Amy Hawthorne is the Deputy Director for Research at the Project on Middle East Democracy.
Abdullah Akayleh is the former Jordanian minister of education and former member of parliament for the Islamic Action Front. Shafeeq Ghabra is director of the Kuwait Information Office and professor of political science at Kuwait University. Lisa Anderson is dean of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Amy Hawthorne is a Soref fellow at The Washington Institute. Chas W. Freeman is the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Hassan Nafaa is chairman of the department of political science at Cairo University.
Robert Satloff, The Washington Institute: I would like to start by rereading what I
thought was the most important set of sentences from the president's State of the
Union address earlier this year. Then, I will turn to my colleagues for their impressions on that text and on the overall issue that we are addressing today:
America will always stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity,
the rule of law, the limits on the power of the state, and the respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance. America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate these values around the world,
including the Islamic world, because we have a greater objective than eliminating
threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond
the war on terror.
With this statement, the president signaled a new American approach toward engagement
with the Islamic world. Whether that approach is translated into practice is an
issue that we will talk about today. Let me turn to my colleagues for their reactions to this
challenge, most acutely defined in the context of the Middle East today.
Lisa Anderson: Like many who have attended to the Middle East for a long time, I
welcomed the president's declaration, but I also met it with a great deal of skepticism.
This is not a set of goals that has been consistently supported in the region by
the United States. It would constitute a very significant change in American policy
toward the region, and it could conceivably come at considerable cost to the stability
of some of our allies. So, as much as we may desire renewed attention to issues
associated with human rights, it is going to be an extremely complicated agenda,
and not one that this administration has necessarily thought through on the implementation
side. As long as this kind of declaration remains rhetoric that we do not
seriously pursue, it undermines American credibility and it undermines those values
that we care about promoting in the region. So, on the one hand, we can view
this declaration with considerable excitement and hope, but given the track record
of the United States in the region, we also have to worry that we are not quite as
serious as we should be.
Satloff: Shafeeq, what is your reaction to the president's comments?
Shafeeq Ghabra: This speech was like a vision statement, and I share some of Lisa's
doubts about seriousness on the implementation side. But at the same time, more
than 60 percent of the Arab world is under the age of twenty-five, and both the Arab
and Muslim worlds have the potential to move in the direction of democratization
and change. We are approaching reality, yet there is a whole range of intermediate
issues -- for example, the Palestinian situation, not as we see it today, but as it could
be in the future.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has not been a liberalizing conflict in the region. It has
hardened people. Today it is Ariel Sharon reoccupying the Palestinian areas. Tomorrow,
it will be the Palestinians attacking the Israelis. And there seems to be no way
out of this cycle that creates greater conservatism, anger, and conflict, none of which
are conducive to democratization and liberalism. If democracy is the objective, managing
the Palestinian issue is going to be a central theme. It is very much intertwined
with all of the issues in the Arab world as we see them today.
Dealing with the Palestinian issue would bring about calmness, peace, tranquility,
and prosperity between Palestinians and Israelis that would ultimately contribute
to greater regional stability. Today, fringe groups have taken over in the Arab
world. Fringe groups always find ways of surviving, and they have taken over in Israel
as well. In conflict, the minority becomes the majority; but in peace and prosperity,
there is an opportunity to bring back the center. Only with a genuine center that is
connected to a grassroots reality can such a vision evolve.
Satloff: Ambassador Freeman? Your response to the president's declaration?
Chas W. Freeman: The State of the Union address is a message delivered to Americans,
not to foreigners, although foreigners listen. I doubt very much that this particular
paragraph of the president's speech was much noted in the region. To the
extent that it was, however, I agree with the content of the remarks made so far. It
will be seen, particularly in the Arab world, as yet another instance of lofty American
ideals that are colliding with tactics.
As you read part of the president's speech, it occurred to me that Hanan Ashrawi,
and other moderates on the Palestinian side, could easily endorse every sentiment
in that text and apply it to the occupation -- to the injustice; to the disrespect for
private property, women, human rights, rule of law, and democracy that is inherent
So in this speech we have a sentiment that strongly resonates with us as Americans:
foreigners object to who we are and what we believe. On the contrary, I do
not think Arabs object to who we are and what we believe. I think that they
object to our failure to live up to our own stated beliefs and standards; they
dislike what we do, not who we are. This kind of speech will therefore be seen as
yet another instance of blindness on our part and failure to implement our own
Satloff: So, we have skepticism so far. Professor Nafaa?
Hassan Nafaa: I will not disappoint you; I, too, share this skepticism. As to the statement
as a whole, all peoples share this hope. Everyone would like to see democratic
regimes rule, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but everywhere. You will nevertheless
find a lot of skepticism, because once you have democratic ideals that
conflict with other objectives of American foreign policy -- such as oil supply or the
security of Israel -- the United States sacrifices the former, being much more keen to
achieve the latter. Is there a commitment to restructure the agenda of U.S. foreign
policy objectives? I am not so sure.
Satloff: Amy, do you share this skepticism, based on your observation of U.S. policy
over the past several years?
Amy Hawthorne: Some in the foreign-policy community are starting to address more
vigorously the question of how the political and economic situation in the Arab
world affects U.S. interests. For a long time the question of Arab democratization
was largely off the table. It was not that people thought the lack of democracy in the
Arab world was unimportant; rather, it was not seen as an urgent issue for U.S. policy. I
do not believe it is viewed as an urgent question yet, but it is on the table now in
There is a certain irony to the president's comments in both his State of the
Union address and his Rose Garden remarks, in the sense that this particular moment
is an inauspicious time for the United States to embark on a major democracy promotion
campaign in the region.
