Answers of Mr Georges Abi Saleh

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Firmly convinced that civil society has an active role in the success of development initiatives, Mr. Abi Saleh is a longstanding dynamic activist working for the promotion of cultural dialogue and NGOs action in Lebanon and the Mediterranean region.

Biography of Mr Georges Abi Saleh

    • Georges Abi Saleh is Head of PR and Communication department at the Association of Banks in Lebanon (since September 1994).
    • He is lecturer at the Lebanese University, Faculty of Literature and Human Sciences (Translation and language center), and at the Saint-Joseph University, Faculty of Literature and Human Sciences (Master’s degree in information and communication).
    • He translated more than 60 books from French to Arabic.
    • Mr. Abi Saleh is former managing editor of “Al-Fikr Al-Arabi Al-Mouasser” review (philosophy and human sciences).
    • Former general secretary of Antelias Cultural Movement.
    • President of the Euromed Civil Platform (a network of about thirty Lebanese associations that play an active role within the Euromed partnership).
    • Member of the Euromed Non-Governmental Platform Administrative Council (a network of civil society networks in all countries concerned by the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership).

Answers of Mr Georges Abi Saleh


1. In your opinion, how can NGOs collaborate more effectively to realize joint objectives and improve the situation in Euro-Mediterranean societies?

I think that the best way to enhance civil society action is to reinforce cooperation and to maximize networking opportunities. On both the local and the national level, it seems essential to coordinate the efforts of institutions and associations operating in the same sector, such as environment, local development, handicap, human rights, gender equality, etc. On the Euro-Mediterranean regional level, if efforts are made jointly between associations working in the same field, this will have great influence on know-how sharing and common projects implementation. Hence, it seems extremely important to create sectorial networks on both the national and the Euro-Mediterranean levels. The more resources and capacities are put together, the achievements will be greater, the campaigns more efficient, the projects more successful and the objectives achieved much more easily.


2. How can individuals and NGOs benefit from the financial support provided by the European Union projects?

Of course, individuals can benefit indirectly through successful actions implemented by civil associations. As for these associations, the profit depends on several factors, notably: the clarity of the objectives and vision pertaining to the project proposed for funding, the availability of human resources and infrastructure necessary for project management, coordination of activities and follow-up work. But unfortunately, sometimes we notice that some civil associations are being involuntarily eliminated from participating in European actions, for the simple reason that these associations do not have enough expertise in writing proposals, or enough financial resources to hire an “expert” for that purpose. This is why Europeans institutions, whose mission is related to civil society, are called, first, to simplify the procedures and conditions for participation and obtaining funds. And second, training sessions should be organized to help the persons in charge of the proposal-writing process, in order to improve their work and submit convenient proposals, especially for the benefit of associations considered to be credible and legitimate due to a solid experience in their field of action, considering that EU funds should be addressed to support the right projects and to serve the realization of the expected objectives.

3. Do Arab NGOs cooperate with each other or are they divided as is the case with Arab political leaders?


We have to admit that the associations’ breathing space from public authorities is very narrow. Hence, these associations’ space of freedom and movement is being reduced. I am here giving an overall evaluation, even if there are differences between countries, when it comes to the nature of their political system. But, concerning general issues, things seem different at a certain point. In fact, experiences have shown that there is a large possibility for creating solidarity between Arab associations that would help coordinating positions, implementing common projects or defending common causes, such as the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the peace process in the Middle East. These are questions that usually acquire quasi unanimity among civil society representatives in the Arab world, notably among active actors within the framework of the Euro Mediterranean Non-Governmental Platform.

4. In your opinion, in which field or fields, civil society associations can be more efficient, within the Euro Mediterranean relations?


It is important to remember that the Barcelona declaration contains three main axes: to build peace and security, to improve economic development and enhance the financial system, as well as to reinforce the partnership in the social and cultural field, especially through dialogue and exchanges between civil society actors. In my opinion, all these axes are very important, at the top of which is the peace process in the region, considering that it constitutes a main condition to tackle other issues, such as democracy, human rights, sustainable economic development, successful treatment of environment, youth and gender issues, emigration, marginalization in society, rural development, education and health, and many other issues that civil society actors or associations cannot neglect anymore, in view of the cumulative delay in all Southern Mediterranean countries, and the important gap that exists between the South and the North of the Mediterranean in all fields. Hence, it is important to work seriously on building a more equitable Euro-Mediterranean partnership, a condition for a common prosperity and stability on both shores of the Mediterranean.

5. Most Arab regimes do not welcome the role of civil associations in their societies and political life. How can we change this reality when high officials are constantly blocking their eyes and ears to any similar initiative?


In fact, there is a mutual responsibility. First, it is incumbent on civil society associations to use all democratic means in order to prove their credibility as well as their engagement to transform their principles into practical achievements, but also to improve their performance and increase the output of their projects and activities, especially through creating networks, coordinating positions and designing common projects, as well as to move away from individualism that would only lead to dispersion of efforts and decrease of efficiency. Second, it is incumbent on European countries and authorities to prove commitment towards the Barcelona Process, and not to sacrifice the slogans of democracy, human rights, equitable and sustainable peace process to the benefit of commercial exchanges and business deals. In fact, serious violations of these principles in some dictatorial countries are being kept away in order to pave the way for an increase in European exports to these countries.

6. To what extent can we count on Arab civil society to put down roots for human rights especially that some religious beliefs prevailing in the area contradict with human rights principles, social justice, and gender equality?


It is well known that Occidental societies have lived decades of civil and regional wars, before they finally succeed to establish laic constitutions, define a group of norms and values and build a civil state based on the principle of equal citizenship in terms of rights and obligations, regardless of ethnic, religious or confessional belonging. This does not mean that Arab societies should or will experience bloody conflicts before the idea of a civil state with positive laws would come out, a state where concepts of democracy, justice and rights with all their political, social and economic dimensions are firmly established. Except that the rise of religious extremism and confessional conflicts in many parts of the Arab world does not bring good news. Hence, considering that political change through democratic and partisan tools does not seem quite close, civil society actors and associations will have additional responsibilities. Consequently, they are much more concerned about carrying out change, through efficient use of all media tribunes and work possibilities.

7. With the rise of religious extremist movements which are often presenting a negative image of the Occidental world in Arab societies, and with the deterioration of the image of Arab countries, also often presented as holding strong hate feelings towards Europe, how could civil society actors cooperate?

There is no other possibility than dialogue and positive exchanges of view, for a better mutual understanding. It is important to understand the other, his fears and obsessions and to build a climate of mutual confidence, in order to try, once again, to find common convictions and meet around a certain number of human values that go beyond races and religions. Hence, it is important to promote “dialogue between cultures”, a concept that should include several activities implemented by the civil society, such as forums and conferences held in the Euro Mediterranean common space. Within the framework of such meetings, we should try to find out what brings us together, what is common between civilizations and the Euro Mediterranean heritage, in order to shed light on the common points and the possibility of a peaceful and fruitful living, far from divergences related to pointless blood conflicts.