Rami Khouri discusses the current forces and dynamics that make up the Middle East. December, 2010.
>> Bob Axelrod: Welcome and good afternoon.
I'm Bob Axelrod, Walgreen Professor for
the Study of Human Understanding here
in the Ford School and in the
Department of Political Science.
It's my pleasure to welcome you all here today
on behalf of the International Policy Center
at Ford and our co-sponsor today,
The Center for the Middle East,
Middle Eastern and North African Studies.
And as -- we're pleased to Rami Khouri here
today and I look forward to your talk very much
but before we hear from him
let me introduce Norman Bishara
who will tell you a little
bit more about our speaker.
Norman is an Assistant Professor of Business
Law and Ethics at the Ross School of Business.
He has a master's degree in
public policy from the Ford School
and he's also chair of the
Ford School Alumni Board.
He holds a law degree from Cornell
and he currently conducts research
on cooperative governments,
international legal reform,
and business ethics in the developing world.
He's also a project consultant with the
Lebanese Transparency Association in Beirut
where he co-authored the first Lebanese
Code of Cooperative Governments.
Norm, I give you the pleasure
of introducing our speaker.
>> Norman Bishara: Thanks, Bob, and thanks,
special thanks to of course the Center
for Middle East and North African Studies and
to the International Policy Center, Jan Svejnar,
the Director who couldn't be here today but also
special thanks to Zana Kwaiser who is on staff
at the Center and who put together all of the
details of Rami's visit from start to finish.
We're lucky to have Rami Khouri here.
He comes to us from Beirut by way of Boston
which gives you a sense of how much he travels.
He, if you can construe Rami's
career and professional --
personal and professional lives you can sort
of look at it in terms of a long journey.
He grew up in Switzerland
and the U.S. and Jordan.
He now lives in Beirut.
He is often in the U.S. He is affiliated with
several universities and great policy schools,
the Kennedy School, Fletcher -- the Fletcher
School at Tufts, Syracuse's Maxwell School,
as well as Harvard's Kennedy School.
And University of Chicago's Harris School
as well, I don't know if I mentioned that.
But in practice he's still a
journalist as he is by training.
He holds two degrees, an undergraduate and
a graduate degree from Syracuse University
and as a journalist he still practices.
He contributes at least two
pieces per week in syndication.
I don't know if you saw his most recent New
York Times op ed piece but it is a must read.
And- but many of you know him through
that writing but you also know him
through other outlets so you may have
seen him on not only in the New York Times
but you see him on various U.S.
shows such as the Charlie Rose Show
or you may recognize his voice for the
Diane Rehm Show where is often contributing
to the Friday news roundup
in the International Section.
But Rhami is a bit more than that.
He is also the Director of the Issam Fares
Center at the American University in Beirut
and the Founding Director which really gives
you a sense of how much influence he has there,
not just in journalism but also
as a policy maker in the region.
In that sense, he often is seen as the voice
of the Middle East translating really difficult
and complex Middle East policy problems
for audiences all over the world,
particularly in the U.S. Not an easy task
to stay impartial but to be still be candid
and critical and yet very deeply respected.
So we're very lucky to have
him here today and I now turn
over the mic to our guest, Rhami Khouri.
( Applause )
>> Rhami Khouri: Thank you.
Thank you very much Norm and Bob.
Thank you for having me here.
I'm delighted to be at the
University of Michigan.
I was trying to time my visit
so I can catch a football game
or a basketball game and
it didn't work very well.
They told me that there's a hockey game outdoors
Saturday so I'm getting out of here tonight.
So I'm into American sports but I'm not sure
I could quite handle that but I will be back
and watch a football game and congratulations
for getting into a bowl game this year again.
Your team, like mine, Syracuse, is on the
up and up again, so the future is bright.
I want to thank the International Policy
Center and the Center for Middle Eastern
and North African Studies for co-hosting this
and particularly Norm Bishara and Zana Kwaiser
for all their work and having this happen
and I'm delighted to be here with old friends
and family, cousins, and
friends from high school days
and acquaintances from over the years.
And I'm, as Norm mentioned,
I'm a journalist by background.
I've spent about 40 years working in the Middle
East, mostly -- totally in the Middle East.
Working as a journalist, reporting,
writing, analyzing, observing,
trying to understand what's happening
in the Middle East and I'm --
in late middle age I decided to try to gain
some respectability and moved into academia
so I'm masquerading as a semi-academic
by running this policy institute
at The American University of Beirut.
But I'm really here to share with you
my analyses and ideas that I generate
from my journalistic work which primarily means
going around the region, talking to people all
over the Middle East, interacting with all
kinds of people from all levels of society
and all different kinds of countries, going to
Iran, going to the Arab-Israeli conflict areas,
Israel, Palestine, all over the region.
I've traveled in the last 40 years and
I've watched the development of the region
from inside the Middle East in the last
four decades or so and I'd like to share
with you my analysis of what I
believe is actually going on in terms
of the new power equations
that are emerging in our region
which are woefully almost criminally
underreported in this country.
As those of you who follow
the Middle East probably know
that the American press is not very good at
covering the realities of the Middle East.
It tends to be superficial, biased,
ideologically driven, emotionally exaggerated,
and has many faults and I know this from working
with many colleagues in the American media.
And the American media does some excellent
reporting but not on the Middle East,
unfortunately, not on the Arab-Israeli
conflict, not on the Arab World,
and now, not on the Islamic world either.
So I would like to try to possibly
give you a more accurate view possibly,
maybe a more complete view, a more nuanced view
of what I believe is actually
going on in the region.
And I think there are some really very important
things that are going on that have been going
on for the last 20 years or so and
that deserve much more I think accurate
and dispassionate analysis.
The area I'm talking about is
essentially the Arab world mainly
but what I'm saying also applies to a little bit
to Turkey and Iran and Israel, in some cases,
but I'm mainly talking about,
about the Arab world at one level
and other things, slightly broader perspective.
But when you look at the Middle East, you
essentially I believe have four players;
the Arabs, the Israeli's,
the Turks, and the Iranians.
You also have -- those are the four indigenous
players and you have external players.
The United States is now engaged in two wars
in the region, has 20 or 30 military bases all
over the area and so the U.S.
is a major player as well now.
And some of the other foreign forces -
the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese -
are there in economic terms, cultural terms,
political, military, and different ways
but essentially we're talking about Arabs,
Turks, Iranians, and Israelis who interact
to create the realities that
are defining our region today.
The first point I want to make is that
all of the realities of our region,
every dimension of life in the Middle East and
certainly in the Arab world is in the process
of significant and ongoing change.
This is a region that is often portrayed in the
Western and American media, is often portrayed
as one-dimensional, as, you
know, the Arabs are like that.
The Muslims are like that.
This is how they are and this is
how we have to deal with them.
The reality is that this region is
neither monolithic in its behavior
or attitudes or thinking nor is it static.
It's constantly evolving.
Every level of society and I would mention
six; the citizen, this community, the society,
the government, the country as a whole, the
region of the Middle East, and the Middle East,
and the world -- those six levels of
analysis, every one of them is in the process
of significant and ongoing change.
