Eastern European Time Zone UTC+02:00
Capital City Beirut
Currency Lebanese pound
National Day November 22
“THE FIRST MISSION of Lebanese diplomacy is to explain the many nuances that the country represents,” says Lebanon’s new Ambassador Rami Mortada. “Lebanon is a complex country located in a complicated region.”
Mr Mortada arrived in London last November with his wife Jamal. Their son and daughter remain studying overseas but hope to join them shortly. He observes that he’s arrived at “a promising time of bilateral relations between the UK and Lebanon. I am pleased to be part of this process and there’s plenty of potential on which we can build.” His uncle also happened to be Ambassador to the UK, which he calls “a happy coincidence.”
The Ambassador’s career in the foreign service began as a junior attaché in the early 1990s. Appointed to the Embassy in Muscat, Oman in 1996, he then went on to Paris for three years, followed by a stint as Lebanon’s Consul General in New York (2000-04). Back in Beirut, he became Head of Cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigrants (2004-09).
A posting in Damascus in 2009 brought different priorities, in which Mr Mortada had to open a new Embassy. For the first few months, he was absorbed by logistics, finding headquarters and establishing local contacts. He recalls: “It was a promising era until these tragic events began in 2011. The Embassy is still functioning administratively, but you can imagine the situation in the country means it is not easy work.”
Mr Mortada found himself in quite a different set of circumstances in 2012, when he arrived in Brussels as Ambassador to the EU and Belgium. “We already had extensive relations with the EU, and almost all Lebanese government departments and ministries had existing cooperation programmes there.” He observed the British referendum vote for Brexit from Brussels, and he says it’s now interesting to see it from the UK perspective.
From there his work also focused on one of the country’s greatest challenges: “Lebanon currently has a world record in hosting refugees per capita and per square kilometre. One third of our population are refugees. This is no easy feat for a small country based on a delicate equilibrium. As you can imagine, this brings enormous pressure on our nation that is performing a global public good.”
As Ambassador in the UK, he explains that his leading task is to develop political and economic relations. “The UK is a close partner of Lebanon, but the current state of relations does not match the potential.” He says an important part of this is taking stock of the contribution from the British Lebanese community (around 50,000 people), “who very much contribute to the international character of London and the UK.” Mr Mortada will also look to this thriving community to help with his ambitions to promote Lebanese culture: “Lebanon is a beautiful country with enormous tourism and cultural potential.” Another key avenue of cooperation is trade. “The post-Brexit phase when the UK will start devising its own trade policies could carry some opportunities – the potential there is also big. The Lebanese economy is mostly built on services and the country is a beacon for entrepreneurship, just like the UK. We can find synergies on which we can build in order to promote exchange between the two countries.”
Mr Mortada feels his past experience stands him on good ground for the role. “When we start a new mission, we bring with us all our experience grasped from previous posts. Each capital had particular challenges and opportunities, with common elements that we have to deal with as diplomats.”
Beyond that, Mr Mortada says there are some major challenges on which Lebanese diplomacy should focus. “We must explain the security issues that the country is facing against the terrorist threat in the region and other challenges in the close neighbourhood. Luckily, the Lebanese army has been able to contain the threat, but the risk is there, in the region and beyond. We have a close cooperation with the UK on this, which is much appreciated, and we hope to sustain this and develop it.”
But, he says, we should also highlight “the value added that the country supplies, when compared to what is happening elsewhere in the region.
“In Lebanon, different parties are not only living together but cooperating – sometimes with difficulty – around the same table politically and otherwise. While in other countries there is fighting, and tolerance levels appear to be shrinking. Lebanon’s remarkable achievements need to be explained, and the Lebanese model can be useful for the future of the region.”