Jbeil, Byblos or Gubla – the primordial denomination – is the ancient propelling heart of the Mediterranean civilization. Here, far from the clamour of Beirut, the houses are made of solid and squared stone eased by arches; the domestic spaces are organized as in the Arab world; only the Latin expression “locus amoenus” describes the aromas and the variety of flowers. In the centre, UNESCO heritage, the muezzin call is in harmony with the Maronite Eglise Saint Jean Marc. Roger Eddé, international lawyer and entrepreneur, and founder of the Lebanese Party for the Peace, has relaunched Byblos, making it an attractive destination for tourism. At Eddè Sands, food is the best representation of Jbeil syncretism: Middle Eastern flavours with French and Italian influences. This is Transatlantic Policy Quarterly interview with Roger Eddé.
Lorenzo Somigli: In his address to the Washington Post, Biden explained his goals and accused former President Trump of having left the Middle East in turmoil. Yet, the Abrahamic Agreements inaugurated a new post-US order, which also had consequences for NATO: the normalization of relations with Israel and the involvement of Morocco and Tunisia. What is your opinion on the effects on the MENA region?
Roger Eddé: Biden is terribly weakened domestically, he’s very likely losing the midterm elections, and will be facing impeachment and legal issues, regarding Hunter Biden’s corruption and corrupt lifestyle. Damaging information is piling up weekly, with conservative media covering it, especially Fox News and Fox Nation specials on Hunter and the family’s questionable businesses. Biden is rejected already by his “woke” left and the centre left of the democrats. Blaming Trump for his foreign policy irrelevance isn’t helping him. Putin’s war on Ukraine couldn’t have happened on Trump watch! His visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia will bear no substantive results.
Israel will focus on warning him about his desperate attempt to appease the Islamic Regime in Tehran. The Saudi leadership will be as adamant in warning him about Iran’s ideological commitment to the Mahdi’s End of Times ideology; and about the reasons why a nuclear Iran will use nuclear armament, even if it means Armageddon. As for oil production, Saudi Arabia is bound by Opec+ in its coordination with Putin’s Russia. In my opinion, it’s a visit that will restore Biden’s personal relationship with MBS.
As for the Abrahamic Peace Process, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will follow it up, directly with Israel. They don’t need Biden’s involvement. Steps are taken in the right direction and the de facto alliance is developing quietly, to resist Iran’s threats to the MENA Region and World Order.
Lorenzo Somigli: NATO is shifting its centre of gravity more and more towards the East but is leaving the Southern front uncovered. The Mediterranean is still magmatic after the Arab Springs: Libya no longer exists; Tunisia finds peace only with presidential reform by Saied. Meanwhile, Russia and China are increasingly present: Russia militarily in Syria, Libya, and Mali, while China is economically in Algeria. A more significant NATO commitment in the Mediterranean context will be necessary? Could the “reconfiguration” envisioned by Biden be useful?
Roger Eddé: Putin’s war in Ukraine renewed NATO raison d’être! NATO has been conceived initially to resist the Soviet threats to dominate Europe. Its mission wasn’t initially related to establishing Order around the Mediterranean or anywhere in Asia. That’s why we’re reading a lot, lately about US strategy toward containing China geo-strategically, not geo-economically! As for containing Iran’s imperial design in the MEA, the Abrahamic alliance involving Israel, the Arab World and Egypt, is discreetly under development, without necessarily going as far as developing a MENA-NATO.
Lorenzo Somigli: In a recent paper, Raghida Dergham, Chairman of the Beirut Institute, illustrated the composition of a “Russia-China-Iran troika”; Sullivan revealed that he had information on Iran’s arms sales to Russia. What consequences do you see in Lebanon?
Roger Eddé: The “rapprochement” between Putin’s Russia and China is underway, because of the sanctions inflicted on Russia. Yet, China’s priority is its economy. China is likely to do what it can to help Russia resist the Western world’s sanctions because China is many times more vulnerable to that kind of sanctions if it makes an unacceptable move on Taiwan. But China will be very careful, not to do more than some relief efforts, toward Russia or Iran. China will clear with Washington any exception to the sanctions toward Russia or Iran!
Iran did sell Russia drones! But what Iran can produce, Russia could produce. The US NSC adviser Jack Sullivan makes the point, to pressure Iran more than Russia. Iran isn’t prepared to give up its nuclear armament anyway, nor its imperial ideological design!
Lorenzo Somigli: The last elections gave a Lebanese Parliament divided into blocs, with a “civil society” as a pendulum between the two. You have always been a supporter of the reform. Is there a possible majority?
Roger Eddé: No, there is not a majority for reforms that are badly needed, for the very survival of Greater Lebanon. I am still calling and insisting on the necessity for UN Security Council to declare Lebanon as a failed state.