All of these dimensions have been changing
I believe most seriously since the end
of the Cold War, about 20 years ago and I can
see there's some people in this room, like me,
old enough to remember the Cold War.
And as you know, around 1990 when the
Cold War ended there were a lot of changes
around the world and there were a lot of
changes triggered by the end of the Cold War
in the Middle East except for
really two major changes --
foreign military interventions didn't
end and no democracy took place.
No democrat-- no democratic
transformation took place
in the Middle East unlike
much of the rest of the world.
But the -- all the main aspects of life started
to evolve because of the end of the Cold War,
because of economic pressures,
because some Arabs,
Egypt and Jordan signed peace
treaties with Israel.
There were a combination of reasons why this
region started to evolve more dynamically
and what happened really in the early
1990's really started in the late,
in the 1980's with the economic
pressures and the --
which forced some governments to liberalize
in the Arab world, not democratize
but to liberalize, to open up and to allow their
people more space to behave as normal people
in politics, in economics, in culture, in
arts, and the different aspects of life.
What happened was that a whole series of
forces were unleashed in Arab societies
where people could express
themselves a little bit more openly,
be involved in civil society
groups, maybe vote in an election,
and speak out in the media more openly.
And you had essentially the
what I call the resumption
of history happened in, around
1990 in the Arab World.
That a region that had been frozen essentially
politically and ideologically was frozen
for half a century because of the Cold
War and the Arab-Israeli conflict,
in the early 90's started to evolve again.
And forces that had always been there
-- religious sentiment, tribal forces,
private sector, civil society, democracy,
women's movements, groups, socials, artists,
students -- all of these things all existed in
society but all had been suppressed by the lids
that had been holding this region static,
the lids of the Arab-Israeli conflict,
the state building imperative, the Cold War,
and the emergence of the Modern
Arab Security State in the 1970's.
All of these things, all of these
things kept the region relatively static
and as these lids came off one by one, the
region resumed a normal evolutionary process
where individuals and groups and all kinds
of people in society started to behave
like people do in a normal society to
express themselves, to mobilize, to organize,
to challenge authority, to express ideas,
to work for change, to have a resumption
of history, to have a normal historical
process of change and transformation going on.
And now we can see some -- a few things that
we couldn't really see before very clearly.
We could see them, they were under the surface
but now they're up, out into the public.
First of all, people are expressing what
they feel in various ways, in the media
and public opinion polls,
occasionally in voting.
They are expressing themselves more clearly.
We can see the main players in society.
Who are the actors now in Arab
society and there is many of them.
Religious groups, tribal groups, business
groups, government people, political people,
artists, cultural -- there are
all kinds of people who are active
in society and now you can see the actors.
Before they were mostly suppressed unless
they were authorized by the government
and we can see the connections between
different aspects of life, economic pressure,
political pressure, ideological
issues, environmental stress,
all the different aspects of
life within these countries.
And then regional issues --
the Arab-Israeli conflict,
relations with Iran, foreign
armies coming at us.
You can now see the connections between these.
We see the stakes that are -- we, we
know what's at stake now very clearly
because people are expressing their concerns
and there's a more active political, cultural,
economic, and social dialog
taking place in these societies.
And therefore we have what I believe is a new
configuration of power in the region which is,
which I would summarize by basically saying
there are three conglomerations of power,
legitimacy, and authority that are now
active and you can see these three groups
in the shorthand that I call the
market, the monarch, and the mosque.
The market is the business sector,
private enterprise, civil society --
all of these groups who work
independently in society.
The monarch is the political authority, whether
it's a Republic or a Kingdom or an Emirate,
it doesn't matter what's the form of
government but the political authority
with its multiple layers of security
guards and military groups and police
and armies and intelligence agencies.
They have massive security complexes that
now define the modern Arab security state
and all of the people linked to
the governing power in society.
That's what I call the monarch for short.
And the mosque is the religious, tribal,
ethnic identities that, not the private sector,
not the government, but these other groups
in society that are extremely strong,
are now much more organized and working openly.
And between the market, the monarch, and
the mosque, you now have three broad centers
of power, legitimacy, and authority
that represent huge sectors of society.
They're not exactly evenly matched.
In some places the government,
the monarch, is dominant.
In some cases, the market is dominant.
In some cases, the mosque and the
religious tribal groups are dominant.
But these three are now creating, are engaged
now in a process which I believe is historic
and significant in this region and
is still evolving which is a balance
of power among three major power centers that
provides an informal form of checks and balances
and that provides also something else which
I believe is the rebirth or maybe we can talk
about the birth of politics in the Arab world.
For the first time in modern history, we have
serious contestation of power and legitimacy
and authority among groups that are operating
in public that are anchored in local society
that have huge numbers of people that they
represent that are seen to be legitimate,
that are seen to be responsible,
powerful, and credible actors
in society, seen by their own people.
And they are all, all of this
is now happening in public.
If you're in the Middle East, if you
take the time to observe what's going on,
you will see all of these things happening.
And what I think is important for us
to do is to understand what this means.
I am -- the title of my talk is Rights,
Respect, Resistance, and Righteousness:
The New Middle East Power Equations.
Rights, respect, resistance, and righteousness
I believe are four words that capture some
of the key themes that drive many
of these actors as well as driving,
as well as driving some of the
foreign forces that intervene
in our societies including the American
government and army and the British
and Europeans and, and, and many others.
But first of all, I think we have to
ask ourselves how did we get here?
We got here by looking at -- we can understand
how we got here by looking at a quick overview
of the last 30 or 40 years and I would mention
a few, I'll give you just 10 headline ideas
about what forces or what criteria or conditions
defined most of the Arab world for most
of the last two or three generations.
The first is that this is the only chronically
and collectively non-Democratic
region in the world.
Nowhere in the Arab world do you have a
credible, serious Democratic process at play
and while after the end of the Cold War you
had Democratic transformations in many parts
of the world, we had none in the Arab
world and this is an important factor.
The second point is that most
of the states in the Arab world
in one way or another are weak states.
They're, they're strong governments and the
states exist and have been there for a while
and will hang around for a while but
they are getting weaker in many cases
because the authority of the central
government no longer dominates all of society
as it used to 30 and 40 years ago.
The third point is that the legitimacy
of many of the governing powers
in the Arab world is being
slowly -- fraying at the edges.
It's not disappearing.
You still have strong, legitimate,
central governments with huge armies,
multiple security agencies,
tremendous economic power,
control of media resources
and many other things.
But the legitimacy of these institutions of
the central power are fraying at the edges
as many other people emerge in society and play
the role that the government normally plays
which is to provide people with security,
with representation, with a sense of hope
for the future, and a range of
basic services whether it's water,
education, jobs, or whatever it may be.
So the legitimacy of many central government
authorities and governments is fraying somewhat.
The fourth point is that this is a region
under tremendous demographic stress.
They -- we now have about 350 million Arabs.
In 1930 there was around 60
million, a massive growth,
highest population growth rate in the world.
30, 40 years ago, the Arab world was mostly
old people, middle age or old people,
living in rural areas, poorly
served in basic services.
Today the Arab world is 65%
urban, it's mostly urban.
It's mostly young people about 65% to 68% of
the Arab population is under the age of 30.
