December 11, 2018

Dankuwel en Tot Ziens Nederland!

By Abir Ali – Chargé d’Affaires a.i., Embassy of Lebanon in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. (February 2013 – January 2018).

As I prepare to leave the Netherlands, I reflect on the five years I spent in this beautiful country with joy and satisfaction. Working in The Hague has been a gratifying experience for me, at times challenging yet always enjoyable.

Lebanon and the Netherlands enjoy excellent relations. During my stay in Holland, our relations witnessed a remarkable boost. For the past years, Lebanon has been facing an unprecedented challenge represented by the Syrian refugee crisis. The impact on our security, economy, infrastructure and services has been massive. In these difficult circumstances, the Netherlands proved to be a committed partner of Lebanon. The Dutch stood by the Lebanese to help them cope with the spillovers of the Syrian refugee crisis. The current Dutch government confirmed this commitment by making Lebanon a focus country in the Coalition Agreement. The cooperation between our countries is growing and becoming stronger in several fields.

During my stay in The Hague, several visits took place on both sides. His Excellency the Prime Minister Mr. Mark Rutte along with former Minister Her Excellency Ms. Lillian Ploumen visited Lebanon in May 2016. A visit that consolidated the Dutch commitment to the stability of Lebanon. The number of Dutch officials and delegations visiting Lebanon is rising constantly. On the Lebanese side, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants His Excellency Mr. Gebran Bassil visited the Netherlands in September 2014, and not only, in 2016, he also visited Curaçao where there is a sizable Lebanese community, and many prominent figures in the Curaçao public life are of Lebanese origins.

Abir Ali.

During the past years, Lebanon has been linked with the refugee crisis in the Dutch media. As a representative of my country, I never missed an opportunity to shed the light on the alarming consequences that this crisis has inflicted on Lebanon; however, my focus extended beyond the refugee crisis and its spillovers.

I made every effort to highlight the values of tolerance, openness, coexistence, and pluralism which are the essence of Lebanon. I wanted to introduce the Dutch to the history, culture, art, and cuisine of Lebanon which give Lebanon its unique place in the Middle East and the world.

Despite the limited means at my disposal, I tried to showcase the best of what my country has to offer. I organized regular business events to underscore the investment opportunities in Lebanon, art exhibitions to show the thriving Lebanese art scene, wine tasting to introduce the Dutch to the exquisite Lebanese wines, and various other events where Lebanese food always took centre stage.

On the multilateral level, it is an unforgettable experience for me to be in The Hague when the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013. Lebanon is an active and committed member of the OPCW, and Lebanon and the Embassy in The Hague were instrumental for the OPCW to carry out its mission smoothly.

As for the Tribunals, it was instructive for me to see first-hand how international justice is being served in The Hague, the city of Peace of Justice.

The Lebanese community in the Netherlands may not be as large as in other EU countries, but its contribution and loyalty to the Dutch society is praiseworthy. I was pleasantly surprised to learn the high number of marriages between Lebanese and Dutch, and I was happy to meet many of these couples who are the living example of how two cultures seemingly different can get along very well.

The marking event of my stay remains the investiture of His Majesty King Willem Alexander which I had the great honour to attend. It was a privilege for me to work in the Netherlands. I enjoyed working with and getting to know the Dutch who are easy to deal with, straightforward and obliging. I find Holland a fascinating country where innovation never stops, where freedom and equality are the staples of all aspects of life, where the beautiful colours of spring blend with those of Van Gogh, and the colours of autumn with those of Rembrandt, and where no matter how gloomy the skies are, the sun graces each day with a ray of sunlight.

After five years, the most precious thing I take with me from Holland is that when I talk about the people I met, or I worked with, I do not refer to them as contacts, but as good friends of mine, and for that, Dankuwel Nederland!

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About the author:  Abir Ali is an experienced Lebanese diplomat who before coming to The Hague served her country in Washington D.C., Rome and Bahrain. She holds a BA in Economics and a degree in Law, and during her stay in the Netherlands, she earned a Master degree in International Relations Cum Laude from Leiden University. She also learned Dutch. Besides Arabic, Ms. Ali speaks French, English, Spanish, Italian, and little German.

She managed to assimilate with many of the Dutch customs and habits including the Dutch ritual of New Year’s dive in the North Sea, but not riding the bike.

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Photography by Hester Dijkstra.

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