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Councilman John Akouri, former Washington, DC Press Secretary & Capitol Hill Advisor, is President & CEO of the Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Full Text of Speech Delivered Tonight by John Akouri at the 67th Anniversary of the Republic of Lebanon Independence Day Consulate Celebration

(USA/22NOV, 2010) Good Evening Ladies & Gentlemen. Thank you all for being here this evening inside the magnificent Springwells Ballroom of the luxurious Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The Lebanese reputation for hospitality is known worldwide and I thank you for your kind and warm welcome. It is indeed an honor to have been invited by the Acting Consul General of Lebanon, His Excellency, Bachir Tawk, to serve as your Master of Ceremonies for this evening’s reception and I feel privileged to address this energetic Lebanese audience, on this, the 67th Anniversary of the Independence Day of the Republic of Lebanon! I wish to extend to all of you my sincerest greetings and warmest salutations to you and your families in honor of this celebration.

Many of you know me as Mister Mabsout or Abou-Za'atar, but for those of you who are hearing me for the first time this evening, my name is John Akouri, President & CEO of the national Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce, and a proud American Citizen of Lebanese descent. My family proudly hails from the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon. Anyone here this evening from Trablous? Well, welcome to my fellow Tripolitians, and welcome once again to one and all!

At this time, will you kindly rise for the National Anthems of our United States of America, and the Republic of Lebanon.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to take a moment to recognize one of my dearest friends and a pillar in our region. I feel honored whenever I have the distinct opportunity to share in his presence and we are forever grateful to him for his continued leadership, business acumen, community pride, and love of his ancestry. I am speaking of none other than Matty Moroun, and what an honor it is for me personally to be with you again, especially at this evening’s banquet. Matty, you are a diamond in a field of zirconium, a patriotic American, and a true Lebanese, and we are all delighted that you are here tonight. Please join me in warmly welcoming a beloved son of Lebanon.

While each and every guest present this evening is special to us all, we are especially honored to have two inspiring Lebanese American Diplomats joining us this evening. As President George W. Bush recognized his talents and contributions to American society, we too recognize and applaud all that he does on both a global and local level. Please welcome the distinguished former United States Ambassador to Slovenia, His Excellency Yousif Ghafari.

Taking into consideration that he may have had to pack an extra sweater or scarf, heading north from the great southern state of North Carolina, our American Lebanese community here in the Great Lakes this evening, has amongst our ranks the Honorary Consul General of Raleigh from the Consulate of Lebanon, the Honorable Mr. Ghassan George Eldiri. Please join me in giving His Excellency a Motor City welcome!

This evening’s gathering is more than just a celebration it is also a tribute. It is a tribute to many people. First and foremost, it is a tribute to the Lebanese Consulate in Detroit and its team of professionals, who work tirelessly in their efforts to service our community, preserve our records, define our ancestral culture, and uphold our heritage. I wish to commend them for their daily presence in our community, which is so duly reflected here this evening.

Additionally, I regard this evening as a tribute to America, and the over 3 million Americans of Middle Eastern descent with the majority being Lebanese. American society today, with its multiculturalism and the American spirit of accepting people of different cultural origins is widely admired. Indeed, in this respect, the United States is a model for other nations. As an American of Lebanese descent, I am inspired and proud that so many Americans of Lebanese ancestry are playing such an active and valuable role in American society today. Lebanese Americans are leaders in virtually every aspect of American life - arts, business, academics, politics, athletics, diplomacy, media and many others.

Finally, I look upon this evening as a tribute to the entire Lebanese American community. As tragic as the last three decades the beloved Lebanon has endured, our determination and perseverance was able to bring about an integration that ultimately strengthened our community here in the United States, unifying Lebanese Americans and ultimately inspirational for other communities across the nation. In meeting and overcoming those challenges, we must be mindful of the lessons of the past, while planning together for our future and the next generation of Lebanese Americans to come.

In reflecting upon the history of the young Lebanese Republic, the political strife, uncertainty, and wars the Lebanon has withstood, stand out as defining moments and events. In that regard, it is sad to recall that this tragic and devastating time caused great suffering and misery to many a people. The Lebanese, and those of us with roots in Lebanon however, are a resilient people, who have overcome much throughout the centuries and continue to do so.

Most of us gathered here this evening know and behold our Lebanese heritage and history and contributions to global society. Sure there are some mammoth challenges today facing such a small nation of only 10, 452 km2, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that’s there’s a great deal of things right with the Lebanon. I can’t help but think what our Lebanese Ambassador to the United States Antoine Chedid shared with us during a recent visit. He reminded us that Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East to have 'living' former Presidents.

And as we do have many new friends also joining us this evening, permit me to share some additional facts about our community. Let me be perfectly clear when I say to those of you who don’t know the Lebanon we know:

*Lebanon is a peaceful nation. And the Lebanese people are peace loving people.

*Lebanon and the Lebanese people desire peace not war.

*Lebanon and the Lebanese people seek calm not turmoil

*Lebanon and the Lebanese people yearn for security not fear.

*Lebanon and the Lebanese people embrace diplomacy not aggression.

*Lebanon and the Lebanese people will always look to the future never to the past.