And these are people whose basic
needs are pretty well met now.
The state building from the 1930's to the 1980's
provided a very strong infrastructural base
so most people in the Arab world, especially
in cities and towns can walk to a hospital
or clinic and walk to their school, can walk
to a fresh water source, that
basic services are there.
It's a young, urban, well-served
population or decently served population
which is tremendously politically frustrated
because it doesn't enjoy political rights
to any significant degree and is
increasingly concerned about environmental
and economic stress and therefore you
have this tremendous demographic pressure
from within society which drives
many of the forces that we're seeing.
The fifth point is environmental stress.
This is a region in which
by the governments has been not very good, by
and large, to the point now where we're starting
to see in countries like Iraq and Syria
and other places, environmental refugees,
internally displaced environmental
refugees who are moving simply
because they can no longer
live in their communities.
The water has run out, the land is
no good for farming, or other reasons
and you're seeing this now in countries.
And, you, in a recent poll done of young people
by Gallup, it's about 18% of young people
between the ages of 15 and 29 said that they
expect to have to move their place of residence
in the next five years because of environmental
stress, only because of environmental factors,
so environmental conditions are a big problem.
Widening disparities is a problem that
we are seeing all over the region,
particularly in economic terms with small
groups of very wealthy, well-serviced people
and growing, growing numbers of
people who are more, more poor.
The seventh main thing we can see in the
region is a tradition of foreign armies
that keep coming into the region.
The foreign armies, since the
days of Napoleon, will rationalize
and justify why they come into our region.
The reality is from the receiving end
in the Arab world most people
are fed up with foreign armies.
They don't think they should
be coming at us regularly
and they don't think they make things
better but they make things worse.
The eighth point is the unresolved
which remains I believe the
most important destabilizing
and radicalizing force in the region.
The Palestinian exile now is five or six years
longer than the ancient Jewish Babylonian exile
and the Palestinians in exile are
now acting like the Babylonian exiles
which is recreating the consciousness of
a nation in exile and therefore a nation
that will find its way back home
and restore its national rights.
The mentality of exile of the Palestinians
into the third generation now in Palestine
as in Babylon has created a psychological and a
political condition which is redrawing the map
of the Arab-Israeli conflict and you see in the
behavior of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas,
just two signs of a different attitude
towards war or peace with Israel.
So the Arab-Israeli conflict is a huge
factor and the more it remains unresolved,
the more problematic the region is.
The ninth point I would say is
a growing sense of injustice
and double standards felt by
many people in the region.
And the injustices and double
standards that more and more people
in our region feel are anchored both in
local exercise of power, how Arab governments
and governments in the region are
treating their own people in an unfair,
inequitable, and sometimes brutal way.
And also at injustices that we feel are
coming from abroad, the double standards
in the application of U.N. resolutions, access
to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes,
and the use of force for political change.
Many complaints are made in our region routinely
about the West but also about the Arabs
and the Israelis, so this
is a very common complaint.
And number 10 point, I believe that is an
important indicator of how we got here is
that the rule of law, the
application of the rule
of law has been very erratic
throughout the Arab world.
There is rule of law but it's applied
in an erratic and inconsistent way
and has created a greater sense of
indignity among ordinary Arabs who feel
that what their governments are
doing or what the power structures
in the societies are doing
is not fair to everybody.
That most people don't have a fair chance
to really advance in life and benefit
from their education and their hard work,
that the, the, the situation is skewed
to help the small group of people
who hold power while the majority
of other people are disadvantaged.
And this erratic application of the rule of law
and equitable power distribution is a major
point that has driven protest movements
and activism around the Arab world, particularly
Islamist movements who have become very strong
and are critical of their own governments as
they are critical of Israel and Western powers.
But the main driving force of
most of the Islamist movements
in the modern period has been domestic
imbalances, social inequity, abuse of power,
corruption, unfair application of
state assets, etcetera, etcetera.
So those 10 points I think are
the main ones as many, many others
but I think they help explain why is
it that this region is so turbulent
and is so violent in many situations.
And why is it in many cases why the
governments and the power structures in many
of our countries have responded to these
stresses by becoming more autocratic and, and,
and dominating society to a greater
degree and not opening up and liberalizing
as many other countries that are in
the world after the end of the Cold War
but rather tightening their controls.
The consequences of these trends and
other ones are pretty clear to see.
There's a widespread fear and
vulnerability among, a sense of fear
and vulnerability among many people in the area.
They feel that they're increasingly vulnerable.
The economic stress, foreign armies, their
own systems, their own security systems,
criminal activity, environmental pressures,
all kinds of reasons why people should be more
and more concerned, particularly young
people worried about getting a job
and having an opportunity to live a decent life.
And second consequence is that this is
a region widely riddled with violence
as a normal means of political expression.
And the violence is practiced by three main
groups; the governments and political structures
of these region use violence against their own
people or against neighbors, opposition groups
and terror groups use violence, and foreign
armies and invading forces use violence.
And these three main groups have
now created this cycle of violence
which is a common vocabulary of political
conduct throughout the Middle East.
Third consequence is the fragmentation of
the central power and authority that used
to define the, most of the
countries in this region.
If you had come to the Middle East -- and this
applies to Turkey, Iran, the Arab countries --
if you have come there in 1950 or
1960 you essentially had to deal
with one central government which controlled
everything, the military, the police,
the economy, the media, the schools.
They controlled everything.
If you go to most Arab countries today, you
have to, there is no one central authority
that controls everything, even in government,
even in countries where the government is very
strong, like Jordan, like Turkey, like Morocco,
where you have a strong, tough,
credible, legitimate central government.
But even there they don't have
the control that they used to.
People get their media information
from other sources than the government.
They get a lot of their services
from the private sector and NGOs.
A lot of people turn to non-government
forces for even the representation
of their very identity, whether they turn
to Islamist groups or to tribal groups
or to ethnic leaderships or private corporate
groups, they, they don't necessarily turn
to the government as the main group that
represents them but there's other groups
that compete for, for this kind of authority.
You have therefore many new
actors emerging in society,
non-state actors is how they
were traditionally called.
But I would say that they were
actually parallel-state actors.
You have now groups like the Muslim brothers,
like Hezbollah, like Hamas in Palestine,
some of the big tribal federations
and tribal organizations,
some of the private sector corporations,
even some big NGOs in some countries.
You have a whole range of groups that now are
active in society openly, publicly, legally.
And they operate at a level in which they do
similar services to what the governments used
to do, including providing security,
providing political representation,
negotiating with foreign powers, and
therefore you have a whole bunch of new actors
who are not just non-state actors,
they're parallel-state actors.
We have a very strange phenomenon
in the Arab world
where we have multiple authorities
and single sovereignties.
So in Lebanon for instance you have
Hezbollah and you have the government.
In Palestine you have Hamas, you have Fatah.
In Somalia, you have a whole
range of different people.
In Iraq, you have got all
kinds of groups now emerging.
So you have these multiple centers
of power and authority and legitimacy
and service delivery who coexist very easily.
They're not fighting each other to take over.
They're not necessarily -- it's not a zero sum
game where only one group is going to emerge.