There were many openings during the last decade for the United States to do
something, but unfortunately, Washington did not seize those openings. Given the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. campaign against terrorism, and the current
anti-American mood in the region, any strong U.S. initiative will not find as receptive
an audience as it once might have. So the debate going on in Washington is
somewhat disconnected from the actual mood in the region right now.
Even though what the president said has not yet become operational, it is important
to look closely at his comments. In the State of the Union address, he did
not mention political participation and electoral democracy as U.S. priorities. He
talked about other elements of democracy, but not political participation. He did
not call for competitive elections tomorrow in any of these countries.
The themes that he mentioned have to do with how Arab governments treat
their own people. Rather than political participation, the president emphasized the
rights of individuals living in the Arab world. This is an interesting theme for the
United States to explore; it is an issue that matters a lot in the Arab region.
Satloff: Professor Akayleh, how do you interpret the president's remarks?
Abdullah Akayleh: In the name of Allah, the merciful and the compassionate, peace
be upon you.
I am happy to hear this announcement by the president concerning U.S. support
for freedom, justice, the rule of law, respect for women, and democracy all over
the world. But to be frank with you, it is anti-America to push for democracy in Arab countries. The type of regime that can maintain power and good relations with
America will not win elections.
We see the boiling "street" in the Arab and Muslim worlds. America claims to
support justice, freedom, democracy, and objectivity, but Arabs feel that American
foreign policy is not consistent when it comes to Arab and Muslim interests. The
United States and Arab nations do share mutual interests, but Arabs often see that
their mutual interests with the United States are abandoned in favor of Washington's
mutual interests with Israel. So they are suspicious of the president's stance on democratic
values in the Arab world.
Satloff: So we have across-the-board skepticism. The U.S. record on promoting political
reform in the Arab world over the last two decades may justify this level of
Is promoting reform the right thing to do? Should promoting democracy, or
even the precursors of democracy, be a higher priority for U.S. foreign policy? What
are the relative weights between values and strategies in the advancement of American
interests in the Middle East?
Freeman: Respect for private property is not deeply entrenched in the Islamic religious
tradition. Nor is respect for the rule of law.
We also have to note that, in fact, American policy over the last few decades has
been to oppose democratization in the Islamic world. Take, for example, American
connivance with the French in setting aside the results of the democratic election in
Algeria. Witness the opposition in the secular state of Turkey to various Islamic parties,
presumably on the basis of the same theory that prevailed among Protestant
northern Europeans in the nineteenth century with regard to Christian democracy --
that it was an oxymoron, that there could be no union of Catholicism and democracy
because Catholicism was inherently antidemocratic. And yet Christian
democratic parties now play an important role throughout our hemisphere and in
What is required in the Muslim world is an Islamic democratic party. It is anomalous
that the United States, whenever presented with the opportunity to test whether
such a thing is possible, has invariably opted to oppose it.
As Amy remarked earlier, this is a peculiar moment indeed to be talking about
promoting democratic rule in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Were there a democracy
in Egypt or in Jordan, there would be no diplomatic relations with Israel at present.
Were there a democracy in Saudi Arabia, it would have broken with the United
States long ago, on Israel and other issues. And the extent to which American presence
and influence in the region is dependent on relations with elites and ruling
families rather than with the masses is particularly striking at this moment.
At least in the case of Saudi Arabia, reform has always come from the top down.
It has been [members of] the ruling family that have sought to liberalize society and to open it up,
sometimes paying, as in the case of King Faisal, with their lives for doing so. The
masses have resisted innovations like universal education for women, wider consultation
mechanisms, or the introduction of television, which was the immediate cause
of King Faisal's assassination.
In the end, no one outside any of these countries can impose anything on them.
But there are those, including some of the rulers, who would like to see some liberalization.
I believe the United States could, in normal times, work closely and effectively
with these rulers to promote reform and innovation. Not now, unfortunately.
Satloff: In the post-September 11 environment, Americans have an interest in corners
of Saudi society -- education, culture, and politics -- that we used to avoid for
fear of upsetting larger regional interests. Is it legitimate for us to focus on these
things? Should these areas now have a higher priority in our discussions with the
Saudis and other countries of the region?
Anderson: If the United States does not focus on the things you mention, we will pay
a price. Yes, this is an odd time to be thinking about these issues, but it will not
become any easier if we wait. We should seize this moment and start thinking about
what our real interests are in the region. Chas referred to nineteenth-century Europe.
Arabs now have a similar opportunity to reform themselves away from revolution.
If they do not, these regimes will not be stable features of the region during
the next fifty years.
Arab democratization will be extremely difficult. The United States will see widespread
anti-Americanism as soon as press censorship is lifted. And we will see real
challenges to the foreign policy positions of many of these regimes as soon as people
have an opportunity to freely express their opinion. But the alternative is pretending
that none of these challenges exist, which is what we've been doing for the last
twenty or twenty-five years.
The distinction between a human rights agenda [and] a democratization
agenda is an important one. It might be one of the ways to start thinking about
the subtleties available to Arab governments and to the American foreign-policy
establishment in approaching issues that have to be confronted -- without necessarily
demanding free and fair elections tomorrow.