Lebanon is much more than a tiny nation tucked away in the Middle East along the Mediterranean shoreline. You know Lebanon and the Lebanese well.

Vintage vineyards of Lebanon continue to produce some of the best wines in the world. In fact in highlighting this burgeoning industry, just last week Lebanese in Beirut celebrated the largest Wine Glass ever built, 8 feet high by 6 feet wide, and authenticated by the Guinness Book of World Records.

And I’m sure that this new Wine Glass will pair well with another record breaker unveiled this past Spring in Beirut - the Guinness Book's largest platter of hummus in the world!

As Casey Kasem, one of Lebanon’s most celebrated sons and internationally known radio and television personality quietly moved into retirement, another young and talented daughter of the Lebanon emerged on the scene. Our very own Rima Fakih, the current reigning Miss USA!

And speaking of beauty, let’s not forget Lebanon’s glam girl Haifa Wehbe, who was deservingly named one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People!

And when Hollywood wants to look its best on the red carpet, they call one of many Lebanese Fashion designers from Elie Saab to Abed Mahfouz to Robert Abi Nader to Jean Fares, for all their couture needs.

While banks in the U.S. and Europe have been bailed out or boarded up, a different scenario has played out in Lebanon: banks there are thriving. The man responsible for bucking the banking trend is Riad Salame, the Governor of Banque du Liban. In 2005 he prohibited banks in Lebanon from investing in mortgage-backed securities and today his prudent move has proved to be prophetic. Last year, he rang the Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate Lebanon Capital Market Day.

Recently, global celebrations ensued including at Columbia University in New York, where an international concert coupled with the planting of a Cedar Tree in the Big Apple, was organized by the New Pen’s League to celebrate the 125th Anniversary Jubilee of Lebanese American poet, author and artist, Gibran Khalil Gibran.

In January of this year, for the first time since 1952, Lebanon assumed its seat as a non-permanent member on the United Nations Security Council, for a two-year term on the critical international body.

As one can see, it is plainly known that the United States and Lebanon have long shared a close relationship on many levels. How inspiring it is when we see sitting US Presidents walk with Lebanese Presidents & Prime Ministers through the Rose Garden to formally meet inside the White House, in our nation’s capital.

Why then, should we not desire the same freedoms for those in Lebanon that we enjoy here in America. Surely like the US, we sadly have enemies both foreign and domestic. But I caution you, my friends, the only weapon we have in our arsenal against these aggressors, the ONLY weapon – is our unity.

So let us then, as Americans of Lebanese origin, unite in strengthening our community at home here in America. But let us also unite in working together to strengthen abroad our country of origin, the Lebanon, for generations to come. Let our voices stand in unison on this never-ending journey of the Phoenix we refer to as the Lebanon. Let us strengthen our might, our will and our determination with clear victories that we can all agree on. While it is evident we have had some minor setbacks, we can also claim many achievements. Together, let us declare right here and now to work for even more victories:

*When we cease to require foreign influence for internal negotiations and all accords, pacts and treaty’s created for the Lebanese, of the Lebanese and by the Lebanese are no longer made in Cairo, Taif, Damascus or Doha but instead are made in Tripoli and Beirut and Aley and Saida, this will be a victory!

* When safe and secure borders with Lebanon's neighbors, are achieved, coupled with respect of Lebanon's sovereignty, an end to foreign interference in Lebanese matters, and Lebanon resumes its rightful place as the Paris of the Middle East, this will be a victory!

* When the current hostile and political occupation on the minds of Lebanese are replaced with occupations for Lebanon and Lebanese students graduating from some of the finest universities in the world - to stop them from leaving Lebanon and creating a brain drain – this will be a victory!

* When Leaders sit together at a table, and stop thinking about their position, their colors, and the sound of their voice, and start thinking about the children of Lebanon, their future and the next generation, this will be a victory!

* When vengeance, hatred, divisions, and revenge are lifted and removed from the hearts and minds of the Lebanese people. When ghosts of the past that linger throughout the streets of Lebanon disappear and the Lebanese return to a time of peaceful co-existence when Christians and Muslims celebrate Christmas and Ramadan together, this will be a victory!

* We will all declare a divine victory when we have sacrificed our last martyr, injustice ends and justice prevails to the treacherous hands responsible for senseless assassinations, kidnappings, tortures, detentions, explosions and the taking from us of our beloved young and promising Lebanese lights of hope.

Tonight as I deliver this message to you, I solemnly salute each and every Lebanese who embraces the sense of Independence as an inherent right and duty AND in the current international climate will - with all his means - advocate for the pursuit of a truly free, sovereign and independent Lebanon.

Again, I wish you all an enjoyable evening as we celebrate this 67th Birthday of the young Republic of Lebanon’s Independence Day. From the north to the south, long live our beloved Land of the Cedars and its people, wherever they may reside.

May God bless our United States of America, the greatest nation on earth, and may she continue to shine as a beacon of hope and democracy for the entire world to see. (Photos courtesy of Nafeh Abunab/American Elite Studios)

JOHN AKOURI ONLINE NEWSROOM 'We will confront this mortal danger to all humanity. We will not tire, or rest, until the war on terror is won.' -- PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH Add to end of above"line without paranthesis when wanting to loop sound (( loop="-1">