Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 June - 5 July 2006
Issue No. 801
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Salama A Salama

Arab fatigue

By Salama A Salama

Spain is closer to the Arab world than any other European country. We share elements of common history, culture and geography. Yet there are a great many cultural fault line, and it is impossible to escape the feeling that something is absent from our ties, with Spain and the rest of Europe.

Maybe the world is becoming indifferent to us. Nothing that goes on in the Arab world, none of our tragedies and domestic torments matter much in Europe. You could say that the Arab world is being shut out, that people are simply sick and tired of it. To make things worse, Europe seems to have now taken Washington's side insofar as this region is concerned. This goes for Iraq as well as Palestine, the Iranian crisis as well as the halting pace of democratic reform.

Superficially, at least, it seems that Europe has reservations about US policy in Iraq. Europe made some noises to this effect during the recent EU summit in Vienna attended by George Bush. But these reservations are far from substantial or deep-rooted. Europe has a few simple demands. It wants to redress human rights violations related to Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Washington's other secret detention facilities. European officials told Bush as much to his face. But otherwise Europe is letting the US call all the shots as far as the Middle East is concerned.

The Spaniards are rather blunt in the way they talk to and about us. Miguel Angel Moratinus, Spain's top diplomat, a man who has been dealing with the Palestinian issue for years, a man well- versed in Arab politics and who doesn't hide his sympathy with the Palestinians, is a case in point. But when you visit Madrid, capital of the country, which first pull its troops from Iraq, you cannot help but feel that people have had enough with the Arabs, with their whining and inability to resolve their own problems. The Arabs have succeeded in making the world believe that they condone terror. America and Israel, meanwhile, have succeeded in making terror top the agenda of each and every Arab problem. Then you sense the frustration felt in Europe over the illegal immigrants that keep arriving from the southern Mediterranean and Africa. The world has a limited attention span, and it is getting well and truly fed up with the parade of problems coming from this region -- Darfur and Somalia, Iraq and Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

The world has a mental image of a divided and tormented Arab region. Regardless of the sympathy people may have abroad for some of our issues, they cannot see a point in trying to change what cannot be changed. People abroad are increasingly asking themselves: why help those who don't want to help themselves? The general impression is that the Arabs do not care for the miserable conditions faced by the Palestinians. The Arabs have given the Palestinians less aid than that offered by Europe. The Arabs have failed to take a common stand on Iraq or Iran. The Arabs have been backsliding over democratic reform. It is for these, and similar reasons, that the Euro- Mediterranean dialogue, that was supposed to pave the way for a partnership agreement between Egypt and the EU, has failed to live up to its promise of neighbourliness.

Arabs and Egyptians may not care much about what the world thinks of them. But when your region is infested with conflicts, when your countries are mired in backwardness, sunk in helplessness, solutions have to come from abroad. And these solutions will in all likelihood be imposed by politicians working hand in hand with regional powers such as Israel and Iran. Yes we still have oil, but even that is

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