A black pearl necklace was presented to the prime minister as a gift for Gebran’s wife from Dr. George Zoorob.
BY SAM ZAKHEM
In the aftermath of the visit of Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to Colorado and the warm welcome given by Gov. John Hickenlooper, the mayors of Denver, Lakewood and Aurora, and President of the Colorado Senate Kevin Grantham, I felt the need to show the gratitude of the Lebanese and Arab-American communities in Colorado for the warm and generous hospitality shown their visitor.
Lebanon dates back to the Phoenicians, the world’s first seafarers and traders. Some claim they may have discovered the Americas before Columbus. Lebanon’s Christian majority gave refuge to the defeated Crusaders as they retreated toward Europe, and many Crusader soldiers stayed and made Lebanon their new home.
Modern Lebanon became an independent country in 1943, after almost four centuries of Ottoman rule and 25 years of French mandate that started in 1918, per the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Today’s Lebanon is the country where East meets West—a special amalgam of the ancient Middle East with Western sophistication, a kind of Las Vegas-Riviera flavored with Arab spices makes the charm of the country.
Lebanon is the only true democracy in the Arab world. As the movement away from democracy continues in the region, Lebanon has preserved its democratic institutions and has guaranteed individual liberties and freedoms for all segments of its fragmented society.
Lebanon has 18 different sects and religious groupings. Most dominant among them are Christianity and Islam. The Christians, who were an overwhelming majority in its early history, have dwindled in size. Today, Lebanon’s Christian population is estimated at about 33 percent, with Islam becoming the majority. This was due to migration by the Christians, particularly during the oppressive Ottoman rule, and by the fact that Muslim reproduction rate is much higher.
Chairing the visitation of Gebran Bassil Colorado were John Zakham, attorney with JacksonKelly in Denver and Washington, D.C., and father, retired U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Sam Zakham.
For harmony and stability of the political system, both Christians and Muslims have to share power and share equally in the pattern of privilege allocations.
Despite numerous civil disturbances, a long civil war between Christians and Muslims, and an occupation by Syria that lasted almost 20 years, Lebanon remains as the main relatively stable and free country in the region. Refugees pour into Lebanon from every country around it.
The Armenians flooded Lebanon during the Ottoman genocide, almost 100 years ago. Palestinian refugees came in after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1947 and 1948. More Palestinians took refuge in Lebanon after the PLO was kicked out of Jordan in what was called Black September 1970. Now, the Palestinian refugee number is estimated to be more than 300,000.
The greatest influx of refugees coming to Lebanon and numbering more than two million are the Syrians who started fleeing into Lebanon at the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011. They were followed by the Iraqi refugees, most of them Christian widows and orphans kicked out of Mosul, Iraq by ISIS.
In total, the number of refugees in Lebanon is around three million. When you consider that Lebanon’s area is 4,300 square miles, which is smaller than the smallest U.S. state, Rhode Island, the number is overwhelming and makes a tremendous strain on the economy, the logistics and limited economic capabilities of this tiny republic. Just imagine almost doubling the size of the population of the country, with its limited resources and space.
The Lebanese people are very hospitable, kind and generous. But the burden created by the refugees is unbearable. The roads are crowded. It takes hours to drive a distance of a few miles. The utilities are overburdened, schools are crowded, and life is hectic in general. But despite all these problems, the Lebanese remain hospitable and as generous as can be toward their guests. This should speak volumes about the patience and the goodness of the Lebanon and the Lebanese.
Sam Zakhem, who lives in Lakewood, was ambassador to Bahrain during the Desert Storm conflict. He is the only Lebanese-born U.S. Ambassador in the nation’s history. He has been honored by the VFW, DAV and American Legion, has received the George Washington Medal of Freedom, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the Most Distinguished American by Choice in Colorado.
Ali Awada, who owns and operates Saj Restaurants, prepared a traditional Middle Eastern dinner for the 100 guests attending the reception for Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. At right is Robert Harmoush, resident of Greenwood Village.
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