Few places, if any, stress the importance of pride and self-respect more than the Arab World. This fact makes the behavior of the Arab League all the more puzzling and embarrassing.
The Times of London asked in a recent foreign editors briefing, "Will the Middle East crisis prompt the Arab League at last to do something coherent and useful? Surely not; it is hard to imagine that day ever arriving."
Editor Bronwen Maddox surprisingly went on to express that there actually was hope since Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar took the unusual step of publicly criticizing Hezbollah. But the reality is that the 22-member bloc shouldn’t be celebrated for its sudden diversity in opinion. Rather it should be punished for its continuous disregard of the Arab lives they claim to represent.
For example, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa announced last week, "The Middle East peace process has failed.”
Really? Gosh, nobody was certain during the past six years as Israel destroyed the infrastructure of Palestine, killed thousands, uprooted more than a million olive trees, and built a Wall in the West Bank that confiscated thousands of acres. Then there’s also been the slow starvation and scenes of Palestinian children digging through garbage cans for scraps of food — scenes that have reminded the head of the UN World Food Program, Arnold Vercken, of his years in the west African nation of Senegal.
But now that the Arab League has confirmed it, Palestinians can rest easy knowing that their realities have been “validated.”
And if you sense sarcasm, you should. This commentary will not win a diplomacy award from Arab regimes, but walking on egg shells is not on the agenda. So here goes, and I’m not just speaking for myself . . .
In fact, finding any type of praise from any Middle Easterner about the Arab League is like searching for a pig that flies. Its declarations are laughed at in Israel for the simple fact that following through on threats is about as realistic as Israel implementing UN resolutions.
Self-preservation, not self-respect, is the priority for these nations and I can’t help but think of a poignant scene from the movie, “Syriana” — a movie that deals with the corruption of the oil industry, Arab regimes, and human beings themselves. The scene takes place between Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig) and Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) about the US oil industry.
Woodman laughs and states, “You want to know what they’re thinking? They’re thinking that it’s gone. It’s drying up and 90% of what’s left is right here. And they’re thinking, don’t develop your people or infrastructure because if you don’t, there’ll be more profit off the top for us.”
Prince Nasir, who is already aware of this fact, wants to improve the lives of his people but his playboy brother, who enjoys his rich lifestyle, wants to continue the status quo. Not surprisingly, it is Prince Nasir who is assassinated by the CIA.
It’s true, "Syriana" is a movie, but it’s not hard to find real-life examples of Arab regimes that care more about self-survival than the development of their own people.
“Khadafy is a dictator but he’s now considered a good guy by the U.S,” a relative with a “Get Real” attitude once told me. “It’s not about democratic ideals for the Arab World. It’s about U.S. national interests.”
And he was right. Those who play the game are guaranteed their preservation. That’s how it’s been since the days of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The problem for the US is that its misguided foreign policy of supporting repressive Arab regimes is backfiring. When democratic elections are held, the people are naturally inclined to support groups that represent the complete opposite of what they have always known. We’ve already seen this in the elections held in Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt.
Hamas’ electoral victory was especially shocking for many, effectively halting the US push for democracy in the Middle East. Brutal collective punishment measures have been used against the entire Palestinian population since the January 25 election with the support of the US.
But worse than a misguided American foreign policy is the Arab League turning its back on Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq in their hour of need. It not only sends out an incredibly disturbing message of consent to the world, but it tells the Arab people, “You know, we just don’t think you’re worth it.”
The reality is that all of the pain and suffering could be brought to an end if Arab Gulf countries waved the oil card. With industrialized nations so reliant on oil, how hard is it to say, “If the life of a Palestinian, a Lebanese, or other Arab means nothing to you, they do mean the world to us. Beginning midnight tonight, we’re significantly reducing the oil output until there is respect for our humanity.” Who can argue with this honorable stand?? Furthermore, Israel would knock it off with their arrogance and blatant war crimes as they’re held to the same standards that everyone else in the world is.
In terms of initiatives that should be taken internally in the Arab World:
First, the Arab regimes must radically change their mindset of self-survival and work for the development and survival of their people. This cannot be stressed enough. There was a time when Arabs were renowned for their creativity and advancements in the sciences. But besides effectively facing down colonial powers in modern times, there hasn’t been much to brag about. And when young people move out of Arab countries to move up and realize their dreams, it’s a no-brainer to offer real incentives in order to stop this “brain drain.”
Also important, Arab governments must begin respecting the human rights of their own people. Sure, it’s easy to rally Arabs by focusing on the shame of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo but the condemnations ring hollow when you consider that Arab prisons are notorious for torture. Practicing what is preached is not only the right thing to do but it instills in society the fact that Arab lives are precious and indispensable.
I’d like to end this with a reminder in Arabic, “W’aman La Yokarrem Nafsaho la Yokarrami,” which means "He that doesn’t respect himself shall not be respected."
It’s not too late for the Arab League and Arab elites to genuinely take this to heart. Frankly, issuing meaningless declarations and rhetoric no longer cut it.