Satloff: Amy, if you were to advise the administration, how would you translate the
president's position into practice? Would you focus first on countries that are the
most egregious violators of human rights, such as Iraq? Or would you focus on countries
that are making some progress -- in order to have a shining example to show
the rest of the region that it can be done?
Hawthorne: Instant electoral democracy is clearly not the immediate answer to the
challenges that the Arab world faces. But it is equally clear that the absence of electoral
democracy affects all of these challenges. We can close our eyes to the lack of
democracy, or we can try to think about it in new ways, but it is there.
The United States seems to treat democracy in the Arab world as if it were in limited
supply -- as if there were only enough democracy-oriented diplomacy to go around
to a few countries at once. We need a new strategy that integrates these issues into
our policy objectives throughout the region. Of course the region is incredibly diverse,
with different issues and contexts for U.S. policy in each country. So, there can
be no one-size-fits-all approach. But to think of democratization as something that we can pursue only in a few countries, when it is a pressing need throughout the
entire region, is very shortsighted.
Satloff: Our three Arab guests come from three very different political experiences.
I'd like to get a bit more specific about the political contexts from which they come
Dr. Akayleh, you represented the Islamic Action Front, an offshoot of the Muslim
Brotherhood, in Jordan's parliament. You were a minister representing the party
in government in 1990. How would you explain to an American audience what democracy
would look like in Jordan if, say, the Muslim Brotherhood or the Islamic
Action Front were the dominant party?
Akayleh: Does America believe in democracy as a concrete political objective? Or is
it a tool used to remove regimes that conflict with American interests? If it is an
objective, it should be supported in whatever form it comes -- communist, Islamist,
nationalist, liberal, whatever. But let me be more practical, and assume that Washington
is mainly concerned with its own interests.
If the Islamists come to power in Jordan, what could happen? Many journalists,
experts, and analysts try to warn the West that if Islamists come to power, they will be
your enemies. That is not true. If we all support the rule of law, justice, fair and free
elections, human rights, and if we are against corruption, and if we all maintain such
values, what will come between us? Why should you and I be enemies if we believe in
human rights and that human beings cannot live civilized lives without such values?
We participated in government and nothing bad happened. To the contrary,
when we came into power the government began to overcome corruption and increase
official responsibility and accountability.
Jordan began to enjoy a clean atmosphere, free from corruption. People began
to see that Islamists were pushing an agenda that was in the public interest. Before
we joined the government, there was autocracy. There was so much corruption.
There was no accountability.
Satloff: Shafeeq, you are a liberal reformer. How would you characterize governments
that include Islamic parties in the majority?
Ghabra: Across the Arab region, we see unbelievable politicization, heightened emotions,
and feelings of helplessness. Prime Minister Sharon's invasion of cities and
towns in the West Bank in the spring of 2002 has led to widespread demonstrations:
1 million people in Morocco, 8,000 in Kuwait, more in Bahrain. So the question
becomes, "What is democracy?" Could democracy be the young demonstrators in
the Arab world who seek fulfillment and empowerment? Is democracy the liberalization
that exists today in Lebanon or Jordan? Is democracy equated with the parliament
and the elections that have already taken place in some Arab countries? Is it
a matter of improving what already exists? We are not beginning from zero, but we
still have a long way to go.
Kuwait also has a parliament, and though Islamists dominate the Kuwaiti parliament,
there is a civil society and a true debate. If parliament becomes too aggressive on certain issues, civil society can stand up and express itself. There was a proposal
for women to vote in Kuwait. The government wanted it. Parliament vetoed it. Next
time, people will work harder for it.
Democracy will not emerge in the context of a narrow U.S. foreign policy. If a
foreign policy says one day, "Yes to democracy in Iraq, but not in other places," it will
not work. Neither will a foreign policy that says, "Democracy in the Arab world, but
not for the Palestinians." There must be a genuine paradigm shift in U.S. foreign
policy as well as in the Arab world.
I sometimes wonder whether the Algerian election results should have been left
to stand. Because the elections were quashed, a civil war erupted that was far worse
than any mistakes an elected Islamist regime might have made. Such a government
could have been confronted; it could have matured.
We also have experience with Iran. There are two genuine centers of power in
Iran. It is not a democracy. Iran, like the Arab world, will get to democracy through
a process. It will be no less painful than the processes that Western civilization has
gone through. Maybe it will be easier for Arabs in certain ways, for we have models
to follow, but democracy will come at a price.
In the end, yes, Islamists will have to play their role in society along with liberals
and everyone else. We must confront that fact even as we confront Islamists over
public issues. Such confrontations contribute to the maturity of society.
Satloff: By pointing out the Iranian case, you underscore one of the best arguments
for a greater American push toward democracy. Iran has two governments. One --
the external government -- sends missiles to Lebanon, seeks to proliferate nuclear
weapons, and promotes terrorism. The United States would like to see that government
go away. The government at home -- the reformist government -- represents
75 percent or more of the Iranian people. That is the government Washington would
like to promote.
Does this mean that America should become even more engaged in the affairs
of Middle Eastern countries? Whenever America does get more engaged -- if it brings
up an Egyptian professor who has been incarcerated, if it suggests that Egyptians
should vote -- then many in the region accuse Washington of meddling in their internal
So, which is it? Should the United States be active in promoting democracy, or
should Washington stay away?
