BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman leaves Saturday for a one-week official
visit to Australia, where his agenda will range from the concerns of the
Lebanese diaspora to bilateral ties and fighting terror.
Sleiman will be accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Samir Moukbel, Foreign
Minister Adnan Mansour and Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi, with the
delegation scheduled to stop in the capital Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.
Baabda Palace sources said the visit will focus on sounding out the Lebanese
community on their participation in next year’s scheduled parliamentary
elections after officials in Beirut promised to ensure that expatriate voting
abroad will take place for the first time.
However, the sources said, Mansour has informed the president that enthusiasm
in the diaspora appears to be lacking for now, even though his ministry has
completed the necessary logistical arrangements for the process.
The sources said that while an estimated 11,000 Lebanese residing in
Australia voted in the 2009 polls by flying to their country of origin, fewer
than 10,000 people, according to Mansour, have registered at the Lebanese
Embassy in Australia for the right to vote while remaining at home.
Sleiman’s trip is expected to focus on several concrete areas of improving
One is cultural and educational exchange, as Lebanese officials hope to
benefit from Australia’s multi-ethnic experience and establish stronger ties
between universities in the two countries, which would lead to cultural and
educational exchange programs and projects.
The Lebanese delegation is also expected to discuss the two countries’ trade
balance, which is in favor of Australia, and seek Australian help for Lebanon’s
As for the strictly political component of the visit, Sleiman and his
accompanying delegation will hold talks on Middle East-related issues. The
sources said that although Canberra is a staunch ally of Israel, it does support
a two-state solution in Palestine.
The Australians are also concerned about combating terrorism, the sources
continued, and Sleiman is expected to raise the issue of a number of Lebanese
who spent time in Pakistan before heading to Australia, and whether they
constituted a danger by embracing extremist ideologies.
The sources said that Sleiman’s visit will be important in terms of raising
the morale of the Lebanese community abroad, by convincing members of the
diaspora to visit and engage with their mother country.
The sources said rectifying the diaspora voting issue, and promoting
interaction in various fields, will play a huge role in determining the visit’s