That will allow the Secretary-General Gutiérrez to form a Government of Transition and simultaneously call for an International Conference aiming at reorganizing Lebanon along the Swiss model, that Napoleon conceived two centuries ago to save France’s neighbour from permanent civil wars and Swiss Militias fighting in every European War and supplying mercenaries to kings, popes, and emperors! As is the case of Greater Lebanon since the Independence and the withdrawal of the French forces mandated by the Society of Nations to found Greater Lebanon after WWI.
The international community made a cynical “mistake” when it insisted to organize lately a parliamentary election, that every observer knew would provide Iran’s Hezbollah with the absolute total representation of the Shiite community, while at least one-third of that community oppose Iran’s occupation of Lebanon through its militias network. The international community is not giving Lebanon anything close to its focus or attention!
There is a widely held belief that Lebanon should go through total deconstruction that can be followed by reconstruction or partition as in the case of the former USSR or Yugoslavia or velvet partition, as between Czechia and Slovakia.
Lorenzo Somigli: The two tricolours, often rivals, are reunited in the obligatory alliance, the Quirinal Treat: both have lost prestige (France in Lebanon) and presence (Italy in Libya and Algeria); therefore, united IT and FR can act as a regional middle power. Can they do something more united in the strategic theatres of the Mediterranean?
Roger Eddé: France failed miserably throughout history to tackle the problems inherent to the multi-denominational communities in Greater Lebanon because of France’s statist pyramidal concept of a democratic system that inherited an imperial system since the Third Republic. France hasn’t found a way to manage its diversity! As for Italy, the governance remains problematic! Lebanon should be reformed constitutionally, as it has been named often, The Switzerland of the MEA. That constitutional reform is indispensable, for any other reform to be adopted and implemented.
Lorenzo Somigli: A year before Biden, Pope Francis made a historic trip to the Middle East by going to Iraq. Christians remain under attack in the Middle East and the rest of the world. Will there be attention for them?
Roger Eddé: Any hope for the Christians of the MEA to remain in their homeland depends on the predicament of Lebanon, the state founded historically by its Christians for the Christians! An exodus from Lebanon, and/or the loss of the specificity of the role of the Christians in the governance of Lebanon, will necessarily make the Christians of the MEA fade away, as did the Jews across the Arab World.
Lorenzo Somigli: Turkey has a millennial imperial tradition, renewed by Erdoğan, who as mayor of Istanbul was able to offer an urban development management model for a megalopolis, which European capitals would envy. Turkey is back!
Roger Eddé: Erdogan did project power, that reminded Turkey’s neighbours in the Levant and beyond, of the Ottoman Empire, a Moslem nation of believers, that had the longest life among all precedents Moslem Ummah. Yet, the secret of successful longevity of the Ottoman Empire is due to its federal system, and respect of national, tribal, and denominational specificities, borrowed from the traditional organization of the Byzantine Empire longevity that was three times that of the Western Roman Empire.
Erdogan looks to me closer in personality to Putin. They both are attempting in the 21first Century, to project a renewal or restoration, of a regional or a global power status that was lost in the 20’Century first World War (for Turkey), and the Cold War lost by the defunct USSR. Yet, both leaders are pragmatic enough to realize the limits of their ambitions, regionally and globally. The indispensable and sole superpower of the 21 first century, the USA can tolerate and maintain a working relationship with both, while containing them and punishing them when they cross a read line, as for Putin’s War in Ukraine!
For Washington, the priority remains, its dominance in the pacific and the containment of China. Erdogan remains committed in NATO. He is trying to balance his Islamic credentials with his relationship with Israel. As he has established a good working relationship with the Arab World and specially its leadership, that is from the time being, is in Riyadh. Erdogan understand that Turkey’s economy should be its overriding priority, to remain in office, and for his brand of Islamism to be accepted regionally and globally.
He is less of an ideologue than Putin and his Islamism, is shallower, than that of The Moslem Brotherhood and less dangerous to World Order, than the Mahdi’s Islamist ideology of Khomeinism, governing Iran.
Lorenzo Somigli: July 8 is a pivotal day in the history of Japan. July 8, 1853: Commodore Perry’s “Black Ships” arrived in Edo Bay, breaking the isolation of Japan, which was about to become an imperial power. July 8, 2022, the death of the late Abe. What’s your opinion on such an important figure? What repercussions in the competition for the Pacific?
Roger Eddé: The assassination of Shinzo Abe deepened the roots of his legacy as a Japanese revivalist patriot, who is promoting the rearmament of Japan to contain the rise and imperial ambitions of China’s “neo-Maoist” absolutist supreme leader, Che. “Abenomics” which is comparable to and inspired by “Reaganomics”, will be fashionable again in Japan. The electoral huge success of Abe’s party in the parliamentary elections, following his assassination, may dominate Japan’s political and geopolitical future for at least, a generation! Japan’s revival will embolden Washington’s allies in Asia to stand up to China and deter its ambitious, one party, one Leader, kind of dictatorship.