Jamal Abdul Gawad: Introduced reform cases at the Summit that constituted a radical change, even if presented for the sake of manipulation.
Osama Saraya: The Egyptian intellectuals stood against change and did not support Sadat’s initiatives for reform.
Hasanein Kroom: Political parties in Egypt do not have the ability to change or perhaps have no desire for it!
Farid Zahran: The Summit does not support any reform, exterior or interior.
A number of intellectuals and activists confirmed the failure of the Arab Summit in Tunisia in presenting an Arab vision for reform. The Summit was sufficed with stylized expressions, a new attempt to assimilate external pressures in the name of reform and to maneuver internal demands for reform.
This is in response to questions put forth by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
(CIHRS) in a seminar titled, “After the Reform Summit . . . Will the Respond to Reform from Abroad?” This seminar is under the scope of the Ibn Roshd Salon series of discussions.
Bahey El Din Hassan, Director of CIHRS, initiated the seminar by referring to previous discussions that took place months before the Summit in Tunisia. The discussion revolved around a number of international initiatives, most importantly those on the part of the entire Middle East and Europe, alongside the opposition of most Arab governments to these initiatives despite the fact that efforts must come from within the state itself.
As stated by Mr. Hassan, the results of the Summit in Tunisia must be evaluated and, at the same time, the reality of the conditions in the Arab world must be contemplated upon. In the past four months, talks of reform in the Arab world turned into an almost daily discussion of doubts surrounding how much the Summit is consistent with Arab ambitions for reform and to what extent the Summit can materialize these hopes into real initiatives or practical plans for reform.
A New Agenda
Dr. Jamal Abdul Gawad, an expert at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, initiated his speech by pointing to the existence of internal Arab claims for reform since the mid-eighties when the Arab Organization for Human Rights was formed and the idea of democracy was presented as a solution to the reality of the crisis in the Arab world. Within the objective reality, the majority of steps taken for reform worldwide were slow and superficial for the most part and backwards in the remaining small number of cases.
Abdul Gawad proceeded to point out the formation of a new agenda in the world in the late-eighties. At the end of the Cold War, new issues and conflicts began to arise and forced themselves upon the world in the forms of terrorism, fundamentalism, and illegal immigration and drug dealing.
Abdul Gawad noted that the European Union (EU) was the first to pay attention to the relationship of these issues to the conditions in the Middle East. The EU considered that the presence of poverty, backwardness, and dictatorship contributed to illegal immigration of citizens in that area and that these migrations caused problems for the areas these migrants settled as observed in Europe. This caused some government systems in Europe to divert towards the directions of fascist radical leftists, initially encouraged by immigrant communities.
Abdul Gawad added that European nations resorted to helping Southern Mediterranean countries so that they become less repelling and more attractive to their citizens. Under this scope, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Project stood more boldly. This union covered a number of issues starting with political reform, human rights, and economical development.
Dr. Jamal Abdul Gawad stated that after the incidences of September 11th, 2001, the United States paid attention to the dangers of the conditions in the Arab region and started pressuring the area to the extent of toppling the Iraqi government system.
According to Abdul Gawad, there is a general consensus amongst major international powers regarding the issue of reform with some minor disagreements within. Europeans linked reform to the resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict, while Americans do not acknowledge this connection. Arab governments realized that the issue cannot endure any more resistance or manipulation of the old ways. He expressed that, realistically, Arab nations are heading towards, what can be described as, dealing with these pressures without a willingness to engage in any resolutions for the longest time possible.
Abdul Gawad affirmed that cases of internal reform are presented before the institutions of the Arab order and that they have actually moved in that direction. He considered that the conversation surrounding reform in the documentaries of the Summit in Tunis expressed only core ideas for realizing some reforms without fully developed explanations. The Summit did not force any obligations on the governments to reform. It can be inferred that the Summit was manipulative in trying to absorb external pressures.
Abdul Gawad noticed that the discussion of reform was distributed in parts amongst a number of the Summit’s documentaries and integrated with other issues contrary to any required format as if the Summit was trying to replace reform with a solution to the major conflicts in the region.