That's how it used to be back in the 50's
and 60's but now there's more sophistication,
maybe just more weariness, whatever.
But people now are much more nuanced about
coexisting with different power structures
and power authorities working
alongside each other.
And they sometimes share power
as in the government in Lebanon.
You have Hezbollah, you have
the Hariri led March 14 groups,
and they're part of the same government,
half of which is aligned with Iran,
half of which is aligned with the United States.
So the Lebanese government is the
first Iranian-American joint venture
and political governance in the Arab world.
But it exists and it works and
people find it very natural.
Similarly, in Palestine at one
point, Hamas and Fatah were
in a unity government and they split up.
They'll come back at some point one day and
you find this going on in Yemen and Somalia,
in Egypt and every, all over the place.
You find this process of different
legitimate groups competing with each other
but then coming together when
they, when they, when they need to.
Another trend or consequence of this is that you
have now many different conflicts in the region,
a region that used to be dominated and
defined by the Arab-Israeli conflict
and the Cold War and that was about it.
Those were the two major conflicts.
The Middle East now is defined by a wide
range of conflicts internally within countries
like Yemen, like Somalia,
like Lebanon, like Palestine.
Then you have problems in Iraq, obviously.
Then you have conflicts between countries -- the
Arab-Israeli conflict, tensions between Syria
and Lebanon which now have eased but they
come and go, tensions between Arab countries
and Iran, and many of these internal
conflicts as in Lebanon and Yemen and Palestine
and Iraq are proxy battles for
bigger conflicts between Iran
and the United States and other groups.
So you have a whole range of conflicts
now that, that take place in the region
and they've all come together
in a kind of regional Cold War.
So it's impossible now for somebody to go in
as they used to try to do before to say, "Okay,
we're going to try to solve
the Arab-Israeli conflict."
You can't solve the Arab-Israeli conflict
unless you address Syria, Lebanon,
Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria.
There's many different tensions and conflicts
that have to be addressed now collectively
and this is part of the complexity
of this region which comes
about because we've had this process going
on for decades and decades and decades.
And again the Arab-Israeli conflict is the
single most destabilizing and problematic reason
for the degradation of the
stability and security of the area.
There's other reasons, it's not
the only one, but it's the oldest
and the most serious reason why
you have all of these problems.
Imagine if the Arab-Israeli
conflict had been solved in 1975.
Hamas and Hezbollah probably wouldn't exist.
They came into existence in the early 80's,
mainly as a response to Israeli occupation.
The Iranian-Israeli tension
probably wouldn't be there.
So there's many reasons why you have
a clear link between the continuation
of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the security
problems and pressures that you can see
in many other parts of the region.
Another important thing that, trend that
we can see is as a, as a response to many
of these developments, there is a new sense
of kind of what I could call defiance.
Some people talk of resistance
but you have hundreds of millions
of people in the Arab world and Iran.
You have something like 500 million people.
Out of those 500 million people,
the vast majority in the last 25
or 30 years have asserted in public their
political and personal views and worked actively
to try to change conditions
that they complain about.
Whether it's their own domestic
political hypocrisy, foreign intervention,
Arab-Israeli wars, occupations, economic
disparities, whatever is the reason
of their complaint, what you have and I would
say this is the single most important political
development in our region in the last
two generations is the end of docility.
That huge numbers of people and I would say
we're talking here of 2 to 400 million people,
are no longer willing to acquiesce in
the conditions that they have inherited
of occupation, of foreign subjugation, of
domestic inequity, political abuse, corruption,
lack of democracy, fixed
elections, the kinds of things
that they've suffered internally
and regionally and globally.
And they're trying to do
something about it and they --
and this is why you have all of these actors.
Islamist movements, democracy movements,
human rights movements, civil society groups,
student groups, women's groups,
professionals, lawyer's associations,
there's all kinds of mechanisms that
people have used including violent actions
by small militants and terrorist
groups, militia groups.
There's all kinds of different
groups during different things
but the single common denominator I
believe that's important for us is
that there is no longer a docile, acquiescent
population in the Arab-Islamic region
of the Middle East that is willing to, to
be docile in the face of its own subjugation
or occupation or marginalization
And this is what we're seeing I think in all
of these groups that are much more active
and much more dynamic in society.
Another impact of all of
these things has been the role
of the United States is particularly
important I think.
The United States is the biggest
international power and it is actively involved
in the Middle East with its
army, with its diplomacy,
with its economic aid in many different ways.
But the striking thing about the U.S.
in the Middle East I believe is the fact
that the vast majority of people in that region
and I'm talking here of Arabs, Israelis, Turks,
and Iranians, the vast majority neither
respect nor fear the United States anymore.
This is a strong statement, I know,
but I think it is probably correct.
And if you look at how the United
States has behaved in the last, say,
15 years, this is a recent phenomenon.
If you look at how the United States has
behaved with the Arabs, with the Israelis,
with the Turks, with the Iranians, threatening
them, cajoling them, trying to buy them off.
I know the recent, the most recent, yesterday
the U.S. said its given up its attempt
to get the Israelis to free settlements which
they tried to do by pressure and they tried
to do by buying them off and
in neither case were they able
to do it and the U.S. just backed away.
They tried to pressure the Turks in different
things but the Turks stood up to them,
wouldn't let the Americans
go into Iraq through Turkey.
They've had sanctions and all kinds
of threats against Iran and Syria
which has just emboldened Iran and Syria
and they've used all kinds of pressures and,
and policies to get the Arabs to be compliant.
And while many Arab governments
have been compliant with the U.S.,
a lot of people in the Arab world
have become much more defiant.
And this is a very, very significant
situation which I think needs
to be studied much more carefully.
I believe it is, it is fair to
say that a majority of people
in our region neither respect
nor fear the United States.
And this is a shock I think if you're an
American citizen or the American government.
If people neither fear you nor respect
you, then you have virtually no influence
and I think this is the situation the
United States has found itself in.
It's waged two wars and is quickly
trying to get out of both of them.
It's trying to use its diplomatic efforts and
in no case has it had any significant success
with the Israelis, with the
Arabs, with the Iranians.
It's a very serious problem for the
United States and I think it is part
of the bigger picture that I'm trying
to draw which is in the old days,
when all they had to do was deal
with a bunch of Arab leaders,
then the Arab countries did
everything you wanted them to do.
Or a non-democratic Iran or a non-democratic
Turkey, it was very easy for you to just deal
with these leaders and you, and everything was
hunky dory, especially during the Cold War.
The situation has changed radically,
that large numbers of people in all
of these societies including in Israel
which is a very strong American ally,
the Israelis will not be dictated to by the
United States and they'll stand up to it
and we just saw a very good example of it.
And part of the reason for this I believe, I
mentioned many different factors, environmental,
political discontent, lack of democracy,
foreign armies, occupations, etcetera,
but I think that if there's a single
reason within the region I would say
that it is the pauperization of the
region and the demographic transition.
We're dealing with a region that is
I said about 65% under the age of 30.
This is a very young region and it's highly
urbanized and like I said basic needs are met.
People can walk to school and the health center.
They're not starving.
Nobody is dying of lack of vaccination.
