Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Creativity Of The Arab Private Sector Despite The Failure Of Peace

Marrakesh- Raghida Dergham
This comment was published in al-Hayat on 30/10/2010
There is a vast difference between the 1994 conference of the World Economic Forum in Marrakesh and the conference held this year. Back then, the world was eager to put to use the opportunity of the Oslo process to launch negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, with the aim of starting normalization at the level of businessmen, so as for the private sector to pave the way for the public sector in crossing the distance to coexistence between the Arabs and Israel. Today, Oslo has proven its failure – despite its achievements – because it launched a “process” without specific goals for negotiations, leading to the “process” purposely smothering its goals, at least on the part of Israel. This week in Marrakesh, the atmosphere between Arabs and Israelis was unlikely to be optimistic, and in fact suffered a radical relapse, first because of the cycle of frustration and despair over aimless negotiations, and second because of the loss of trust in the commitment – or the ability – of those sponsoring the negotiations to make them succeed, regardless of their good intentions. Here in Marrakesh, the lukewarm interest of the US in achieving the resumption of direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis with specific aims was noticeable, and it was compared to its enthusiasm 16 years ago for the momentum of normalization as a means to achieve the sought-after qualitative leap. The deteriorating relations between the forum’s host-country, Morocco, and Israel were also noticeable. Indeed, Moroccan monarch Mohammed VI – in protest against Israel maneuvering in the peace process – refused to receive Israeli President Shimon Peres as an official visitor to Morocco. Peres therefore decided to boycott the conference of the World Economic Forum, joined in solidarity not just by state officials but also by Israeli businessmen. It was also noted – and that is a truly noteworthy and positive matter – that the private sector in the Arab region has decided not to sit and wait for the promised peace between the Arabs and Israel, considered to be the means to achieve Arab prominence on the regional or international scene, resorting to innovation as a means to produce change. The private sector complained of Arab governments continuing to impose hindrances and to isolate themselves behind their narrow interests, which prevent the necessary complementarity or integration which – if it were to happen – would place Arab countries among emerging nations such as China, India and Brazil in a few years. They complained, but did not stop thinking of ways to move forward in spite of the obstruction of dreams of peace, of governments carrying on with their methods, and of rampant corruption even after wars of “reform” like the one that took place in Iraq, which was claimed to aim at setting off the spark of democracy and reform throughout the Arab World. At the World Economic Forum in Marrakesh, the private sector demanded that priority be given to the education necessary for coming generations, and the tremendous value of talent, skills and training. They focused on the centrality of the issue of water for the future of the Arabs, as well as on the dire need to put to use the abilities of Arab women, considering them to be a cultured, educated and well-trained segment of society that represents half of the Arab working force. They did all this, and yet their eyes, ears, and a large part of their sympathy were focused on political developments in the region and on the fear of instability as a result of the relationship between Iran and Israel and its repercussions, from Lebanon to the Gulf, and as a result of a plague called the sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in the region. Indeed, fabricated and proxy wars find for themselves many who are prepared to fight in the Middle East. This is what makes the North African region think of the West instead of exhausting itself in the wars of the Middle East or in achieving Arab complementarity and integration.

In 1994 in Marrakesh, investments, economics and politics came together in a moment of hope in peace between Arabs and Israelis that would turn the Middle East into a region like no other in terms of coexistence, wealth and prosperity. There are those who say that this had not been a dream, but rather a trick aimed at containing the Palestinian intifada. There are also those who insist on the fact that sectarian wars did not come out of nothing, but rather were the result of a calculated policy by the United States to revive old conflicts for the sake of calculated hegemony through division, serving the interests of military industries or of major oil industries in the region.
In 2010 in Marrakesh, the climate of the Palestinian-Israeli relationship, as described by one Palestinian who has closely experienced the different phases of this relationship, is a phase of “neither negotiations nor intifada”. In other words, the current situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis requires to be settled, and should not be addressed from the perspective of the “alternative”. This is in the sense that those who hold such an opinion consider, first, that there is no alternative to Palestinians clinging to their land, planting olive trees there and investing in the hope that they will be buried in this land, regardless of whether it is an independent state or under occupation; and second, that the clarity of the relationship between the occupying force and the people under occupation is fit for achieving the end of the occupation at the end of the day, and for warding off the Israeli forces that are working to resolve the “demographic problem” through a policy of forced expulsion and ethnic cleansing, in order for Israel to become a “purely” Jewish state.

The clarity of enemy parties or of parties to reconciliation is important in making peace, yet it is what is most important in the formula of survival. As one person said, Palestine under occupation is in a better situation than Lebanon in its current transitional phase, which is exposing it to regional disputes and turning it into an arena for revenge.