Nafaa: I assure you, I have been very critical of the Egyptian government, even publishing
articles personally critical of President Hosni Mubarak, and I have not been
Professor Ghabra touched upon a crucial point. Democracy is a historical process
that should come from within a society. If you do not have the social balances
that are required to sustain such a democracy, it will never prevail.
Another point is absolutely important. Why is it up to the United States alone to
follow the noble objective of promoting democracy and defending human rights?
This should be the responsibility of the entire international community. If you carefully
read the United Nations (UN) Charter, you will find at least twenty passages talking about respect for human rights. All of the UN member countries are committed
under international law to respect human rights. If America adopts this as an
international responsibility, it can work from within the United Nations -- including
invoking UN authority for intervention.
The United States has a variety of things that it can do in a responsible way, but
Washington prefers to work alone. My question is, "Why?" Why this insistence that
the United States should act alone, should intervene unilaterally in the internal
affairs of other states? Why does America not make democracy an international
responsibility, working with the United Nations to promote liberalization? This would
It is also important to consider the Arab world in its own specific context. Egypt,
for example, is an interesting country. It has existed for thousands of years. It is very
centralized. Egypt had a very promising democratic experience between the two
world wars that failed because of external factors, not because of failures from within.
Those external, antidemocratic factors continue to this day. I can give you hundreds
of examples in which the process of democracy in the region has been arrested
because the West preferred to propagate peace with Israel at the expense of
Anwar Sadat is beloved in the United States. Yet in 1979, after signing the Camp
David peace treaty, Sadat amended Egypt's constitution in a nondemocratic way in
order to preserve the peace process.
Satloff: Professor Anderson, if you wanted to promote the president's agenda on
democratization, how would you do it? Would you have a "shining city on the hill"
strategy, trying to build a successful democratic Arab state as an example for the
others? Or would you look for small victories?
Anderson: U.S. strategy has to reflect America's commitment to certain values. Assume
for the moment that Washington actually cares about these values. It does not
seem to me that the United States can afford to be particularly selective, and put all
of its eggs in just a few baskets because it thinks that some countries are more likely
to succeed or to yield strategic benefits.
Some countries are more open than others. They have active human-rights movements
and clear partners with whom Washington can work. Those countries offer a
set of opportunities, but that does not mean you can write off everyone else because
their terrain is not fertile enough.
There are human rights groups in Egypt, for example. And where there are not
human rights groups, Washington should say to governments across the board, "One
of the things we expect to see is space where groups like that can operate."
In the early 1990s, there were a number of liberalization efforts in the Arab
world. Many of them are seen in retrospect as having been completely cynical on
the part of both the local governments and their American and European supporters.
So Americans need to be careful to articulate why they are promoting democracy
again, and whether there is any way to persuade Arab peoples that this is not
just another cynical effort to make their governments look better without making
them be any better qualitatively.
Satloff: It is fair to say that Americans are looking with renewed scrutiny at Arab
politics, society, and culture. One U.S. official spoke to this Institute several months
ago and said that in order to protect the way Americans live, it has to help change
the way Arabs live.
Americans hear all sorts of things from the Arab media, and whether or not
these expressions reflect the views of local governments they certainly have a conditioning
effect on the local environments. Americans now view these expressions in a
national-security context, not merely in the context of local politics.
What lessons do most Arabs and Muslims take from September 11? There has
been much criticism of American policy. Is there any sense of introspection?
Ghabra: September 11 took everyone by surprise in America, but it took everyone
by surprise in the Arab and Islamic worlds as well. We have seen a war in Afghanistan
as a result, and we have seen some shifts in U.S. foreign policy. There is a feeling
that perhaps the American psyche was injured in that event.
But when I look at the Arab world, I also see an injured nation, whose psyche is
wounded at a deep level. The injury is historical. It is political. It flows from the
complex relationship with the West. It flows from relations with Israel: defeat after
defeat in war after war. And, in the Palestinian experience, occupation after occupation.
In the end, Arabs are left with a feeling of helplessness and impotence.
When I look at the demonstrations in the Arab world today, I have never seen so
much anger. I have never seen so much criticism -- even open defiance -- of Arab
leaders and rulers. I hear words I have never before heard uttered about Arab leaders
by young people. This is a dramatic time.
Anger is there. Rebellion is there. Defiance is there. The need for change is
there. The need for democracy is there. The need for peace and economic development
is there. All the ingredients of bad and good, evil and non-evil, are there.
In terms of the cultural effects of September 11, Arabs have quite a load of work
to do. We will have to deal with how we interpret and practice Islam, not in the
religious sense, but in the political sense of how we debate with each other and
manage the issues of the day.
These questions are, in essence, about modernity. They are central to where we
want to be as Muslims and as Arabs. The answers have to come from within. Help
from the outside is important, but the central factor will be internal.
Sometimes help from the outside is counterproductive. There are cases of human
rights in the Arab world where outsiders making too much noise while the
process is ongoing actually undermine that process.
Satloff: I was in Amman in the summer of 2001 with a group of American journalists.
We had a lovely dinner party. In attendance were one former speaker of parliament,
two former government ministers, and one former high-level member of the
Muslim Brotherhood. In the middle of our dinner conversation, very nonchalantly,
a kindly gentleman said, "You know, suicide bombing is perfectly legitimate against
all Israeli civilians." Children, he said, are legitimate targets because they will grow
up to be soldiers. Old people, because they once were soldiers. Civilians, because
they might be in the reserves.
He said this in a matter-of-fact way, and I took him at his word. Dr. Akayleh, did
September 11 cause any introspection among Jordan's Islamic movement?