But they feel that their, their biological
survival is not matched by a response
to their basic need for human dignity and
more importantly their sense of citizenship.
What does it mean to be a citizen of a country?
That you can vote in a non-rigged election,
that you can make your voice heard,
that you can hold your government accountable,
that there can be a normal process
of give and take in society.
People have not felt that their
citizenship rights have been exercised
and they're responding to that but most
of all I believe the single most
important factor is the economic stress.
And in the last 25, 30 years this
has been one of the most important
but understudied factors I believe in
the entire transformation of this region.
And I want to give you just two statistics.
One is for the entire, for the entire Arab world
-- this is World Bank data from last year --
if you take the 22 Arab countries and
you look at the gross domestic product
and constant prices, and constant
prices, not those adjusted for inflation.
In the decade of the 1980's, the per capita
GDP which is a rough measure of average wealth,
the per capita GDP in the 1980's
averaged over that decade was $2671.
In this decade from 2000 to 2009, that figure
of $2671 after 20 years has dropped to $2557.
This is adjusted per capita real
income, real GDP per capita.
And this is a shocking situation and
this is for the entire Arab world.
If you take away the oil states,
the wealthy, and you take away--
and you leave just the poorer countries --
Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, etcetera, Yemen --
you are dealing with a region that has been poor
for ma- a long time and continues to get poorer
and this is one of the greatest problems.
Let me give you one more, more dramatic example.
If you take the country of Jordan, just one
country, and you take that critical decade
from the 19 mid-80's to the mid-90's which
I believe is the critical decade which co-
coincides with the economic stress on the Arab
world in the mid-80's, the end of the Cold War,
and then the transitional years after that.
From 1985 to 1995, in one country,
Jordan, which is a pretty normal country,
it's not an oil state; it's not a
completely desolate, poor state.
It's a pretty normal place and those of you
who know Jordan know that it's a nice place
and it's pleasant and, and the people
are dynamic and they're friendly.
But between 1985 and 1995, if you take the
gross domestic product per capita in Jordan
and you just take those dinar figures which the
government gives you and then you translate them
into constant prices in U.S. dollars -- and
the reason you have to do it in U.S. dollars is
because most of what Jordan consumes,
like most of the Arab world, is imported.
Airplanes, fuel, furniture, computers,
food, most of it is imported,
so you have to denominate in dollars
to see what is the actual real income
or purchasing power of an average citizen.
In that period between '85 and
'95 in Jordan, the GDP per capita
in constant U.S. dollars
declined from $2244 to $908.
It's an unbelievable drop.
You don't hear these figures very much
because people in the Middle East tend not
to like to talk about this reality.
But this is the reality that we're dealing
with, whether it's at the micro level
of the entire region or if it -- and if
you take this same exercise and do it
for any other country in the region you're
going to get a similar range of views.
And therefore you have a situation
today where across the region --
and here I'm talking about
only the Arab world, though,
leaving out Israel, Iran,
and Turkey for a moment.
And across the Arab world, you have a huge,
young population that is suffering this kind
of economic stress with the environmental
stress, with the domestic political constraints,
with the regional tensions and
frustrations of the Arab-Israeli conflict,
with the international pressures of foreign
armies and, and the perception that the U.N.
and the world, the West, are
applying double standards.
When you put all of these things together,
you end up with a population of mostly young,
very frustrated and worried people.
But more than just being frustrated and
worried, we're dealing with a young population
that in more and more cases
is gradually detaching itself
from the anchorage of its own society.
And I think if you look at the most interesting
data that I think we have today is a poll
that was just done by the Gallup organization,
a poll of youth in every single
Arab country, aged 15 to 29.
And the polling done by Gallup for a
group in Qatar called Silatech which deals
with transitions of young people from education
to employment, the Arab youth's polling
that has been done has given us some
really important indications of the reality
of young people who are the majority of people.
But I think the youth's perceptions reflect
the wider perceptions of all Arab society,
showing the reality which is that you have
serious pressures, concerns, vulnerabilities,
fears, worries, serious ones, combined
with powerful forces for self-confidence,
hope for the future, a sense of security.
And this is the reality of the Arab
world which is so important to grasp.
Why at the same time do you have evidence of
violence, extremism, dysfunctional behavior,
etcetera, etcetera, combined with
this strong sense of stability?
But let me just give you a few statistics from
-- remember this is talking about young people
in the entire Arab countries, 22 countries with
nationally representative samples by Gallup.
90% of young people feel that they
actually are free to express themselves.
This is really important.
They feel they have the freedom to speak, partly
because of the new information technology --
internet, and cell phones and stuff.
They can express themselves which people in my
generation and before couldn't do so easily.
They feel they are -- 65% roughly -- are
satisfied with the freedoms in their life
to do whatever they want which is quite
significant, about two-thirds of them almost.
There are positive elements like 86 percent,
the overwhelming majority, feel that if they are
in a moment of need, that they have people in
their immediate environment, family, friends,
cousins, neighbors, NGOs,
charitable societies --
they have people who will help them immediately.
That they feel, 86% feel that they have somebody
who can immediately help
them if they need something.
Along -- then you have something
like 88% to 90% feel that religion
and family are important forces in their
society or they can rely on those forces.
So you have some strong indicators of a large
number of young Arabs who are not desperate,
who feel that they have protection.
They have anchorage in society
that they can turn to.
It's not the government.
It's mostly family, friends, religion,
neighbors, etcetera, but though to be fair also
about 70% or so say that they are content.
They feel that their environment that
they live in in their town or village
or city, they're satisfied with it.
It's not, you know, five-star luxury,
but they're, they're satisfied.
They think that their living
in decent conditions.
Yet, the negative aspects are equally striking.
30, 30% only feel that they can
find good, affordable housing.
They are worried about, they don't have
-- they can't find affordable housing.
They can't get married.
They're particularly worried
about housing as an impediment
to leaving youth, childhood,
and becoming adults.
30% on average across the region want to
immigrate permanently, to go to another country.
And this 30% is for the regional average.
It goes up to 45% in some
cases like Algeria and others.
It goes up to 45% or more but 30
is the entire regional average.
If one-third of your young people who are
educated, who are the most productive element
in your society, one-third of these
people want to leave, that's a bad sign.
And they would leave if they
could but most of them can't.
Nobody will take them.
They won't get -- they can't get visas.
You have a problem with confidence in
the integrity of the central government.
About 50 percent, 51% say that
they have -- well, excuse me --
51 and 53 because you have
males and females are different.
But they -- about 51 or 53% feel they
have confidence in the central government.
In other words, almost half of the young people
have no confidence in their central government.
Same thing for the judiciary, about 53% have
confidence in the judiciary but 47% don't.
Only 45% have confidence in the media.
The young people have completely
turned away from their mass media.
They don't follow it.
They don't -- they, they,
they create their own media.
This is one of the results of the youth
study that we have just completed.
Only 40% of young people
in the Arab world believe
that elections held in their country are honest.
60% feel that elections are a sham.
These are very strong, clear, accurate,
dispassionate indicators of societies in stress.
And I've mentioned the main reasons that I
think help us to understand how we got here.
I think -- what, what, what, what we can see
now is that there are many actors in societies,
in our societies who are behaving in a way
that represents their desire to change things,
to address some of these problems and pressures.
