24 - 30 October 2002
Issue No. 609
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
The rules of the gameWith the world at a crossroads, it is time for people to decide which direction to take, says presidential adviser, Osama El-Baz. Nevine Khalil attended his address at AUC
The challenges facing the Arab world were one of the main topics discussed at the opening of the American University in Cairo's (AUC) 13th Model Arab League (MAL) on Tuesday. The keynote speaker tackling the issue was Osama El-Baz, President Hosni Mubarak's chief political adviser. During his 40-minute address, El-Baz covered an array of talking points, prefacing them with an overview of contemporary international affairs. He said that there is much "uncertainty at this transitional period in the world's history", because the new world order is still in its formative stage. "Man has yet to decide on his relationship with a host of issues, such as the environment, technology and the 'other'", said El-Baz. "Will there be more tolerance and democracy or more fanaticism?" he asked.
Turning his attention to a topic in which his hands-on expertise is unmatched, El-Baz said that there are a number of challenges facing the Middle East. "We need to discover and engage in the rules of the game in order to move forward with confidence." Topping these challenges is whether peace in the region is possible, and how to go about achieving it; another is how to develop the region, given that peace and stability are prerequisites for sustaining development; and finally, whether Arabs can actually co-exist with their non-Arab neighbours.
On the current flashpoints in the region, El-Baz said that the Arab-Israeli conflict is casting "a dark shadow on the future of the region". He recalled that the Camp David talks between Egypt and Israel in the late 1970s opened the door for the Madrid Conference in 1991 and the Oslo Declaration of Principles in 1993, when the peace process really took off. "Expectations were high at that time, and I believe there was the possibility that this process would have guaranteed a just and comprehensive resolution of the conflict -- but then came Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government in 2001." And, as a result, El-Baz continued, "The peace process is currently at a very dangerous crossroads because the incumbent Israeli government doesn't want a comprehensive peace agreement, but rather a series of transitional agreements." Israel's rationale, according to El-Baz, is that a peace agreement would imply the birth of a new order in the region, which would change the traditional variables and politics in the Middle East.
"Sharon's government doesn't want to move," El-Baz said, and hides behind a number of excuses. These are that Israel is acting in self- defence and, like the US, it is fighting 'terrorism', and the Palestinians don't want peace. Meanwhile, Israel is undermining the Palestinian Authority by demanding security, financial and political reform. According to El-Baz, such actions "breach all that the Israelis have signed in the past." He wants Israel to "cease its expansionist plans, dismantle its nuclear arsenal and abandon its lofty ideas of superiority and 'an edge' over the Arabs."
As for Iraq, El-Baz reiterated the government line that "military action is not imminent on this issue, and that a political solution can be reached." He said that Iraq must be dealt with according to international law, that weapons inspectors must be allowed to do their work unhindered, and that any military strikes should be agreed upon by consensus of the world community. In reference to the US and Israel, he said, "The Arab family feels that the West wants to apply certain rules to Iraq that it is not willing to apply to other countries in the region."
Moving on to the topic of the image of Islam and the Arabs internationally, and since 11 September in particular, El-Baz said that "futuristic" thinking must be adopted in order to counter these stereotypes. "Osama Bin Laden is not the spokesman for Islam," he said, "and it is the duty of every Arab -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- to rectify this image." With a touch of bravado in his tone, El-Baz told his audience of students, "We should not be put on the defensive about our religion. We should present Islam in the right light."
The president's chief political adviser concluded that considerable hope is pinned on the ability of Arab youth to forge a brighter, more peaceful and stable future. "Within 10 to 15 years, the new generation will be capable of overcoming these challenges and will succeed," he said in closing, to loud applause.
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