Minister Sehnaoui Responds: "A Willful Pragmatic Approach"

On February 27th I wrote a post entitled: “Who wants to change the world?”, in which I criticised Minster Nicolas Sehnaoui’s competition for bloggers to change the world. Minister Sehnaoui made the effort to respond with a comment, which struck me as non-defensive and with a sincere effort at persuasion. To give a fair hearing to the Minister, I will republish his comment as its own post below.

Thanks Mustapha for this useful reminder to Lebanese entrepreneurs that nothing comes without hard work, sustained effort and perseverance. Of course the competition didn’t hint to the contrary. It is just intended to steer creativity and imagination. They have a virtue in themselves. I will mention three that come to my mind.

  1. To remind us of the power of ideas. I will refer you to my AUB speech which had the objective of unleashing the power of our youth’s minds.
  2. To force us to think beyond our borders, our physical limitations because a small country like ours can be one of the main beneficiary of this new geography where any point in the world can be its center.
  3. It will help us regain much needed assurance and self-confidence because contrary to what you said I do believe Lebanese have strong points in which they are better than other people. I do think that some of their promoted strong points which helps them succeed abroad are in fact some of the ingredients that destroy the country here at home. Their sense of trade, their ability to adapt, etc. All traits that diminish their national identity and their willingness to build a strong state. But what I am sure of, and more so since I took the helm of the telecom sector, is that they have a unique talent for creativity. Look around and notice: the best cloth designers if the Middle east are Lebanese, the best jewelry designers, most of creative in ad agencies are Lebanese, first cooks, hairdressers etc.

It could be a way of the universal balance to give us something positive out of the fact that it made us a crossroad of religions, sects, languages and invaders. Let’s not waste it. In the digital world, the digital village it could be a plus that can help us outshine others countries and we badly need this edge.

The other thing worth mentioning is that making Lebanon a digital hub has this fantastic benefit that instead of exporting our people we will be giving our local brains a chance to work from Lebanon and sell their products and services to the whole planet from right here. Dermandar (6 million downloads) and Pou (25 million downloads) are good examples that it is possible. It’s the fastest way to reverse the vicious cycle of emigration (economie de la rente).

Last, let me insist on the virtue of positive approach. I know it’s tough in a country like ours where things seem out of our control and where the disproportion of force between local will and international players seem impossible to beat because of a deeply divided political spectrum. It’s tough but it’s possible. Its more than possible it is necessary or else why would we stay? Where would hope lie. We have to believe it’s possible and we have to try and make it work. That’s the positive attitude. That’s what drives me every day in the morning to get out of bed and face the infinite dangers and minefields of the political and administrative arena.

For me it’s this or abandon our fate to the bad guys and accept that we cannot but move backwards. Although the country is at a halt in almost every aspect and the government have difficulty governing we leapfrogged in the telecommunication field. This is due to a resolute attitude, refusing to accept anything that would stop the necessary changes and the infrastructure improvements. Just remember that 2 years ago we use to wait half an hour to download 1Mega Bytes of emails. And there is much more to come. Of course it would be easier if all political parties and figures would accept to sideline telecommunications from the political struggle. It would also help if all citizen’s from all political or non-political sides would support the important infrastructure upgrades.

I believe we should have a willful pragmatic approach. Yes the country is unbelievably tough and intricate. But what are we going to do about it? Whine until it gets better or put our hands in the works, set achievable milestones and achieve them and then start again.

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  • razanem

    Respect :)

  • Tony Karam

    Mr. Sehnaoui. You always use heavy duty weapons: calmness, objectivity and to-the-point educated answers. You are killing your enemies with these weapons that they wish they had themselves too. I respect you tremendously.

  • Myrna Khoury

    Bravo Mustapha for your courage to publish the Minister response and a big applause for the Minister who is trying through small steps, yet scoring a giant leap in creating an attitude and mind shift within the youth, who are the future of this country.

  • romeo

    To the Minister and all those showering him with praise:

    1) “The Power of Ideas”: it’s not enough to have ideas. It’s
    what we do with them. It would have been useful to the rest if
    us if this competition specified the “next steps”. Any person
    can dream big. It’s the DO’er that needs to be encouraged and
    sustained. So with all due respect, this doesn’t cut it.

    2) “Think Beyond our Borders”: we do that too much.

    To the point that no one wants to stay in Lebanon.

    So let’s focus on practical, local solutions. Again, as I mentioned in a previous comment to Mustapha’s orginal post, dreaming is only a minor part of innovation and entrepreneurship; the following steps would show that we are serious:

    * Build the required infrastructure (cheap, high-speed internet)

    * Build innovation incubators (office space/cubicles, cheap
    rent, plenty of parking space, etc)

    * Schedule mini-conferences/gatherings for individuals involved,
    or interested in hi-tech

    * Create seed funds ($$$) to encourage cash-strapped individuals
    with “big” ideas

    * Seek local and international investors by meeting with angel
    investors, venture capitalists, etc.

    * Promote budding, high-potential inventions to same investors,
    companies, foreign governments with deep pockets

    3) “Lebanese have strong points in which they are better than other people”: pure BS (excuse my language). They are neither better nor worse. I have met Lebanese from all over the world, and they are average in every way shape and form 😉 The list of “talent” that you provided (Jewelry, Advertising, Cooks, Hairdressers) DO NOT represent the building blocks of a solid economy. If that is what this competition is all about, then god help us.

    Now I don’t want to end on a negative note. So here is a suggestion: put a call for volunteers to help you with strategy and implementation of truly useful initiatives. I am sure that Lebanese from all the world will jump at the opportunity to help you.


    • Anonymous

      Most of your local solutions are already being implemented by minister sehnaoui and instead of actually trying to do something about it your solution is to wait for them to be done while the world is moving forward
      Well stop blaming your government and actually do something instead of trying to point fingers and being worried if your current leaders get off the hook.

      1 Build the required infrastructure (cheap, high-speed internet)
      Fiber optics are being spread through Lebanon

      2 Build innovation incubators (office space/cubicles, cheap
      rent, plenty of parking space, etc)
      Beirut Digital District is a start

      3 conferences are being done

      Investors will be encouraged when these steps are done

      But in the mean time you should wait for them to done while the world is moving forward – Great Plan

  • hisham

    How can any one praise this minister? What he says in his post is the stuff of a school headmaster. If he was any good, he would have told us all when and where. How fast and how cheap. Nonsense all these slogans we have heard it all before. Have we not had enough? we need fast and affordable Internet service, NOW. And dear minister, you will see the difference this will make to the national economy now strapped by indecisions and procrastinations. “He who can does, he who cannot teaches”Bernard Shaw. Get on with it for God’s sake, there should be nothing to stop you and if you cannot then resign. Small businesses will be grateful to you as their fortunes take a turn to the better. Schools, universities, even taxi drivers etc. and you know it and if you do not know it then you should know it. As well as all sorts of improvements, our daily life will be better. For a simple example easy to understand there should be less traffic jams in Beirut as we do things online instead of driving to places to sing, deliver documents, receive, post letters, go to government department or banking which we can do online. Wake up please and act now.

    • Anonymous

      Before October 2012: “Wait till October 2012 when the fiber optics ring will be finished, then we will have fast internet.”
      After October 2012: “Congratulations Lebanon, fiber optics are complete, now all we need is five more years to connect fiber optics to the nodes and we will have fast internet.”