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Home > Special Topics > Europe Report Last Updated: 15:16 03/09/2007
Europe Report #83: April 30, 2004

Sharon Administration's View of Europe and the Arab World

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

Perhaps anticipating the strong criticisms of the Sharon disengagement plan that would come from many EU countries and the entire Arab world, in the fifth section of his speech, Zalman Shoval, gives the Sharon administration's assessment of European and Arab nations. Britain is seen as largely supportive, although since British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave his cautious backing to the proposals, he has come under unprecedented criticism from a large number of distinguished British diplomats.(1) France is the main European target for Shoval's criticism. He then turns his attention to the Arab world claiming that they have a victim mentality and unfairly blame Israel and others for their own problems.

The first part of this speech can be found here

Ambassador Zalman Shoval:

Europe we know has different views [about Sharon's disengagement plan]. Britain supports, by and large, the American initiative and the British Foreign Policy Centre has even called for tougher steps towards the Arabs and the Middle East. The withdrawal of aid and trade privileges from regimes that have abused human rights, and so on and so forth. But in France the situation is a bit more, let's s say, even handed to themselves. Some of this derives from a genuine fear of chaos in the short run, but France has a special problem. In about 50 years France may have a Muslim majority, there is already a very substantial Muslim minority. France already has very close economic and other ties with parts of the Arab world. Therefore the French especially have been acting a little less decisively than the Americans and the British.

At present, there already appears to be a little bit of nibbling at the American-British approach and we shall soon see at the G8 meeting what course these ideas about democratization will actually take. Unfortunately, many of those in Europe, for one reason or another, oppose the democratization policy of the Bush administration or the Bush administration in general.

In the Arab world, those autocratic leaders understand that it is they who would pay the price for their countries becoming more democratic and less corrupt. [They] seem to have found a convenient excuse for avoiding the issue: "Yes, but first there must be a Middle East peace." The metaphor for pressurizing Israel to settle the conflict, mostly on Arab terms.

That most of the armed conflicts in the Middle East since the end of WWII had nothing to do with Israel or that none of the real social, political or economic and so on and so forth problems in the Greater Middle East had anything to do with the Palestinian problem is besides the point.

I hate to do this, but none other than Muhammad Fadlallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, has put this better than anyone else in an interview with David Ignatius, in the Washington Post just ten days ago he said, I quote, "The failed Arab regimes survive partly thanks to the 'excuse' of the Arab-Israeli conflict."(2) Frankly, it's a bit nave, if not to say dishonest, to take these European and Arab claims at face value. To his credit, [Egyptian] President [Hosni] Mubarak was more honest when he said, and I quote, "If we open the door completely before the people, there will be chaos." End of quotation.(3)

It's much easier, of course, to blame US imperialism or Israel's occupation of the territories for all the ills of the region. Conveniently forgetting that there was a time when there hadn't been any occupation. Rather than putting the finger on the real reasons such as economic and political stagnation; and technological backwardness and the culture of violence engendered by a totalitarian interpretation of Islam in some parts of the Arab and Islamic world.

The real problem as Professor Bernard Lewis has pointed out is in the Arab and large parts of the Islamic world. The fault for any disaster or any failure is always that of some else, the West, the US, Israel, supposed Judeo-Christian conspiracies and so on. They will always think of themselves as victims. The fact that they have been left behind by most of the rest of the world [and that] much of [the Arab world] is less endowed in matters of economic, scientific, technological or occupational is somebody else's fault.

The above transcript is based on a presentation given at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 1 April 2004.

The first part of this speech can be found here

The second part of this speech can be found here

The third part of this speech can be found here

The fourth part of this speech can be found here


(1)(i) Diplomats attack Blair's Israel policy

Guardian, Monday April 26, 2004
Extract: Tony Blair's foreign policy was under scrutiny tonight after an unprecedented coalition of more than 50 former diplomats attacked his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The virtually unprecedented letter criticises the prime minister for claiming influence over the US president, George Bush, and American policy, then backing the Israel policy when it was already "doomed to failure".
(ii) UK diplomats launch mass attack on Blair policy http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1089546,00.html
The Times, Monday April 26, 2004
Extract: Tony Blair faced an unprecedented attack on foreign policy in the Middle East and Iraq yesterday, when dozens of eminent former British envoys jointly wrote a damning letter to Downing Street. Already under pressure from growing violence in Iraq, where more British troops may be deployed, the Prime Minister is accused of "abandoning" peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians and of pursuing a policy in Iraq "doomed to failure".
(iii) Blair attacked over US policy http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/04/26/

The Telegraph, Monday April 26, 2004
Extract: Tony Blair's handling of Iraq and the Middle East has been condemned by dozens of senior former British diplomats. The Prime Minister has been warned to stop backing America's "doomed" policy on Iraq and Israel, in an open letter from 52 former ambassadors, high commissioners and governors. He has also been advised to influence President George W Bush as "a matter of the highest urgency".

(2)Real Arab Reform

Extract: "We have always emphasized that governments in this part of the world are obsessed with power, and thus have kept their citizens under strict control," Fadlallah said, speaking through an interpreter. He cited two kinds of bad governance in the Arab world: the "tribal or dynastic families, who behave as if they have some divine right to conduct business," and "governments that have a fig leaf of legitimacy, in the form of ballots that produce 99.9 percent results."

Fadlallah noted that these undemocratic governments have stayed in power partly because "they are part of a web of international interests" -- meaning that they serve the interests of the United States and its allies. But he cautioned: "It is not fair or accurate to lay all the blame for this deformed political process on the shoulders of the West. There are really serious internal reasons as well for this underdevelopment."

The failed Arab regimes survive, Fadlallah said, thanks partly to the "excuse" of the Arab-Israeli conflict. "We have emergency laws; we have control by the security agencies; we have stagnation of opposition parties; we have the appropriation of political rights -- all this in the name of the Arab-Israeli conflict." He argued that resolving the Arab-Israeli problem was a necessary component of any serious Middle East initiative -- not just because it was right but because it would take away the props that support bad governance.

What's important about Fadlallah's remarks is that you'd hear pretty much the same opinion everywhere in the Arab world. People are sick of political and economic underdevelopment, and they want change. But they want to make it for themselves.

(3)The Sick Man of the World
Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Washington Post, Friday, 28 March 2004 (Page A23)

Extract: Much of what is happening in the Middle East today is reminiscent of the Sick Man of Europe. Most of the 30-odd countries of what American officials are calling the Greater Middle East have been sociopolitically stagnant for decades. This is not for lack of popular desire for change. Saudi women defied the puritanical Wahhabi traditions and broke a stifling taboo by driving their cars in the streets of Riyadh 14 years ago. Thousands of political prisoners have been rotting in Syrian, Tunisian and Egyptian detention compounds for years without trials.

Such people provide an eloquent answer to the Arab rulers who met recently in Riyadh and Cairo for the purpose not of proposing plans for reform but of circumventing such plans, rumored to be coming from the United States and Europe. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak seems to be taking the lead in resisting democratization in the region. He was quoted in a New York Times report from Cairo as saying, "If we open the door completely before the people, there will be chaos."

Never mind the condescending tone vis--vis his own people. How about just keeping the door ajar, as the opposition parties have pleaded with him to do for 20 years? In a joint statement with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia two weeks earlier, the two Arab leaders rejected any attempt to impose reform from "the outside." This is quite understandable for people who suffered from colonization. But what about the persistent demands from within?

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