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The west's Arab racket - Guardian, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    The west s Arab racket George Bush is right about the lack of freedom in the Middle East - but wrong about its causes and solution Jonathan Freedland Wednesday
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2004
      The west's Arab racket

      George Bush is right about the lack of freedom in the
      Middle East - but wrong about its causes and solution

      Jonathan Freedland
      Wednesday June 30, 2004
      The Guardian


      George W Bush may not have read much history but he
      likes making it. The recent run of insider accounts of
      the Bush White House show the president is a man with
      a constant eye on the historians of the future,
      anxious to lend every moment just enough
      semi-Churchillian gravitas to make him look good in
      the decades to come.
      So it was on Monday when he was handed a note that
      declared "Iraq is sovereign", immediately scrawling on
      it "Let freedom reign!" - as if ready for instant
      display behind the glass case at the future George W
      Bush presidential library. Those three words confirm
      how Bush sees himself and how he wants to be seen in
      the future - as a latter-day George Washington,
      leading subject peoples to liberty.

      He has in mind not only the Iraqi nation but all the
      people of what he calls the Greater Middle East. The
      "liberation of Baghdad" is but the first step towards
      the transformation of the entire region.

      It is not a secret plan, contained only in classified
      memoranda. On the contrary, Bush has declared it loud
      and proud, returning to the theme again in Istanbul
      yesterday. He articulated it most clearly in a
      November 2003 speech to America's National Endowment
      for Democracy where he set out how, though there were
      now 120 functioning democracies in the world, the wave
      of self-rule had barely touched the Middle East.
      Democracy had made inroads in Latin America and Asia,
      but had still failed to make a dent in the Arab world.
      Why not, the president asked: "Are the peoples of the
      Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are
      millions of men and women and children condemned by
      history or culture to live in despotism?"

      Bush went on to reject such "cultural condescension",
      insisting that liberty is universal. He called on the
      Arab states to open up - to respect the rule of law,
      recognise the equal rights of women and allow
      political pluralism and free speech.

      For my money, it was the best speech Bush has ever
      given. Because on this fundamental point he is surely
      right. One has only to flick through the 2002 joint
      report of the UN development programme and the Arab
      fund for economic and social development to see why.
      This document, written by a group of Arab
      intellectuals, bursts with findings as stunning as
      they are bleak. All 22 Arab states combined, oozing as
      they are with natural resources and the black gold
      that is oil, still have a GDP smaller than Spain's and
      less than half that of California. Education is in a
      dire state: the whole Arab world translates around 300
      books annually, one fifth the number translated by
      Greece alone. Rates of internet connection, the Arab
      scholars found, were less than those in sub-Saharan

      What's more, the Palestinians of the Israeli-occupied
      West Bank and Gaza are not the only Arabs to be denied
      fundamental democratic rights. Using the widely
      accepted freedom index - which assesses everything
      from civil liberties to government accountability and
      a free press - the Arab states come at the foot of the
      global league table. The report was especially damning
      on the exclusion of women, often denied the vote and
      access to a basic education: "Sadly the Arab world is
      largely depriving itself of the productivity and
      creativity of half its citizens."

      Bush was right to draw attention to this story of
      oppression and failure. Nor can he be faulted for
      placing it in the context of his war against al-Qaida.
      For if Bin Ladenism feeds off anything it is surely
      the frustration and despair of those who have to live
      in such suffocating conditions. If the right approach
      to the current global conflict is the one advocated by
      the likes of Bill Clinton and Gordon Brown - tough on
      terror, tough on the causes of terror - then surely
      the foremost "cause" is the desperate state of the
      Arab world.

      So Bush is right in identifying the problem. Where he
      is wrong is in understanding its causes - and in
      finding a solution.

      To his credit, the president does not imagine some
      innate Muslim or Arab incapacity for self-government:
      he attributes such attitudes to his enemies. But he
      speaks as if the Arab world became a desert for
      democracy through some strange act of nature, a freak
      accident with no rational explanation besides the evil
      rule of a couple of twisted dictators. What neither
      he, nor Tony Blair for that matter, ever acknowledges
      is the west's own culpability.

      One does not have to be a placard-waving
      anti-imperialist to note that for nearly a century the
      Arab world has been on the receiving end of constant
      western meddling. If they have not got on with
      choosing their own governments, that's partly because
      we kept (and keep) stopping them! Iraq is a case in
      point as Britain repeatedly, from the 1920s to the
      1950s, ensured the regime was to our liking. That
      pattern has been repeated across the region, from the
      tiny emirates created by a stroke of a western pen, to
      mighty Egypt: first Britain and then America has
      always plotted and connived to secure a friendly face
      at the top, even if the price has been the denial of
      the people's will.

      So Bush's rhetoric is all very well, but it would ring
      truer if it entailed an explicit renunciation of that
      colonial habit. And this is not ancient history. The
      US still props up hideous, human rights-abusing
      regimes so long as the top man remains "our son of a
      bitch". Look no further than Bush's closest chum, the
      ruling family of Saudi Arabia. When Bush severs his
      links with the House of Saud over their beheadings,
      oppression of women, rank corruption and denial of
      basic human freedom, then his words will have meaning.

      But the president is wrong on the solution, too.
      Democracy only very rarely flows down the barrel of a
      gun. Post-1945 Germany and Japan were surely the
      exceptions in exceptional circumstances. Even putting
      the 2003 war to one side, the images of abuse in Abu
      Ghraib alone would disqualify America as a credible
      bringer of democracy to the Middle East.

      Instead that task will have to be performed by other
      people and in a different way. That does not mean a
      new European mandate to meddle, but rather a more
      creative use of influence. The first move will be a
      withdrawal of support from offending regimes, Riyadh
      and Cairo among them. Next, aid and trade should be
      tied to democratic performance. (A cheaper and less
      lethal way to create a democratic model in the Middle
      East than invading Iraq was surely to make Egypt's
      annual $2bn aid package from the US conditional on
      Cairo sharpening up its act in the liberty department.
      That would have done the trick, without a shot being
      fired.) The west could put current Arab and other
      tyrannies on notice that their only way back into the
      global community is not simply to arrest al-Qaida
      suspects, but to grant basic freedoms to their own

      Do that and then Bush will have every right to his
      Washingtonian rhetoric. He can chant "Let freedom
      reign" at the top of his voice. But not till then.


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