Abdul Gawad also confirmed that it is no longer possible for any Arab order to ignore the claims of reform and the pressures for it, internally or externally. Despite this, reform has not been realized except if there is a power adopting it, whether this power is from within the government or from within oppositional actors. He also stated that there is no local actor to bear its claims considering that the government is capable of dealing with these claims for reform.
Abdul Gawad articulated that there are Arab countries who have in fact taken steps for reform before the incidences of September 11th, 2001 and that these countries were able to benefit from the harmony between internal and external agendas to improve its status in the Arab regional order. Morocco, Algeria, and Jordon are amongst those countries. He went on to mention that the future classification of Arab nations will not be based on their size, but rather on whether they have taken quick steps towards reform or have resisted reform or are hesitant towards it.
He asserted that the group of North Western nations fall under the category of reformists and will attempt to present itself as a coalition that have positions and specific agendas in case Egypt becomes one of the first in the category of nations resisting reform. Egypt converses a lot about reform, but does not know how to materialize it. However, Syria is an example of a nation that resists reform and ties it to national security issues and to the endurance of its political system.
At the Crossroads
Writer and journalist Osama Saraya, Chief Editor of the Al-Ahram El-Araby magazine, pointed to the initiatives for change in the Arab world prior to the Summit in Tunisia. This change can be observed in the Arab Charter of human rights that was acknowledged at the Summit, a significant advancement given that the project ensured a comprehensive list of all the rights that need to be addressed as well as political issues governing human rights.
Saraya added that the Arab order is going through a fragile period; the order will either progress or collapse. The agreement for the rotation of the Arab Summit took place under the assumption that there is great desire on the part of Arabs to erect a united entity. Then, the Summit in Beirut took place and the competition was revealed. Even a country like Egypt did not attend. Subsequently, the Summit in Tunis took place. Many countries attended, but were hesitant to stay until the end as if there was a sentiment amongst some that the entity of the Arab League had no use. There appeared to be international agreements and organizations with greater influence than the Arab League.
Saraya pointed out that the external dimension cannot be ignored and that external pressure is strong concerning reform issues, which are related to terrorism.
Saraya also pointed out that the Summit discussed, for the first time ever at an Arab Summit, cases of money laundering and smuggled drugs indicating that the Arab order is seeking to relieve itself from any responsibility of cases related to terrorism.
Saraya noticed that the personality of the current Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, had an effect on the wording of these issues given that this is the first time the Secretary General of the Arab League speaks with such strong diction as Moussa spoke before the leaders of Arab nations. Saraya voiced that Moussa was able to lead a successful battle which changed the original status of the General Secretary of the Arab League giving the position a strong political role with an acknowledged presence.
Saraya pointed out that Egypt supports the League’s Secretary General and said that the position of Egypt after the Summit in Tunis was postponed for the first time, was to rescue the Arab order. He also stated that if President Mubarak did not receive funding from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, he would not have been able to exercise pressures on Tunis to repeat the convening of the Summit.
Saraya directed his criticism towards the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmad Maher, for his lack of cooperation with the General Secretary of the League. The competition between them had an effect on weakening the position of Egypt at the Summit leading to the rejection of President Mubarak’s suggestions.
Saraya warned that if Egypt’s political system is not activated with new instruments and different methods, the capacity of Egypt’s politics will be a site of great confusion.
Saraya called upon the Egyptian Administration to take note of these dangers, make sure that the change in Egypt is done properly, and that all forces in Egypt benefit in a good and forgiving spirit. At the same time, Saraya called upon Egyptian intellectuals to be honest with the conscience of the nation, not to sell their souls to an internal or external power, and to stand behind the Egyptian society and behind reform initiatives even if it is not beneficial for them.
Saraya criticized Egyptian intellectuals for not pushing the initiatives instigated by the former President Anwar El-Sadat. He also stated that what helped contribute to the uncertainty of reform and of arriving at this point was that the reactive power in Egyptian society was always hesitant. In reference to the experiment of the Turkish society, which should be utilized as a learning experience, we are capable of being more efficient. We possess the expertise to quickly consolidate political power and change the economy.
