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~~GULFWIRE~~PERSPECTIVES~~NOVEMBER 22, 2002~~CHANGING THE MIDDLEEAST STATUS QUO -- A EUROPEAN VIEW (fwd)
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Subject: ~~GULFWIRE~~PERSPECTIVES~~NOVEMBER 22,
2002~~CHANGING THE MIDDLE EAST STATUS QUO -- A EUROPEAN VIEW
********GULFWIRE ~ PERSPECTIVES*********
INFORMATION AND INSIGHTS ON MIDDLE EAST DEVELOPMENTS
NATIONAL COUNCIL ON U.S. ARAB RELATIONS AND
THE U.S.-GCC CORPORATE COOPERATION COMMITTEE SECRETARIAT
NOVEMBER 22, 2002
CHANGING THE MIDDLE EAST STATUS QUO -- DEMOCRACY AND
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: A EUROPEAN VIEW
GulfWire is again privileged to share the results of an event at the Center
for Strategic and Future Studies, a think-tank affiliated with Kuwait
This report provides the thoughtful consideration of former Italian Foreign
Minister Gianni De Michelis and participants in a roundtable discussion on
the question of potential change in the region in terms of democracy and
economic development. The perspectives of Mr. De Michelis and the
roundtable participants are insightful and timely.
We thank the Center for permission to bring it to you.
Patrick W. Ryan
CHANGING THE STATUS QUO: A DISCUSSION WITH GIANNI DE MICHELIS
On Tuesday, November 5, 2002, the Center for Strategic and Future Studies
hosted a roundtable discussion with former Italian Foreign Minister Gianni
De Michelis, about the current and future changes in the Middle East. The
following report is a summary of the discussion. Only the comments of Mr.
De Michelis and Italian Ambassador Vincenzo Prati are summarized here with
attribution. The rest of the participants' comments are highlighted in this
report without attribution.
The participants were:
Gianni de Michelis – Former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs
Vincenzo Prati- Ambassador of Italy to Kuwait
Richard Jones – Ambassador of the United States of America to Kuwait
Ali Al-Tarrah – Dean of the College of Social Sciences, Kuwait University
Ghassan Sinno – Assistant Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences,
Islamic University of Beirut
Abdullah Al-Otaibi – Director General of Kuwait Institute for Scientific
Mohammed Khalaf – Consultant, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Former Kuwaiti
Ambassador to Algeria, future Kuwaiti Ambassador to
Hussam Al-Khorafi – (Engineer) Manager of Mohammed Abdelmohsin Al-Khorafi &
Abdul Hamid Al-Awadhi – Director of International Organizations Department,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Shafeeq Ghabra – Director of the Center for Strategic and Future Studies,
and Professor of Political Science, Kuwait University
* * * *
Mr. Gianni De Michelis:
The real question for us all in the world right now is whether it is better
to keep the status quo in the Middle East, or whether it is time for change.
After the Gulf War of 1990 and the events of Sept. 11, we realized that the
absence of order brings disorder in the form of terrorism. I am in favor of
taking an initiative with Iraq, as the best possible starting point for a
change in the current situation in the Middle East, and in moving ahead to
change the status quo. I have no doubt that Iraq is the best place to
start; my doubts begin later, in what will come after regime change, and in
which direction we can actually change the status quo. We are going to war
for stability, and to establish two processes in the region: democracy and
economic development. The difficulty is how to establish a positive process
Once the status quo (beginning with the Iraqi regime) has been broken, the
problem facing the West is the possibility of a double-standard and
contradiction: we want democracy but if democracy brings a solution that we
do not like (look at the recent elections in Turkey), should we then block
democracy? When you start a democratic process, you have to begin with
something acceptable to the people. One initiative we could take to utilize
public opinion in Arab and Islamic countries in order to establish a
democratic evolution that is not antagonistic to the West, is to find a
solution to the Palestine question.
Group Discussion: Impact on Kuwait
Change of regime in Iraq will spark the creation of new alliances in the
Middle East. Kuwait should support the policy of change and play a
significant role in the process. By doing so, Kuwait will continue to keep
close relations with the West, whereas keeping a safe distance from actually
participating in the change will have a negative impact on Kuwait's future.
On the short-term level, regime change in Iraq has some disadvantages for
Kuwait: Kuwait will have new obligations to a new regime; it will have to
contribute to develop the new Iraq; and Iraq may replace Kuwait as the
United States' main ally in the Gulf. However, in the long-run, the change
will have advantages for Kuwait: Kuwait will have good relations with a new
regime in Iraq; a democratic regime in Iraq will help maintain stability in
the region; and finally, a democratic Iraq will enhance democracy in the
entire Arab world, including Kuwait.
Group Discussion: Impact on Region
Those who oppose change in Iraq do so out of their fear of the unknown, and
of what could come afterwards. This is a continuity of a typical Arab way
of thinking: it is better to stick to the status quo in order to avoid the
unknown. However, it is time to take that risk of the unknown, and there
must be some starting point for a change. That point is Iraq.
Military logic does not always comply with social and psychological logic.
