UNDP) collaboration with the Westminster
Foundation would soon provide parliamentarians technical
support on budget and finance issues, and he welcomed U.S.
assistance to expand the program's capabilities to serve all
parliamentary committees. Rep. Capps, noting that the U.S.
Congress relied on extensive staffs to function well, agreed
that a technical resource center would aid Lebanon's
parliament. Rep. Hirono assessed that partnership was the
best tool to learn about another country.

6. (SBU) During a separate meeting between Congressional
staffers and parliamentary staff on November 11, Bilal
Charara, General Secretary of Foreign Affairs at the Lebanese
parliament, welcomed the possibility to renew the
parliament's partnership with the U.S. Congress. Charara
specifically mentioned adding 250 computers and upgraded
software (including databases) for the parliamentary library,
providing technical training, and linking the library with
others in the region as the assistance priorities of the
parliament. While seminars in the U.S. were useful, Charara
argued that the money spent on travel expenses and per diem
could be better used if parlayed into acquiring needed
equipment. HDP staff member John Lis explained that HDP
could assist the parliament by providing technical assistance
and training in which Congressional members of HDP share
their expertise. On the Westminster Foundation project, Lis
said perhaps the U.S. Congress could assist with budget and
analysis training. In addition, he informed his
interlocutors that the HDP would like to organize a visit of
U.S. Law Library of Congress staff to Beirut to work with the
parliament's librarians. Parliamentary staff expressed
enthusiasm for such a program and said they looked forward to
having the State University of New York's Center for
International Development (SUNY/CID) begin implementation of
a parliamentary resource center as soon as possible.

PRESERVE IDENTITY
OF LEBANESE DEMOCRACY
---------------------

7. (SBU) Justice and Administration Committee chairman and
long-time HDP partner MP Robert Ghanem emphasized that
democracy was "a must" in Lebanon. Opposition Tashnaq MP
Pakradunian posited, however, that Lebanon's democracy was
"unique" and, while MPs sought to learn from the experiences
of visiting members of the U.S. Congress, nothing but a
"unique" Lebanese "brand" of democracy would succeed in the
country. Several attendees assessed that sectarianism had
taken a negative toll on Lebanon's democracy, and
Amal-aligned MP Anwar Khalil claimed that Parliamentary
Speaker Nabih Berri had committed to convening a committee to
eliminate religious political divisions, as stipulated in the
1989 Taif Agreement. Rep. Price agreed that "one size" of
democracy did "not fit all," but noted that certain core
values, such as the importance of an individual voice, were
essential to all. Meanwhile, Rep. Ellison urged participants
to find ways to do their part in achieving progress on
"shared values" and suggested that Lebanese MPs engage with
the Lebanese diaspora to promote the needs and objectives of
the Lebanese government.

EDUCATION A CRUCIAL TOOL
------------------------

8. (SBU) MPs from all parties focused on the importance of
education in strengthening democracy. Ghanem said that
Lebanon needed to build a "culture of democracy" among youth
through education. U.S. investment in education in Lebanon,
particularly through the American University of Beirut, was
its most successful effort to advance democracy in the Middle
East, Future Movement MP Bassem el-Shab said. He argued that
sectarianism had damaged Lebanese democracy and that
Lebanon's often-sectarian school system needed reform as
well. According to FPM MP Ibrahim Kenaan, forming a
"national vision" through education and dialogue was an
important step to ensuring stability and preventing outside
interference in Lebanon's affairs. Rep. Capps, citing the
extensive California education system, agreed that education
was critical to bettering society.

FIGHT POVERTY
TO BUILD DEMOCRACY
------------------

9. (SBU) Attendees also noted the importance of economic
development in building democracy and fighting terrorism.
Khalil called poverty the "worst adversary of any democracy,"
saying that people must "feed themselves before they can feed
a democratic society." The United States could help reduce
Lebanon's internal economic disparity, he said, by focusing
on rural areas where high rates of illiteracy and poverty
caused instability. Lebanese Forces MP Joseph Maalouf said
U.S. insight into how to achieve proper, balanced growth on a
national level would be helpful. Rep. Dreier noted that
economic growth could create a "common bond" among the
population -- another tool, he said, to build democracy and
fight terrorism.

ENGAGING CIVIL SOCIETY
----------------------

10. (SBU) On November 11 Codel Price met with civil society
representatives, who noted that the 90% turnout rate for the
parliamentary elections showed that the Lebanese believe they
play a role in determining their country's leadership. They
assessed that many citizens still do not know what terms like
"democracy" and "freedom" mean, however, and the lack of
common definition hinders dialogue. Participants also
emphasized education as a door to stability and opportunity.
Many organizations worked with both youth and women to
address disadvantages and trigger a positive ripple benefit
in their families. Several people stressed the incremental
nature of development, saying that it took time and patience
to get government buy-in for projects, but they highlighted
the progress their organizations had made despite these
barriers.

11. (U) Codel Price has cleared this cable.
DAUGHTON

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