Akayleh: It is very telling that we have strayed from the topic of democracy and
moved into the Palestinian issue. Only after this problem is resolved can America
effectively promote its democratic values. The Palestinian issue lies at the heart of
the Islamic and Arab worlds, and while it persists, the boiling Arab street will drown
out any announcement President George W. Bush will make about reform.
Palestinians have lived for about fifty-five years as refugees moving from camp to
camp. They have been bombed, killed, and transferred from country to country.
They find their land occupied. Their farms are gone. Their families are killed, and
looking around the Arab world, they do not find any help. The psyches of some
Palestinians have reached a state that says, "I have had enough of this life. I want to
go to Paradise." It is as simple as that. They feel that this is the only chance they have
to confront the military force that occupies their land.
Otherwise, no one could produce a legitimate answer for the suicide killing
because Islam prohibits suicide.
September 11 did not change the Arab psyche very much. The major problem
perceived by Islamists is that the United States stands against their interests, their
values, and their cause. They do not believe the United States will give any Islamic
society the chance to have realistic, fair, and free elections because Washington might
think the results will be contrary to American interests.
So Arabs feel gypped. They feel oppressed. They feel that America treats them
with a double standard. People on the street believe that the United States uses
human-rights issues mainly as a stick against any country that might stray from American
interests, not really as a tool to promote freedom.
Satloff: Ambassador Freeman, is it legitimate for Americans to focus on internal
cultural affairs, including tolerance and education, in a place like Saudi Arabia?
Have Saudis done any serious introspection on this set of issues since September 11?
Freeman: I urge anyone who has not done so to read the most profoundly self-reflective
speech by a political leader that I have seen in the last quarter-century:
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah's December 2001 address to the Gulf Cooperation
Council summit in Muscat. In that speech he calls for Arabs and Muslims to
examine their own consciences and practices and to accept part of the blame for
the sad state of affairs between them and the rest of the world. More to the point,
concrete steps have been taken to implement his vision. Let me outline a few of
It seems to be a basic law of human knowledge that the less time people spend
in Saudi Arabia, the more they know about its educational curriculum and social
practices. I am not impressed by the conventional wisdom in the United States, even
among so-called experts on this issue.
First, the Saudis have quietly conducted a high-level review of their curriculum
under the chairmanship of Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister. The Saudis
have eliminated about 5 percent of the material and placed another 15 percent under continuing review. The government has even suspended some teachers who
were overstepping the bounds.
Second, Saudis and other Gulf Arabs were shocked by the level of ignorance
and antipathy displayed by Americans toward them and toward Islam after September
11. The connection between Islam and suicide bombing is a false connection.
Kamikaze pilots were not Muslims. And in the Palestinian arena, it is an issue of
nationalism, not religion. Secular Palestinians are increasingly adopting this tactic.
Islam completely condemns the idea of suicide. Indeed, the ulama throughout
the region, the Grand Mufti in Saudi Arabia, and other religious leaders throughout
the Gulf condemned suicide carried out for this purpose and issued statements
of sympathy to the United States and the American people within days of September
11. None of this was reported in the U.S. press.
Saudi Arabia, which has historically been much more difficult for journalists to
get to than Tibet, has recently been quite open to journalists. Western journalists
have turned from criticizing Saudi Arabia for imaginary faults to criticizing it for
real faults. That is progress. We should not criticize people we know nothing about.
Crown Prince Abdullah's peace initiative -- which would not only normalize Saudi
relations with Israel but would lead an Arab-wide effort to bring about full normalization
in the Arab world toward Israel -- is also a result of this introspection.
And what of America's lack of introspection about September 11? Instead of
asking what might have caused the attack, or questioning the propriety of the national
response to it, there is an ugly mood of chauvinism. Before Americans call on
others to examine themselves, we should examine ourselves.
Satloff: I find it difficult to accept that the people who were on the receiving end of
the September 11 attacks should begin by focusing on what they did to deserve it.
Freeman: My point is that cause and effect work both ways. They exist in both directions,
whatever the moral consequences might be.
Nafaa: I completely agree with what Ambassador Freeman has said, and he said it in
a way that I could not dare to. There are two sides to what happened on September
11. The first one is the horrible attack, which everyone condemned.
Then it was a question of who did it. Americans have many unanswered questions.
The American people, with their system of transparency, should know more
about what happened. We still do not know exactly what happened.
I am not denying that Osama bin Laden might have been behind the attacks.
But U.S. security also failed. This has not been dealt with properly. We still need to
know more about exactly what happened, who was linked to the al-Qaeda network
and so forth.
What about the role of the CIA? What about the FBI? How can the United States
spend so many billions of dollars on its security and still have a September 11? We
simply do not know exactly what happened.
Satloff: Dr. Nafaa, on behalf of all Americans, I appreciate your concern about the
state of our intelligence agencies. (Laughter.) But I think that is what, in football, we call a "fake," where you are heading one way but pretend to move in the other
Nafaa: Then I kick the ball to you.
Freeman: We should not dismiss this so quickly. I have been in the region five times
since September 11, and I can tell you that there has been a complete failure to
communicate facts. To the extent there have been legal proceedings in the United
States, they have been closed. There are an enormous number of people still under
detention who have not been charged with anything. They are not able to see lawyers,
and their names have not been made public.
Nafaa: Eight of the so-called hijackers first identified on September 11 were later
discovered to be alive and well.