Changing the status quo in Iraq militarily might be quick, but changing the
social dimensions of the society will take a long time. A real dynamic
change does not happen overnight; it is a systemic movement. There needs to
be significant change in the society's belief and value systems on
socio-economic levels in order to truly change the status quo. The Iraqi
people have been living under Saddam Hussein's rule for many years. Are
they going to be able to suddenly comply with democratic rules, and to
accept these changes with ease? Maintaining the status quo (i.e. keeping
Saddam's regime in power) is not a positive solution to this dilemma. The
Bush administration is going for a military occupation of Iraq based on the
post-World War II Japan model. This might not be the best solution but it is
one of the only feasible ones, if the United States stays long-term and
initiates these changes on a socio-economic level. There will be negative
side effects to a U.S. occupation of Iraq, such as more aggression and
violence among Arab countries and more terrorism against the United States,
but we do not have a better solution.
An overarching fear of establishing a democratic process in the Arab world
is that this process might yield results that the United States and the West
may not like. The majority of current Arab governments are pro-West,
however with a democratic process, most of the governments that will get
elected to office by the majority of the people will probably be anti-West.
In response to this dilemma, Mr. De Michelis said that we must be ready to
face this contradiction if it does occur, and that it should not deter us
from wanting to change the status quo. U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones
responded to this issue by saying that if it is a true democracy with
regular elections, then unless those elected governments manage to really
deliver to the people, they will not be reelected into power the next term
and eventually a more democratic process will prevail.
There is a lack of trust in the Arab world in regards to the United States'
stamina to follow up on their initiatives after a regime change takes place
in Iraq. We know a military form of change is going to happen, but the Arab
world needs a real commitment from the West to ensure that a long-term
change will actually take place in the region.
On the other hand, another opinion stated that there are numerous examples
that prove that the United States does in fact have the stamina to follow up
on a regime change in Iraq: Korea, Germany, Bosnia, the sanctions in Iraq.
It is true that it will be a very long-term process to change the mentality
of the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein has intentionally corrupted those
around him, and in order to unravel this process and repair the damage that
has been done the United States must work to open the process for the people
and society as a long-term project.
In 1991, the United States chose not to upset the status quo, but this might
not necessarily have been a conscious decision. The first President Bush
did encourage the Iraqi people to stand up and overthrow Saddam Hussein,
however the United States did not intervene to support the movement. The
former Bush administration did not want to occupy Iraq back then for fear of
the unknown, and the mandate was not to go into Baghdad.
The new status quo since 1991 has been the enforcement of the sanctions
against Iraq. The current Bush administration has realized that the
sanctions are a status quo that is no longer sustainable. The situation
needs to be changed, and changed in a way such that we can control the
outcome and the direction in which change will occur. The only other option
would be to abandon the sanctions, which would put Saddam Hussein in control
of the post-status quo period.
Italian Ambassador Vincenzo Prati:
Ambassador Prati explained that the process of changing the status quo in
the Middle East is difficult and long, and it takes the cooperation of all
parties involved. Furthermore, we have to take into consideration the
different views of the different states involved. The ambassador believes
that Italy and the European Union can play a significant role in the
situation because of their friendship with Arab countries.
Group Discussion: The Palestine issue
The Palestine question is a hot spark in the Middle East, which causes
confusion, aggression, and negative attitudes against the West. As Arabs,
we must look at U.S. foreign policy in regards to the Palestine issue with
the idea that we have a different perspective than they do, but that does
not mean that we should immediately have a negative view of the United
States in regards to their policies with the rest of the region.
The Palestine question is a major issue that the United States has to
contend with in the region; however, the Arab world has not done enough to
recognize and advance U.S. efforts. While the Bush administration supports
the establishment of a Palestinian state with recognized international
borders, this development will need strong pro-activity and continuous
initiatives from the Arab world and from the Palestinian Authority. This
lack of Arab follow-up and activism has created a huge vacuum.
Even if we were to solve the Palestine issue, that would not end the
problems in the Arab world regarding Iraq, issues of state and religion,
and economic development.
Mr. De Michelis:
The tensions in the Middle East are of main European interest because they
do impact European countries and their societies, especially those around
the Mediterranean. With regards to the Palestinian issue, most Europeans do
believe in the necessity of the establishment of two separate states. Like
with the countries of Europe, there should be a situation of cooperation,
We are in favor of discussing the next step after the removal of Saddam
Hussein; regime change is necessary but not sufficient. What is important
for us is the same as what is important for the Arabs – to tell the United
States to consider all the different steps to solve the problems in the
Middle East long term, namely Palestine. The United States should exert
strong pressure on Israel to accept a necessary compromise, without which
there will be no solution. Europe and the Arab world should do the same on
the Palestinian side, and go beyond Arafat (beyond the status quo), to put
pressure on Palestine to move forward. Together, we should try to envisage
a formal arrangement for security in the region. We should draft a treaty
(similar to Helsinki) as a security system, with a set of rules and
regulations to avoid the collapse of the whole system in the Middle East,
and this would be the principle step leading towards democratic evolution in
* * * *
The Center for Strategic and Future Studies is a Kuwaiti think-tank,
affiliated with Kuwait University, and is directed by Dr. Shafeeq Ghabra.
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