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The Great Shift: Middle East Looks East PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Friday, 08 December 2006 14:47
The Great Shift: Middle East Looks East

AG
- Rami G. Khouri - Perhaps the most significant trend that emerged throughout the [Arab Strategy Forum]meetings was that the Middle East?s external world was, in fact, expanding and changing. Most importantly, China, India, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Japan, Korea and other Asian powers slowly encroach upon the West?s former stranglehold on the region?s people, politics and resources.

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The Arab Strategy Forum meetings this week in Dubai revealed that the Middle East is changing, the Anglo-American influence is fading and the Arab world looks east to Asian partners.

Does Middle East Modernity Start This Week?

Rami G. Khouri


Agence Global
December 8, 2006

 DUBAI -- It was raining hard when I arrived in Dubai last week to participate in the Arab Strategy Forum that brings together hundreds of Arab and international business, government, civil society and media professionals for high quality and frank exchanges on issues of common concern. My first thought upon experiencing a fierce Emirati rainstorm was that the snow-making machines in the artificial indoor ski slope inside a massive shopping mall had gone haywire and were generating rain outside instead of snow inside. My second, more accurate, impression was that we should not give much credence to superficial impressions -- for my previous one-dimensional image of Dubai as a hot, humid, uncomfortable place was suddenly and irrevocably shattered by the cool autumn rain.

Inside the Arab Strategy Forum, discussions over three days similarly must have changed some participants? perceptions of the Arab world and its many problems, challenges and achievements. We heard useful analysis of the constraints that hold us back and the human assets and dynamics that drive us forward to modernity, capturing the variety of forces that define the Middle East and its interactions with the world.

Perhaps the most significant trend that emerged throughout the meetings was that the Middle East?s external world was, in fact, expanding and changing. Most importantly, China, India, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Japan, Korea and other Asian powers slowly encroach upon the West?s former stranglehold on the region?s people, politics and resources.

The Middle East will remain the world?s leading energy exporter well into the middle of this century, though its strategic relations have already started to shift eastward towards its major commercial, energy and labor partners in Asia. Political relations are also shifting, as the era of Anglo-American dominance starts to recede in the wake of the Iraq debacle, and Arabs come to terms more realistically with the power of Iran, Turkey and Israel in the neighborhood.

The West seems unable to impose its strategic views or values on the Middle East, but governments in the area also have failed to develop stable systems or coherent regional security regimes. Perhaps the search for a new, more stable, productive order in the Middle East was launched this week, symbolized by several simultaneous developments.

The Baker-Hamilton committee?s recommendations on a new American policy to stabilize and leave Iraq -- and push hard for an Arab-Israeli settlement -- coincide with the death-knell of two critical American policy trends: the resignation of U.S. representative to the UN John Bolton and the confirmation of Robert Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary are good markers for the impending end of the short-lived neoconservative era in Washington, and its parallel Defense Department global strategy based on interventions by more mobile American forces.

This sign of change in American policies -- the British will follow like kittens -- coincides with Iranian ideas on how an Anglo-American withdrawal from Iraq could spark cooperation by Tehran. Lebanon and Palestine remain hostage to these wider regional rivalries, and also to their own local struggles over political power, national identity and regional and global alliances.

Most certainly, we are passing through a moment of historic adjustment in the Middle East, but where we are heading is not clear, because rival narratives and ideologies continue to define the region. As Washington Post columnist David Ignatius aptly put it, wider gaps between elites and masses in the Middle East, who are moving in different directions, risk seeing our societies turn into Davos vs. the militias.

The most optimistic scenario, we heard repeatedly, would see expanding global trading linkages fuelled by the Middle East?s massive youth population (60 percent of population under the age of 20) finally exploiting key positive factors: improved education, higher internet connectivity, liberalized political systems, diversified and entrepreneurial economies, and a mindset of assertive empowerment instead of corrosive victimization.

This occurs, however, simultaneously with a wide range of negatives, including sectarian cleavages and clashes; loss of authority and control by some governments; the legitimization of indiscriminate violence by the state, the opposition and foreign powers alike; the ripples of the Iranian nuclear standoff, while many Arabs fear Iranian hegemonic aims in the region; increased intolerance locally and globally; continued exclusion of some communities, parties or states; and the effective end of collective Arab action, as individual states look out for their own interests.

One of the important dynamics at work, I sensed in the Dubai gathering and elsewhere in the region, is the growing realization that we can no longer speak of Arab, American, European or Asian problems or concerns. The last decade has woven together Middle Eastern and global interests, along with their common fears and their reactive forms of militancy. We all share the same problems and their consequences now, along with our individual traumas and distress. Therefore we must seek common solutions through a quest for joint analysis and better answers than we have received to date from Donald Rumsfeld or Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, who, with their ilk, thankfully are no longer on the scene or on the way out.


Rami G. Khouri
is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star, and co-laureate of the 2006 Pax Christi International Peace Award.

Copyright ?2006 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global

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Released: 08 December 2006
Word Count: 836

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Advisory Release: 08 December 2006
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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation, The American Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, as well as expert commentary by Richard Bulliet, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein

Last Updated on Friday, 08 December 2006 14:47
 

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