Freeman: Some of the hijackers' identities do seem to have been stolen, but the
point is that Americans need to treat people in the Arab world with respect and
provide them with information.
Even on an official level, this has not been done. Arab interior ministries have
not been presented with the prosecutorial evidence Washington says it has.
Having said all that, it is very difficult for me as an American to go to the region
and hear such high levels of skepticism about the facts of September 11. I have a lot
of confidence, more confidence than Hassan, in our institutions, and I accept that
al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden almost certainly perpetrated the September 11 attacks.
Fifteen of the hijackers probably were recruited in Saudi Arabia. I accept that,
but I can tell you, it is not accepted in the Arab region. The polls show that overwhelming
numbers of people do not accept the official U.S. explanation of September
Satloff: Is that because regional governments are not doing a good job of explaining?
Freeman: No, it is because the U.S. government has not provided evidence. Americans
receive a lot of information from the press, and it is very convincing to us, but
there has been no evidence provided to Arab ministries of interior or to their national
police. Washington has not briefed Arab governments. I meet prime ministers,
deputy prime ministers, crown princes, and rulers. I ask them, "Have you had a
briefing on this, since you express skepticism?" The answer is no. All they have is a
paper that British prime minister Tony Blair released to the British press.
There is a problem here that has to do with the conduct of American foreign
policy and diplomacy in the face of deep suspicion, even paranoia, in the Arab
Nafaa: I want to differentiate between what happened on September 11 and how
Americans reacted to it. Was the U.S. response the right response to terrorism?
What is terrorism? How should it be dealt with? What is the world's responsibility in
People in the Arab world do not understand why the United States insists on
going it alone, or almost alone. Egypt suffers from terrorism and has been fighting
it for years. But the United States has dealt with Egypt as if its terrorism results from
a lack of democracy. Washington offers no concrete help at all. President Mubarak
once called for an international conference on terrorism. No one listened to him.
So, when the United States reacted as it did on September 11, Arabs remembered
how America did not react when we were suffering from exactly the same problem.
Also, making the comparison between the Palestinian resistance and terrorism
was a mistake. Nobody in the Arab world will buy statements equating Yasir Arafat
with Osama bin Laden.
Satloff: I do not understand the statement that the United States did not have a
great deal of sympathy and support for Egypt's fight against terrorism. If anything
has motivated U.S.-Egyptian policy over the last fifteen years, it is a profound American
sympathy for that struggle. If a critique is appropriate, it could perhaps be said
that America exhibited a lack of commitment to democracy in Egypt because Washington
wanted the Egyptians to stamp out their terrorism problem.
Nafaa: The facts do not at all substantiate what you have said. For example, when
Egypt asked the United States to hand over Omar Abdel-Rahman, Washington consistently
refused to do so. Many others received asylum in the United Kingdom and
Satloff: We have a good number of issues on the table. I would like to open the
discussion to questions from the audience.
Michael Stein, The Washington Institute: It has been a long time since I read Alice in
Wonderland, but I must say there has been a through-the-looking-glass quality to
some of the things we have heard here. The Saudis have eliminated 5 percent of
their educational material. What of the other 95 percent? What of the Saudi-financed
madrassas that teach hatred of the West? I read the newspapers avidly, and I have yet
to see a report from an objective journalist coming out of Saudi Arabia. By the way,
I served in the navy in World War II; I seem to recall that even kamikaze pilots
attacked military targets, not civilians. Perhaps I am not reading the program correctly;
I wonder whether Ambassador Freeman was the U.S. ambassador to Saudi
Arabia, or the Saudi ambassador to America. (Laughter.)
It seems as though everything wrong in the Arab world is Israel's fault. That is a
wonderful excuse, but suppose for a moment that Israel did not exist. How would
the Arab-Islamic world, where so many hatreds run so very deep, transform itself
from the only region in the world that resists democracy, tolerance, and human
rights, and where virtually every regime is authoritarian and corrupt, into democracies
that do not make war against their neighbors and do not violate the human
rights of their own peoples?
Satloff: Make believe that Israel did not exist. Would there be democracy in the
Ghabra: There is a lot of miscommunication. I hate to use the phrase "clash of
civilizations." I do not believe in that theory. It must not happen. But there is a clash
of communication. There is lack of understanding on the part of each culture about
Israel's existence has galvanized the Arab world and has been used to stop some
liberalizing processes in Arab countries. I see the same phenomenon occurring in
Israel as well. If it persists, the region is doomed, and if the region is doomed, so is
Israel. Suicide bombing is born out of despair and out of helplessness. Some young
Palestinians have been arrested and interrogated by Israel; I am sure that Israelis
are quite familiar with their despair.
If we address this issue clearly, on the basis of self-determination for the Palestinians,
and security and normalization for Israel, the whole region can transform its
destiny from one of bloodshed and despair to one of peace and tranquility. Then
people can start thinking about liberalization and openness.
Israelis and Arabs are in a war, but it is not a war only between states. This conflict
is like a civil war. During the Lebanese civil war, those on one side were as
vicious as those on the other side. Yet now in Lebanon there is none of that. So I
have hope for the future.
Anderson: I agree with much of what Professor Ghabra just said. But on the question
of what the Arab world would look like if it were not for Israel, look at North
Africa, which is not intimately involved in the rhythms of the conflict with Israel.
