Sense of direction
The Middle East is awash with US and European initiatives of reform. The notion of a Greater Middle East, implicit in these initiatives, involves a watering down of the region's Arab identity, with neighbouring countries invited, under Western tutelage, to become actively integrated in the region.
The US administration is already discussing its initiative with several key countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and a number of Gulf states. Washington is hoping to narrow the scope of future opposition and get the ball rolling, perhaps with a regional summit on educational reform.
The Arab community, huddled under the mantle of the Arab League, is in a dilemma. It has to respond to the Western initiatives, and yet it has to retain a modicum of unity and independence. The Arab region is no stranger to expansionists wanting to control and polarise it. Mohamed Ali's project for modernisation and independence was an answer to the onslaught from Western Europe. Faysal's unity project coincided with the Sykes-Picot agreement. Nasser's pan-Arabism succeeded in breaking up the Baghdad pact. Following successive wars with Israel, Arabs came up with several peace initiatives, including the comprehensive plan announced at the Beirut summit.
Weakened by their current divisions, the Arabs have lost their sense of direction. Now is the time for them to regain the initiative. Intellectuals and activists all over the Arab world are calling for reform. Reformers deserve the backing of non- governmental organisations, parties, and public opinion. They should not be suspected of treason just because their call for more reform coincides with that of the US. The Arab League should be given more power to coordinate reform and promote cohesion among Arab governments and people.
The US and Europe can prove their goodwill by supporting the autonomous initiatives for democracy in the region. This would be more helpful than dreaming up plans of their own. The West can help the region eliminate the technological gap and accelerate the pace of development. The West should exert more effort to resolve the region's chronic political problems. For starters, how about ending the occupation of Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi lands?