And again, there's a multitude
of different actors.
Each one is motivated by something else,
religious groups, tribal sector, political,
militant, and all kinds of groups but the
reality is that they're all working at once
and what you have for the first time is a
dynamic situation of change and transformation
in which these groups as I said
coalesce into three broad categories;
the monarchy, the mosque, and the market.
And they give us a bit of a balancing act
now which creates a little bit of stability.
Now we have a stable system -- it,
it's a dynamic but stable system
but this is a transitional moment, this
situation isn't going to last for a long time.
And people are talking about
the four R's that I mentioned.
People are demanding their
rights, they're demanding respect,
and the respect they are demanding is from their
own authorities as well as from foreigners.
Whether it's Hamas demanding respect
from Israel or Syria demanding respect
from the United States or somebody demanding
respect from somebody else, the respect is, the,
the, the respect is probably the single greatest
common denominator among all of these actors.
It's an intangible element of being, of
being treated fairly, being treated decently,
of being allowed to behave as
a human being and as a citizen.
Not to be treated like an animal or
a second-class person and this demand
for respect is oriented to people's
own governments and societies
as well as foreign, foreign ones.
So respect is, is incredibly important.
Resistance is what many people say they
are doing in the Arab world and Iran.
Resisting forces that they believe threaten
them whether it's Israeli forces occupying them
or Americans or British army
or Arab conservative forces
or private sector dominating
They have many accusations against many people.
But resistance is the term that people use
now and, and, and the Syrians and the Iranians
and others are grouping themselves with a range
of different organizations in our societies
and they call themselves the
Resistance and Deterrents Front.
You, you may think this is crazy.
You may like it.
You may not like it.
I have my own views.
I'm not saying this is great or bad,
I'm just saying this is how things are
and this is how they see themselves and
they feel that they're actually doing well,
that their points are, they're making --
scoring points and holding their ground
and forcing others to deal with them.
And finally righteousness and righteousness
is something that both the American army,
the Israeli army, and Arab
resistance forces claim.
Righteousness is the common language of people
who are active in trying to achieve their rights
as citizens and claiming divine support.
It's interesting that Israelis
and Americans and Arabs and Turks
and Iranians all speak in the same language.
So I'll finish by just saying that when we --
this is a very quick, superficial
overview trying to give you the complexity
of these issues but in the final
analysis what are we talking about?
What are the issues?
What are the problems?
What does this tell us about Arab society
and Middle Eastern society as a whole?
It tells us that there's a range of
issues that are now being contested.
That the people of the region have put on
the table, have put on the public agenda,
and the issues are big sticker items.
Statehood is a contested issue.
The states of this region are not stable in many
cases and are changing and people are looking
at statehood and trying to fix it up.
Sovereignty is an issue that many
people are contesting, challenging.
And many people feel that they're
independent but they're not sovereign,
that somebody else really tells them what to do.
Nationhood is an issue that is up for grabs.
People talk of the Islamic
nation, of the Arab nation.
They talk of their own countries.
They talk of tribal allegiances.
The idea of belonging to a bigger
nation is very much discussed.
The exercise of power and the legitimacy of
governance and the two things go together.
Power and governance and legitimacy
are central themes of what is going on.
The issue of identity -- people are expressing
their multiple identities; religious, tribal,
ideological, social, cultural.
All kinds of identities are
now actively on the table.
Citizenship rights -- what does it
mean to be a citizen of a country?
What are the limits to the power of the
government to intervene in your life?
Human development issues
-- access to basic needs.
As I said most basic needs are
pro- are reasonably well met
but now there's a growing concern
particularly in environmental terms
and in quality of education and jobs.
Security and stability are important issues.
A lot of societies are stable
but they're not secure.
There's bombings, there's foreign
invasions, there's occupations,
there's criminal activity, there's terrorism.
There are all kinds of threats to security.
And finally, relations with
the rest of the world.
We don't really know, we don't really know if a
majority of Arabs wants to make war with Israel
or wants to make peace with Israel.
And we don't really know if
a majority of Israelis wants
to make war or peace with the Palestinians.
We really don't know that.
We have certain ideas but these are not clear.
The relationships of the people of this region
with foreign actors is very much imprecise,
very vague and needs to be clarified.
We don't know if the majority of people
in the Arab world think the United States is
their friend or they United States is a threat.
We know that both views are there and we don't
know really how many Arabs think Iran is right
in doing what it's doing and
how many Arabs fear Iran.
There's different views.
And there's views of governments and there's
views of ordinary people and there's views
of political groups in the
Arab world as a range.
All of these issues are now issues
that are being publicly discussed.
We have this very important historic
transition taking place in the Arab world
which is woefully underreported and not
well understood I think internationally
because people don't take the time to look
into our society and to understand, well,
what's going on at the community level.
What's going on in the minds
and hearts of ordinary people?
Why are people violent?
Why are they extremists?
Why are they emotional?
Why do they do what they do?
And I think it's important for institutions like
yours and ours and academics and journalists
to make a greater effort to understand
that we have in the Arab world
and the Middle East a resumption of
history and possibly a birth of politics.
And this should be a meeting point for
those of us like myself, certainly,
and I hope many of you who believe
that there shouldn't be hostility
between Arabs and Americans.
That the basic fundamental
values or American society
and of Arab-Islamic society
are identical values.
They focus on justice and equality and
consent of the government, a majority of will
and protecting minority rights, these
sort of themes that are very common
in the Islamist religious political
discourse in our region and very common
in the American public discourse.
So this should be a much greater meeting
ground between people in the Arab world
and the wider Islamic Middle East and Israel
and the United States and I think we have
to make an effort to try to achieve that.
But the first step to doing that is
to understand more accurately what is
actually happening on the ground and I hope
that I've given you some insights
into some of these issues.
Thank you very much for being here.
( Applause )
>> Norman Bishara: Great.
We have a, we have about 15,
20 minutes for the questions.
If you are able, please come to the mic to be
recorded onto the (inaudible) Questions, yes.
( Silence )
>> The picture you give concerning youth is the
volatility, the volatility of the situation...
>> Rhami Khouri: Hold the mic up, yeah.
>> Okay. The volatility of the situation is best
expressed in what the statistics you've given
about the youth and it definitely is very much
anchored in the pauperization of the society
as a whole which the youth particularly.
This does not fully apply to the Gulf region
where the youth are undergoing also, I mean,
from material that I work and I know of --
the youth itself is undergoing quite a lot
of the issue of the need to voice.
>> Rhami Khouri: Of what?
>> To voice, to have a say and
this is the beginning of that.
Do you sense that sort of
differentiation in the Arab world?
I mean, the Gulf region is not exactly
the same story that you have given
in the other parts of the Arab world.
>> Rhami Khouri: That, that's right.
And I didn't have enough time
but the statistics are if you go
to the Gallup report for Silatech, it's online.
It's very, very important data and
is differentiated into high income,
middle income, low income countries.
So for instance the desire to immigrate I
said is 30% across the board on average.
In the Gulf countries it's only about
5 or 6% because they're wealthy,
they feel that their needs are
met, there's no need to immigrate.