Hasanein Kroom, Director of the Bureau of the El-Kods Arab Newspaper in Cairo, started his talk by questioning the reliability of realizing what was agreed upon in the Summit or in other Arab Summits. He expressed his lack of optimism towards the decisions taken at the Summit in Tunis considering that the word democracy was not uttered even once in the documentaries of the Summit. The words for advancement and modernization were abundant, but there was no strong initiative for realizing the Summit’s resolutions. Any system is capable of modernization and advancement.
He pointed out that actual reform is a purely Egyptian issue presented since the return to multiple parties in the seventies. Reform in Egypt should be completely separated from American demands.
He warned that the government is powered by political power, legitimate or illegitimate, to convince the masses to refuse reform using propaganda dictating that this reform is American and that it should be purely Egyptian. Some factions were formed within the Egyptian system that provoked Americans against internal forces by instigating fears that if democracy is implemented, it will be instituted by either the Muslim Brothers or Al-Nasery Party, which is against the United States. This sentiment was spread before the project of the entire Middle East was presented and after the elections of the Egyptian Journalist’s Syndicate, which appeared as a rehearsal for what could happen in Egypt.
Kroom added that all power and political parties presented their programs for reform that the government should react to. The conversation led by the party in power with its opposition took place within red lines.
The Kiss of Life
Farid Zahran, member of the Committee for Intifada Support and Director of the Mahrousa Institute for Publication and Documentation, compared the Summit in Tunis to the “kiss of life,” since the Arab order almost fell when the announcement that the Summit was going to be postponed was heard.
Zahran confirmed that the Summit in Tunis did not support any reform, external or internal, and that the results are nothing more than complex phrases as well as vague and general ideas.
Zahran also stated that the external pressure concerning reform is divided into two parts. The first is in good will that the area needs development to stop the danger of terrorism. The second is with a lack of good will in the current American Administration, the criminals of war who practice pressures stemming from colonialism. Zahran stated that these individuals treat terrorism by using the terrorism of the terrorists. In reference to the incidences in Afghanistan, there was nothing preventing these war criminals from negotiating deals with terrorist groups to further their own interests.
According to Zahran, the internal pressures for reform are characterized by fractioned groups within Egyptian society while facing societal and political problems. Zahran concluded by saying that external pressures are questionable.
Zahran mentioned that there are five Arab countries engaging in civil war, eight Arab countries that are ruled by monarchies and inherited rule, five countries that are Kingdoms of Republics, four countries under occupation, ten countries containing American military bases.
Bahey El Din Hassan stated in his comments that in addition to these findings there are eight Arab countries that are NATO-Pact Associates, seven countries that signed bilateral agreements with the United States concerning the protection of American soldiers from being tried in International Criminal Courts in case they commit war crimes.
Osam Saraya confirmed that Egypt, given its brain power, awareness, historical legacy, and institutions, can direct the reform process. Egypt must prepare itself starting with real institutions and by liberating economical and political systems. Saraya accused Egyptian intellectuals of being the first to stand in the way of change.
Hasanein Kroom expressed his thoughts towards the ability of the Arab body politic to unite. He also stated his fears of bloody disturbances in Egypt during the process of change. Parties and political power have become useless with the exception of the organization of Muslim Brothers, which is denied legitimacy. This is one of the causes for disturbances in political life in Egypt. The parties are either unable or they do not desire change. Personal interests and ulterior motives are intertwined within oppositional forces as well as in the system of authority itself.
Farid Zahran stated that there are challenges in the world forcing the powers of evil and fascism to retreat because meddling with these issues causes many damaging effects everywhere.
Dr. Gamal Abdel Gawad stated that external pressures should be dealt with in a complex manner given their nature. Countries abroad have very direct interests relating to their economy and to national security. Also, they realize that as long as certain economic and political conditions persist, their security remains threatened. He then pointed to the priorities of the West, oil and the prevention of terrorism as well as reform and democracy. External pressures forced governments, that have not addressed reform since many years ago, to consider the benefits of internal reform in this circumstance. A local reality for reform must be created. The Iraqi situation can be reenacted in many Arab countries!
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