The Arab world clearly has problems that are independent of Israel. The informal
economy of Egypt now covers at least half of all economic transactions; the same is
true in Algeria, and Morocco is not far off. The Arab region as a whole has recorded
a negative rate of economic growth over roughly the last twenty years.
The fact that Americans have not paid attention to Arab problems is partly attributable
to the geostrategic view from the United States after the Cold War. Washington
said, "The Cold War is finished. We need not worry any more." And yet,
there was a whole set of trends that had been set in motion as a result of the fight
The millions of people who have taken to Arab streets are not demonstrating
because they all think of themselves as being in the same boat as the Palestinians.
They know they are not, but many of them feel that same sense of despair and
alienation. They live under governments that do not serve their needs.
Merryl Tisch, The Washington Institute: I proudly live in New York City. But listening
to this panel, I feel very much a victim, rather than an aggressor.
Last night, I listened to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon deliver his evidence
against Chairman Arafat in a speech to the Knesset. Ambassador Freeman, you spoke
so eloquently about the issue of evidence in the cases of those who are detained by
the United States. What do you see as a next step for Israel, now that they have
collected this evidence against the chairman?
Freeman: I did not see the broadcast you refer to, but it is hardly a secret that there
is a struggle going on between Palestinians and Israelis. Israel is at war, in my view, not against terrorism, but against Palestine. And Palestine is at war against the Israeli
occupation, and increasingly against Israel itself. I would not be at all surprised
if Israel had all sorts of evidence linking Chairman Arafat to actions against Israel,
including terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. There is probably also evidence
linking Ariel Sharon with political assassinations and excessive use of force against
civilians in the occupied territories.
The fact is that in the absence of an electoral process on the Palestinian side, for
better or worse, Arafat is the closest thing to someone who can speak for, and sign
an agreement on behalf of, the Palestinians. You cannot get around that fact.
I would also note, since we are talking about terrorism, that terrorism is inexcusable
under any circumstances. But it has a long history, and it has been crucial to the
establishment of many states, including the state of Israel and what is now the Irish
Satloff: It is fair to say that Palestinians have a legal right to fight occupation --
except they gave up that right in 1993, in the context of the Declaration of Principles
when there was a commitment to renounce all violent activity. If the Palestinians
have renounced that renunciation, then the other side also has the legal right to
I would like to refocus on the issue of Arab democratization.
Robert Freedman, Baltimore Hebrew University: What has most struck me about this
forum is the lack of communication between sides. I would like to ask our guests
from the Arab world whether they think the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has made
the situation of the Afghan people better than it was before September 11?
Akayleh: After September 11, the Arab and Muslim worlds saw that the United States
had been wounded. But unfortunately, Arabs got the feeling that America was carrying
out something ugly, a chauvinistic campaign of striking out indiscriminately.
The United States claims to have broken down the infrastructure of terror, but
how many thousands of civilians were killed without having any link to the so-called
evidence against Osama bin Laden, or al-Qaeda, or their Afghan allies?
The most frightening possibility is that Muslims or Arabs everywhere may come
to see the United States as an enemy and blame what happens to their family here
or there in the American fight against terror on the American people, rather than
on American foreign policy.
Satloff: Most Americans look at the last decade and see the United States fighting to
liberate Muslims in Kuwait. They see America fighting to help Muslims in Bosnia
and Kosovo. They see America bringing education back to girls in Afghanistan.
Americans say, "If Muslims do not want to thank us, they could at least recognize
that the United States has fought all around the world, sometimes against Christians,
to help Muslims." Does that register at all in the Muslim world?
Akayleh: Dr. Satloff, you must be joking when you talk about America protecting
Muslims all over the world. Surely you do not mean it.
Nafaa: I am not convinced that you can describe these activities as fighting for Muslims.
Do you really believe that when the United States intervened in Kuwait, it was
fighting for Muslims? America fought for Muslims against some other Muslims. At
the time, the Arab world was divided.
I do not accept anyone saying, "You have to be grateful. The United States fought
to save the Muslims." U.S. interventions have not been carried out in order to save
one religion or race. Washington intervenes when doing so serves America's strategic,
political, or economic interests.
There are a lot of questions about U.S. motivation regarding the intervention in
Afghanistan. Only two Arab countries -- Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates --
recognized the Taliban regime. When the Taliban came to power, they were
aided by the United States and Pakistan. So the United States was responsible for
what happened in Afghanistan. Once the Soviet Union was defeated, America abandoned
Afghanistan rather than staying to help promote democratization and economic
growth. Perhaps what happened in Afghanistan later would not have happened
at all had the United States not walked away at the end of the Cold War. Washington
intervened in Afghanistan after September 11 to protect its own interests, not to
help the Afghan people.
Hawthorne: People in the Arab world are well aware of what the United States has
done on behalf of Muslims around the world, but I think that it is only natural for
them to interpret U.S. policy on a local basis, in terms of how it affects them personally.
The overwhelming perception in the Middle East is that U.S. policies have not
played a positive role in terms of democracy and human rights.
Fred Schwartz, The Washington Institute: Going back to the issue of Arab introspection
following September 11, could a conference like this one, with its implicit and
explicit criticism of Arab governments, be held in the Arab world?
Hawthorne: Yes. In fact, in several countries, a discussion like this one could take
place. The region has changed to a great extent in the last fifteen or twenty years.
Most Arab states are far more open now than ever before. The problem is that the
process is just beginning. A discussion like this could take place, but no one would
be certain of what might happen to them the next day. (Laughter.)