They can get jobs automatically.
And the non-oil countries, the poorer countries,
it's 40% or higher so the average is 30.
So there clearly is a differentiation.
This is not a uniform region.
There are big difference with -- and the
differences are mainly based on income.
You fi- you find that gender, there
are some differences based on gender.
There are some differences based on
geographical location but it's income
that is the main defining factor that creates
differences in people's attitudes or behavior
and people in the Gulf, you know,
the Gulf region we have to be aware.
I mean, they've only really been developing
at a serious national level
for probably two generations.
I mean, it's only really since the 50's or
60's or even some of them even later than that
with the oil boom that they really
started developing on a national scale.
Others, the Saudis and Kuwaitis
from the 50's and --
but these are young countries and they've been
so absorbed in a rapid process of state building
and in many cases making a lot of money that
they haven't paid attention to other issues.
But I think we're now seeing among
people in the Gulf and other places signs
of a desire even among wealthy people that they
want to manifest all of their human dimensions.
To think, to speak, to read different opinions,
to have a view on things, to have a debate,
to have a discussion -- they shouldn't
be prevented from doing these things
so I think we're seeing signs of
that but it's strongest in the,
in the poorer countries, definitely.
>> Thanks for that very interesting talk, Rhami.
I also have a question about the Gulf states.
You had the model in which you described
the monarch, the market, and the mosque as,
as emerging in a, as an analog
to a checks and balances system
but in the Gulf I was thinking similar
to the person (inaudible) that my,
my perception is just who are they?
Do they function more like the three pillars
of, of, of the ruling coalition in a sense
that the mosque legitimated the monarch
and the monarchs relatives had
a commanding role in the market.
And so I was going to ask particularly
on the, with respect to the relationship
between the mosque and the monarch in the Gulf
states, whether you see a significant changes
over the past decade in the, you know, in the
opinions of sort of ordinary, ordinary Muslims
and the leaders of the clerical establishment.
And whether you see that
change as having locations
for the political during those countries.
>> Rhami Khouri: Okay.
Is this mic on?
Can you hear it if I just speak like this?
>> Rhami Khouri: Is this for Homeland Security?
No, I'm just joking.
( Laughter )
That's a joke.
That was a joke if anybody from
Homeland Security was listening.
(Laughter) The, the Gulf is very
different, clearly, because of the wealth,
the young age of these countries,
the small size of them.
I made a calculation a few years
ago which was a little bit sort
of me- not mean but a little sensitive.
But I -- but I made a calculation.
This was back in the s- in the 70's that in
one small Gulf state which I will not mention
that you could put the entire population
of the indigenous natives on the fleet
of one major international airline.
And so you're not dealing
with large populations.
You're dealing with very small populations,
very young countries actively involved
in not just the state building
but creating an identity.
And you have great variations across
the regions, there's no doubt about it.
You take some Gulf countries like Kuwait
and if you look at the election results
or Bahrain you see the involvement
of the powerful role
of the monarchy, the political authority.
You see the religious groups
either aligned with the authority
or in some cases more conservative
than it and challenging it.
Or involved in some Islamist political parties
which you can see in places like Kuwait
or Bahrain where you have some public politics.
In other countries, you don't have public
politics and you don't have any kind
of public activism at a political level.
It just doesn't exist in countries
like Qatar, U.A.E., and Oman,
there is no political infrastructure.
But in Kuwait and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia
to some extent, you see signs of this
and it manifests itself through the
Islamic groups and manifests itself
through business groups, the private
sector and through the ruling elite.
So it varies a lot.
There isn't one model.
I just mentioned these three groups as the three
broad conglomerations of power and legitimacy
and authority that you can see
in every, in every country.
( Silence )
>> Hello. Thanks for that talk.
I'm wondering if you would have some idea
of how much money from the U.S., you know,
take all the money in all the
military that's been there
and how many Arabs has that money killed?
>> Rhami Khouri: How many what?
>> Arabs has that money killed?
>> Rhami Khouri: You could
probably (technical difficulty)
( Silence )
>> It's hard to trace it
back to any one country.
You really have to spread
the blame around, I think.
Clearly there's a problem with Arab governments
spending hundreds and hundreds of billions
of dollars on buying imported arms from the
U.S., and the U.S. the importer-exporter,
but Russia, the Europeans, everybody sells.
And in the end when they feel a little threat,
they feel threatened as recently we saw
on the Wiki leaks, some Arab leaders
worried about Iran, they go to the U.S.
and they say, "Please, do the job for us."
Or even they turn to the, they
say, if the Israelis are going
to do it, let them do it quickly.
So I think there's a question about, you
know, the armaments that have been bought
from the U.S. and others, how much use are they.
I think the question of how many people have
died and who is responsible for that really has
to be seen in the context of culpability
that has to be shared by many people.
I think the main ones would be the, the
Arab governments and the Israeli government
in terms of wars and active killings.
You have to really look within the region.
And the United States has a
role, the British have a role.
I mean, you can blame the British and the
French for a lot of historical hangovers.
The fact that we have all these tensions
and conflicts is partly due
to the historical legacy.
So there's a lot of blame
to go around but I think...
>> (Inaudible) say is within the last 10 years?
>> Rhami Khouri: Pardon?
>> Within the last 10 years.
>> Rhami Khouri: Well, in the last 10 years
if you're talking about the war in Iraq
and other things then you're
probably talking of a couple
of hundred thousand people
possibly but who knows?
I mean, this is contested.
But a lot, I mean, a lot
of people have been killed.
I think that we, we really, we need to do
these analyses very accurately and carefully.
It's really important to make sure that when,
if we do a calculation like that and say, "Okay,
we can blame the U.S. for
this amount of dead Arabs."
If that can be done, it really
needs to be done with great care.
I couldn't possibly give you a figure right now.
I mean, even the number of Iraqis
that have been killed is disputed.
The scholars who study these things
keep having a different formula for how
to calculate the number of people who have died
and of those who died, how many can be blamed
on Iraqi causes, other regional players?
And if you talk about the Arab-Israeli
conflict then where do you put the blame?
On the Arab leaders, on Israel, on
-- so it's very, very complicated.
And I, I think, you know, one of our
challenges is to understand the problems
that have brought us here,
to understand these forces.
And that's what I tried to do a little bit.
Say, "Well, here's a bunch
of reasons how we got here."
But I think we really have to focus on
how to we get out of this mess and we get
out of this mess I think by basically trying
to apply the rule of law evenly for everybody,
to have one standard of law and morality
and that applies to U.N. resolutions.
It applies to peaceful use of nuclear energy.
It applies to security guarantees.
It applies to national self-determination.
I mean, in all of these areas, Arabs,
Israelis, Iranians, Turks, Cypriots, Americans,
everybody needs to feel that they are
being treated according to a single,
common standard of law and
morality and that's not the case.
And that's why we have all of these tensions.
So I think it's really critical to understand
the issues of how we got here and the waste
of money and human deaths, etcetera.
But not to get stuck in that
and to try to figure
out well how do we prevent
that from happening again?
You know, you know, hundreds of
thousands of people have died
in the Middle East in the last two generations.
So how do we reduce that
death toll as we look ahead?