This country being quarreled over by regional forces for various reasons is the same country which Israel makes use of at its whim within the framework of its conflicts with countries in the region. It is the country that hangs on regional ambitions, a country locally and internally subjected to meeting the demands of regional players. One must also stress that it is the victim of its own leaderships, loyalties and the submissiveness of its people, not just the victim of the plans of regional or international players.

What is surprising is that the capabilities, skills, creativity and talent of the Lebanese – despite the perspective of internal instability and external disputes – flow out into the Arab World and the world at large. Conferences are held to discuss the ability for resilience, the resolve to move forward and the ability to endure, and half the Lebanese are an example of this.

The message of regional forces surrounding Lebanon, among them the closest neighbor, Syria, as well as the one directed by Hezbollah to Washington, is a clear message. Yet Washington chooses to ignore it, either because it is burying its head in the sand, or because it is unaware of the traditional political wisdom and skill of Iran and Syria, or because the leaders of the Obama Administration are dangerously scattered and are not good at reading Middle Eastern messages.
Israel is crude, not skillful. It speaks the language of force and the military language of resolve and determination. This is why Lebanon for it is only a military arena within the framework of its relations with Iran. All indications point to the fact that Israel would not avoid destroying Lebanon in terms of infrastructure under the pretext of destroying Hezbollah, as it claims to seek to destroy Iran’s nuclear military capability, while what it is actually implementing is the destruction of the two-state solution.

Washington is absent from such plans and maneuvers, as if in a state of complete lack of awareness of what surrounds it. Its regional and international reputation is deteriorating while the Obama Administration is making this reputation contingent on its electoral considerations. The collapse of its reputation which the United States is suffering from is not the responsibility of Barack Obama, as it came at the hands of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Yet what the Obama Administration has done is make the United States lose the compass of leadership.

And that is dangerous, not just for Americans but also for the world, which waits to see what the shape of US leadership will be like and what its impact will be, at the level of security, economics and politics, on the world. Sometimes all the United States has to do is put forth its stances, frankly, clearly and decisively. Indeed, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, for instance, would move forward qualitatively and radically if the United States were merely to put forth its view of the permanent situation of the territories and of the outcome of the negotiations. The Obama Administration has not done this, and some say it never will.

Such lack of clarity, determination and engagement can also be seen in Iraq and in Lebanon, as if engagement were a stable policy limited to talking to Syria and Iran. Equally important is the fact that trust in US leadership has waned at the level of the private sector, not just at the level of the public sector or at that of political leadership. Yet this may well be a blessing in disguise. What is taking place in the Arab region as a result of reduced trust in the United States is an increase in trust in local capabilities and resources. There is therefore qualitative progress, not antagonism towards the United States, but rather more self-reliance and more trust in local leadership, with worldwide repercussions.

At the World Economic Forum in Marrakesh, participants discussed what would be required in order to reform the situation of the Arabs in terms of human and industrial infrastructure equally, as well as what would be required to make this region attractive for investments. What is interesting is not just what it holds in terms of natural resources, but also its youth, its women and its innovators, on the condition that the region understands the centrality of complementarity and integration and pays attention to education and reform.

Speakers at the World Economic Forum in Marrakesh included the likes of Lubna Olayan, the woman with the calm voice and the impressive deeds, at both the regional and international level, showing Saudi women in a completely different light than what many in the West have in mind. Another speaker was Carlos Ghosn, the international Lebanese-French businessman, who speaks the language of integration and that of the dialogue of civilizations, cultures and the private sector, spreading from Japan to France to the United States and to Tangier, which opens up the doors and ambitions of Morocco towards the West, but not in the opposite direction.

In about twenty days a gathering of a different kind will be held in the city of Dubai, one which Arif Naqvi, CEO of Abraaj Capital, insisted on calling a “celebration of innovators from across the spectrum and levels of achievement”. It is a gathering of leading entrepreneurs at the level of the private sector across the spectrum, hosted by Abraaj Capital and Aramex, the company headed by Fadi Ghandour. The message of this gathering, in Naqvi’s words, is that the private sector alone has the qualifications and capabilities to achieve complementarity and integration in the Arab region, and that innovators are the key to the change and economic growth needed to create the changes that have been sought-after for decades.

The World Economic Forum in Marrakesh has crossed an important stage, of which the most prominent feature is to emphasize the following: that economic growth is no longer contingent on peace between the Arabs and Israel. It is the greatest challenge to those who work to create wars and instability.

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