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Special Reports Last Updated: Jan 30th, 2007 - 00:27:44

Making sense of the Middle East
By Sonia Nettnin
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 30, 2007, 00:25

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CHICAGO -- Middle East journalist and author Rami Khouri said the US needs to be consistent when it deals with countries in the Middle East.

As editor of the Middle East�s largest English newspaper, the Beirut Daily Star, Khouri explained there are solutions to the multiple conflicts and violence in the Middle East. It requires the synthesis of five, crucial criteria: sovereignty, authentic societal identity, legitimacy of statehood institutions, stability (without occupation), and economic development for normal relations with the rest of the world and its non-Arab neighbors.

The fusion of these five benchmarks, united with consistency, may bring about a beneficial result: an Arab World that wants to constructively engage with the US.

�It�s important the region, the Middle East, is still defined by more than 300 million people who try to go to work, try to support their children, who identify with faith, ethnicity . . . masses of ordinary people trying to live decent lives,� Khouri said. �What we have to do is look at these issues in the Arab world and I think we need to take a step back and see how we address their legitimate needs.�

According to Khouri, an estimated 65 percent of the Arab World is under the age of 30. Moreover, many people within this young population are extremely politically frustrated for a variety of reasons: Israeli occupation and expansion; people put in prison by Arab governments; and the chronic accumulative abuse of people.

�Much of the Arab-Islamic region this is how they perceive, not necessarily saying this is how it is,� Khouri said. He quoted recent American surveys (sources not mentioned) that found three out of four people in the Arab World think the US wants to dominate and weaken Islamic societies -- that they are being targeted by the US. The public�s perception, along with the divide between a small class of wealthy Arabs and the largely unstable economic societies, results in the severe polarization of society.

He explained that the Western intervention (in the Arab World) is much more intrusive compared to the past. He described recent events as a Western directive to � . . . change the political genetics in the Arab world -- change their religion, moderate Islam -- change their society, economic systems . . . value system and who we are . . . there is a resentment throughout the region against the US -- dictating not consulting . . . change your government and overthrow your regimes . . . breeds a lot of resentment and resistance.�

Other contributing factors that lead to polarization are the abuse of power people feel is prevalent in their own societies, along with internal abuses to which they have been subjected.

�More and more of these young people are going into Islamic movements -- a few are going into Al Qaeda -- practicing terrorism against civilians -- Arab targets, Islamic targets, Western targets -- but the number of people who go into this business is very small,� Khouri said. �The biggest instigator of terror now is the American presence in Iraq.�

His assessment is that most of the Islamic organizations that are changing society are peaceful. When it comes into contact with Israeli occupation, when they meet, there is military resistance against Israeli occupation.

�What you are seeing between Arab societies and Iran is a new spirit of defiance and resistance,� Khouri said, which he believes is important historically.

Khouri described the past, three Arab generations as docile. Even though there were passionate and emotional expressions of Arab nationalism with power structures and political resistance in the 50s, 60s and 70s, he sees an end to Arab passiveness because people are mobilizing and contesting power.

What are the forms of power in the Middle East?

Power exists in four forms: economic, military, information, and the iconography of identity. The three major protagonists utilizing power and force in the region are the governments, the opposition groups and then the US-British invasion, which � . . . completely changed the nature of the situation in the region and causes new challenges in the rapid growth of non-state militias,� Khouri added.

What are the current discussions about democracy in both the Arab World and in Bush�s White House?

�Democracy is in a deep freeze,� Khouri said, �because people look at Iraq and they see a very big problem with violence, strife, bloodshed and abuse of power; and they look at Palestine and see they were starved, sanctioned and besieged; and so any small bud of faith in democracy has been shattered for the time being in the Arab World.�

How do people in the Middle East define themselves and what are the components that make up their personal and collective identity?

People identify with some or all of the following characteristics: ethnicity, culture, geography, religion, ideology, patriotism, nationalism, communal ethnic and/or tribal identities. These elements create different kinds of law and � . . . societies need to assert themselves without an occupying foreign power telling them no,� Khouri added, provided their expressions are peaceful and they do not threaten their neighbors. All of these factors make up the regional dynamics of citizenry.

Khouri sees loose alliances forming between different groups in the region. Whether they have answers to jobs, good governments, citizenship rights, energy issues, educations issues, and equity issues for ordinary people is debatable.

When asked why he did not mention the role of oil he explained that oil is not a major driver -- either access or price -- for the US.

There was no mention of the future for Arab-Christians or other marginalized communities in the Middle East.

Overall, the general public wants to see a prosperous future where they have access to basic needs, jobs, education, and economic opportunities. People want a future for their children.

When asked about President George W. Bush, Khouri said he wants him �to relax, to analyze things more accurately; to pursue a policy that reflects American values and not contradicts,� including equality and justice.

The world watches to see the US application of the American creed, the United States Declaration of Independence � . . . that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.�

Khouri�s point is that the world watches to sees if US actions are based on these assertions.

The underlying message is that if the international community takes the time to learn more about the Middle East and its people, they can demystify why there is violence and what are the needs of the people. The more knowledge people have means they can push for effective legislation that alleviates pain and suffering.

Whether the future architecture of the Middle East will have security and stability for a prosperous future depends on what happens now.

Journalist Sonia Nettnin writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.

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