Philip S. Khoury on the Middle East

Khourny started off putting the Middle East in numbers. Thereby, he cited a UN Arab Human Development report (2002) that pointed out the major deficiencies in the region. That sounded familiar to me, and I recall that the Economist had some good coverage of this report as well. However, when he started to provide some of the background of the region, I certainly learned a lot of new stuff. After world war I, the Ottoman Empire broke apart, and colonial powers – France, England – moved in. So far, so good. What I didn’t know is what these colonial powers left behind: They spent the time during their rule training police, military and secret service, and left behind an intelligence system that is holding up to this day, and which made it easy for ruthless dictators to stay in power. While focussing on police, the colonial powers neglected especially the educational sector, and illiterary rates are still worryingly high.

Another highly interesting tidbit is the behavior of the west after Middle Eastern Countries gained independence, especially the behavior of the USA. “The Arabs never quite understood the USA’s obsession with the USSR and communism, while the USA never understood the Arab’s obsession with Israel.” These misunderstandings had fatal consequences, as they helped create people like Osama bin Laden, as well as the Palestinian Infitada. Of course there are many more influences, but these misunderstandings certainly helped shape the region.

Getting back to the present situation, Professor Khoury suggested two actions:

(1) Let’s not go to war with Iraq, at least not for now. Khoury certainly acknowledged Saddam Hussein to be a ruthless leader, but one with a clear objective: Political survival. As we see right now, he is doing everything to avoid a war. Describing the instabilities that resulted from other wars (e.g. Dessert Storm in 1991), Khoury indicated that this is the last thing we need right now. Hussein is predictable enough to deal with him later.

(2) Stabilize the Israel-Palestinian situation – as one source of resentment in the region he cited the USA’s unwillingness to get involved in this conflict – and who can blame the administration, after Clinton’s failed efforts? But this is a conflict which has an impact on the whole region, and we already feel the implications. How to get involved? He supported a Palestinian state, and acknowledged that the size of the problem is already beyond what the US can do. So he suggested a UN peacekeeping effort, essentially “placing UN peacekeepers along the Israel – Palestinian border, as a buffer between Palestinian terrorists and the Israeli military.” Yes, it’s dangerous and risky, but so is the world we’re living in right now.

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