Satloff: So we could hold a one-day conference, but maybe not a two-day conference.
Hawthorne: It is important for Americans to understand that there is a process of
change occurring in many parts of the Arab world. It does not always manifest itself
in ways that are easy for us to understand. The process is slow and painful, but
political development is taking place. For most in the region, the Arab world is not
a happy place. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one reason for that, but it is not the
The sooner the United States begins to understand this, the better off Americans
will be in the long term -- and the better off Arabs will be as well. Washington is not the arbiter of what happens in the Arab world, but neither is the United States a
neutral actor in the region. It can either be on the wrong side of these issues, or try
to be on the right side.
Fred Lafer, The Washington Institute: I would like to turn the calendar back to 1948
for a moment. At the time, Arab states had an opportunity to create a Palestinian
state. Indeed, the West Bank was then occupied not by Israel, but by Jordanian forces.
For nineteen years, Arabs had the opportunity to deal with the Palestinians. And
Arab states have had an ongoing opportunity to improve the lot of the Palestinians
in the area of human rights and dignity ever since, in spite of all the blame that can
be assigned to Israel. Arab states had the power to offer Palestinians a free choice of
citizenship -- a home or sanctuary -- in their respective countries. Instead, Palestinians
were kept in refugee camps.
I do not deny that there is enough blame to be shared by the whole world when
it comes to the plight of the Palestinians. But perhaps you could comment on whether
this particular history affects the wider Arab situation today.
Satloff: I would like to place this question within the current political framework.
What is the Islamic movement's view of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's plan offering
full Arab normalization with Israel? Can there be peace with Israel under any
Ghabra: When Saddam Husayn invaded Kuwait, it had nothing to do with the question
of Palestine. Kuwait continues to be appreciative of U.S. efforts. We talk on this
panel about regimes and peoples, as if Arabs and Americans are polar opposites.
This is not the case. No, the Arab world maintains many different levels of relationship
with the United States. With Arab governments, but also with Arab societies;
there are good elements of U.S.-Arab relations. The issue today is that there is anger
in the Arab street. That alarms Arab peoples as much as it does our governments --
and as much as it should alarm Americans. The question is how you reach that
street. What hope can we offer it?
On the issue of Palestinians, 200,000 Palestinians left Kuwait during the Iraqi
occupation. Another 120,000 left after Kuwait was liberated. It was a sad chapter for
Kuwait. I do not look at it positively, and today, Kuwaitis and Palestinians have reconciled.
We look at this as part of learning to live together in the Arab world.
The issue of Palestine in 1948 is a broad topic. I could debate a lot of details
representing the two different sides. However, quite simply, there is today an occupation.
It is immoral. It is unjust. I believe in the ability of people around the world
to awaken their consciences to the need to address the Palestinian issue, so that we
can all move beyond it. Perhaps, when the worst of all conflicts occurs, the hope for
peace evolves. People learn, and I hope we will get to that point. (Applause.)
Anderson: Professor Ghabra's statement probably should have been the last word. I
only want to say that the most important question really is, "And then what?"
That is to say, what are we going to do when the guns stop firing? It is an
important question for Afghanistan. It is an important question for Palestine.
How are we going to think about international responsibility, American responsibility,
local responsibility for peoples who lack a government in which they can
This panel represents the beginning of that conversation. It is a conversation
we need to have about Afghanistan and Palestine. And, over time, we also
need to have it about some of the other countries in the Arab world that have
been far too neglected.
Akayleh: America must push Israel to pull out of the occupied territories and
back to the borders of 1967. If that happens, the whole region will see stability
and peace. America wants to open a new page in the region and develop good
relations with Arab publics, rather than regimes, because the people, not their
current governments, represent the Arab future. Regimes come and go. If
you favor freedom of choice, you have to convince the people that you are sincere
about the values you have spoken about. If Washington really pushes for
change, it can succeed.
Nafaa: The question of the impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the democratic
situation in the Arab world is very important. Three factors are related to this.
First of all, if you look at the rise of political Islam, especially in Egypt, you will
find that it is closely connected to the evolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Political
Islam has developed in part as a response to the perception that the existence of a
Jewish state could be a danger to Islam.
Second, many of the Arab regimes have been able to emphasize the question of
security over the question of democratization because of the ongoing Arab-Israeli
Third, because of its policy toward Israel, the United States cannot talk credibly
about democracy with Arab regimes.
If the United States can do something to get the parties back to the peace process,
or even join with the international community to impose a sustainable settlement,
it would help create the right environment for democratization in the Arab
Freeman: I want to underscore Professor Freedman's point about the need for dialogue.
Much of what has been said on this panel, as some in the audience have
stated clearly, is not music to everyone's ears. I suspect that the discussions many of
you have among yourselves would not be music to the ears of those on this panel.
There is a certain utility in exchanging views. In fact, at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian
problem is a failure by both sides to apply empathy to the position of the
other. It is a failure to listen and to understand, and, thereby, to deal respectfully
with the other side.
Satloff: My thanks to everyone here for participating in this conversation. As Ambassador
Freeman said, much has been said that may have been jarring to the ear.
But that is the value of dialogue. It is important to know what people in the Arab
world think, and, perhaps, how different their views are from those in Washington.
This kind of discussion may not lead to any policy conclusion, but it is important
to know what challenges face America, whether on Arab-Israeli issues or on the
promotion of democracy. You have to know where you are and where you want to go
before you can determine how to get there.