( Technical difficulty )
>> ...some questions regarding
Lebanon and the issues in Lebanon
that could potentially influence
the broader Middle East.
The first question is regarding the
Hariri assassination and the recent issues
with the tribunal that have gotten even
its neighbors talking including Israel.
How do you see the, the tribunal affecting
not only Lebanon but the broader Middle East,
specifically, what are your
predications on what, what,
what the tribunal will discover
and, and what are the effects of it?
And then my second question is regarding
Wiki leaks, a specific Wiki leak that came
out last night about Saudi Arabia wanting to
develop an Arab army to counter Hezbollah.
Do you see that as feasible, number one?
And number two, is that an, an inter-Arab
conflict, a conflict between Iran and the Arabs,
or a conflict between pro-Western and
anti-Western forces in the region?
>> Rhami Khouri: Which was that last one?
( Technical difficulty )
>> ...the Western forces in the region.
>> Rhami Khouri: The -- which
country are you talking about?
>> The, the, idea that Saudi Arabia
wants to develop an Arab army and to...
>> Rhami Khouri: To fight Hezbollah.
Okay, I just heard about that briefly.
I haven't actually read the story.
There's a lot of people in the Arab
world who are critical of Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia hinted back in the 2006
war when Israel was fighting Hezbollah,
the Saudis made a hint that
Hezbollah shouldn't have done this,
that they were critical of Hezbollah.
And many people in the Arab world
openly criticize Hezbollah now.
You have to excuse my eating, I have a bit of
an allergy so I'm, I'm not being disrespectful
but I don't want to lose my voice.
Though maybe if somebody wanted
me to lose my voice but then...
(laughter) -- too late.
There's many people who are
critical of Hezbollah.
And, and this -- I said that you have this
alignment of groups in this kind of new Cold War
in the region with the Iranians,
Syrians, Hezbollah, Hamas,
nationalists, all kinds of groups on one side.
On the other side you have conservative
Arab groups, the U.S., Europeans,
sometimes with Israel, different alignments
of pro-Western forces in the Arab world
who are critical of the Islamists,
critical of Iran.
They, they are now fighting each other in many
different ways, sometimes actively militarily
when there's a military fight like
in Yemen or in Lebanon once or twice.
But they do it mostly ideologically
through the media, culturally,
and diplomatically and in other ways.
And, you know, if they -- I
don't know if there's truth --
the report about the Saudis is true.
It shouldn't be surprising.
The Saudis have expressed their
concerns about movements like Hezbollah.
The Saudis have clearly expressed their
concerns about what Iran is doing and we have,
thanks to the U.S. invasion of Iraq,
we have allowed what had been a
low-intensity Shiite-Sunni theological tension
and cultural tension to emerge into a full-blown
public exercise of ethnic cleansing and,
and, and barbarism on both sides.
People in Iraq particularly but you see
in other places killing each other just
because they are Sunnis and Shiites.
We never had this kind of level of
conflict in the Arab world before.
The tensions that were there between Sunnis and
Shiites were, were, were of a different nature.
And so this is just a reflection of
this bigger problem that we have --
the Iranian influence with
various Shiite Arab groups.
But it's not just Shiites because Iran
is close to Hamas and there's many Arabs
who are not Shiites who like what Iran is
doing so I think we've got to be very careful
about the, you know, Saudi
Hezbollah or Shiite-Sunni tension.
They are much broader than that.
I don't -- Hezbollah is a very strong
group but it is not invincible.
If, if, if people want to create armies to fight
it and if you get a coalition of Arabs and,
and Israelis and Americans and
Westerners who want to fight Hezbollah,
they can probably defeat it one day and
there is a small number of people --
but the damage would be so enormous that it
would set off a regional conflagration probably.
So I don't think there's a military solution to
the political reality that Hezbollah represents.
Hezbollah represents a political reality
which I alluded to briefly of this sense
of defiance and, and of resistance
that demands respect to achieve rights.
And I think that co- that linear process
of resistance and a sense of righteousness
to achieve, to, to get respect to achieve
your rights is what helps us understand a lot
of what's going on in the Middle East.
The answer I think, the better answer is to
ask, well, what is Hezbollah trying to do?
What does Hezbollah represent?
And other groups like it in the region?
What do the Iranians want?
Not to just say these are bad people or they are
evil people or they are terrorists or whatever
or point out some statement they made
in 1982 and say they are anti-Semites
or they are anti this or they are
anti that, say what do they want?
By talking to them first of all and
understanding what they want and then saying,
"Okay, here's 10 things that
they say they want."
How many of those things are
reasonable and legitimate?
Is there an international consensus
for what they are asking for
or are they just outrageously
crazy, violent people?
I think that kind of exercise is much more
useful to engage them in some kind of process
that provides for all sides what I said before
-- the application of a single standard of law
and morality, for Iran, for
Israel, for Hezbollah,
for Saudi Arabia, for the U.S., for everybody.
That's a much better way to
try to address the issue than,
you know, getting armies to attack people.
And the cost of, of, of regional
warfare now will be much,
much higher than anything
that we've seen before.
The Lebanon tribunal issue is a
very significant historical issue.
It represents the culmination of tensions and
pressures that I believe have been building
up in the region for a couple of hundred years.
The -- Hezbollah represents the,
represents the high watermark
of indigenous Islamic Arab nationalist
resistance to Western intervention
and the tribunal is a symbolic representation
of a century of Western intervention
in our region and the two are now clashing.
The tribunal is a security council.
Unanimous, legitimate resolution being
implemented to find the killers of Hariri
and hold them accountable in a fair court and
the majority of Lebanese want that to happen.
They don't want these killings to go on.
But there are people who are critical
of what the tribunal is doing.
Hezbollah and others, they've raised
serious objections so I think it's a --
you have to separate the political
process from the legal process somehow.
Holding people accountable to the rule of
law needs to be done but it's got to be done
on the basis of a convincing
process of investigation,
production of evidence, and holding a trial.
There are serious complaints about whether this
process up to now has been fair, transparent,
and equitable and these complaints
need to be addressed.
They are serious complaints.
You can't railroad this tribunal and
just ram it down the throats of people.
So I think this is a complicated
process that needs
to be separated from political and legal issues.
It's also become a symbol of
this wider regional Cold War.
The Syrians and the, and Hezbollah believe that
the tribunal and the investigation were designed
from the beginning to, to get
the Syrians and to get Hezbollah
and therefore they are fighting back.
So it's extremely complicated,
very delicate moment.
If it's not handled well, it could lead to
again great problems, fighting in Lebanon
which might spread to other places.
The good news is that the Syrians and the
Saudis, the two poles of Arab ideology,
are working together very closely to
minimize the potential for an explosion.
They understand how serious
it would be if it happened.
They are working together very closely to
minimize that and there's active engagement
with the Iranians and the Lebanese
and the Americans and everybody.
So it's an extremely complicated situation.
I believe that they will come
up with a solution that allows
for a reasonable implementation of justice...
>> Norman Bishara: Rhami, thank
you so much but we're out of time.
We appreciate your...
>> Rhami Khouri: Thank you.
Thank you very much.
( Applause - Inaudible )