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The ABC’s of the Middle East

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September 16, 2011

 by Avi Melamed

Below is an article published on September 14, 2011 about Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s speech at the meeting of The Arab League on September 12, 2011.  The article was written by Mr. Tariq Alhomayed, the Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, the leading Arab language daily newspaper and the oldest and most influential in the Arab world.

Tariq Alhomayed is the Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, the youngest person to be appointed that position. Mr. Alhomayed has an acclaimed and distinguished career as a Journalist and has held many key positions in the field including; Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, Managing Editor of Asharq Al-Awsat in Saudi Arabia, Head of Asharq Al-Awsat Newspaper’s Bureau-Jeddah, Correspondent for Al – Madina Newspaper in Washington D.C. from 1998 to Aug 2000. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs including: the BBC, German TV, Al Arabiya, Al- Hurra, LBC and the acclaimed Imad Live’s four-part series on terrorism and reformation in Saudi Arabia. He is also the first Journalist to conduct an interview with Osama Bin Ladin’s Mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a BA degree in Media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, and has also completed his introductory courses towards a Master’s degree from George Washington University in Washington D.C. He is based in London.

Erdogan of Arabia…but!
published 14/09/2011
By Tariq Alhomayed

The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made an enthused speech in the “Arab House”, i.e. the Arab League, without saying a single word publicly about Syria. Instead the focus was all on the Arab-Israeli conflict!

Although Erdogan invoked the name Bouazizi, saying that he “reminded the world once again of the value of human honor”, he neglected to talk about the thousands of Bouazizis in Syria, who have been murdered, kicked and booted, had their throats slit, and much more, at the hands of the security forces of the al-Assad regime.  Erdogan devoted his vehement speech to talking about Israel and Palestine, and the need to lift the blockade on Gaza. It is well known that the issue of Palestine can be used by leaders to overcome obstacles in our region, i.e. it is a leadership trump card, and the fact is that Erdogan used this tool well in his speech. But the problem was not in his speech, and here lies the story.

The problem is that the Arab reality today has gone beyond the stage of slogans about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. All the Arab countries that rose up with their revolutions and uprisings did not burn a single foreign flag. They only called for dignity, freedom and social justice. These popular demands have remained the same until now, despite all attempts to tarnish them with regional conflicts, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, as is happening in Egypt today. The Arab masses have grown tired of vague slogans, and they are convinced that the Palestinian cause is the easiest subject for some leaders in the region to turn to when they need to score points, and this is what the al-Assad regime is doing today.

Of course, the intention here is not to belittle the Palestinian issue, but unfortunately it is used by some as an escape from dealing with reality, and is a readymade peg [to pin problems on]. How sad was it that while Erdogan was speaking about Israeli hostility, demonstrators gathered outside the Arab League condemning the al-Assad regime’s hostility towards its own people. Even the Syrians are now demanding that the al-Assad regime use rubber bullets, along the lines of the Israel, instead of live bullets and artillery. Here it appears that Mr. Erdogan has forgotten an important lesson from Arab cultural heritage, namely that “injustice from those who are close brings more pain and suffering than the blade of a sharp sword”. Today the Arabs have become occupied with protecting their unarmed Syrian brothers from a bloodthirsty regime, more than they are occupied with Israel and its crimes, and this is no different for the Syrians themselves.

Mr. Erdogan also did not pay attention to another problem with the Palestinian cause, namely that it has become a vehicle for each aspirant to manipulate. It has become complicated and contaminated. The simplest example here is that immediately after Erdogan finished his speech to the Arab League, demanding the need to lift the Gaza blockade and for UN recognition of a Palestinian state, deputies from Hamas issued a statement demanding Mahmoud Abbas not to resort to “unilateral steps” to recognize the Palestinian state, and this is the same language as Israel!

Therefore, there is nothing wrong with the Arab-Turkish coalition, but it must go beyond slogans and leadership trump cards. If Erdogan wants the Arabs to believe him then he should move significantly on the Syrian issue. As for Israel, we have heard speeches against it with more tact than what Erdogan said, whether in the Arab House itself or elsewhere!

*End of article*

In less than 600 words Mr. Alhomayed has outlined the ABC’s of the Middle East:

A.     Slogans are used by leaders in the Arab world as a tool to avoid responsibility, divert criticism, rechanneling feelings of frustration and avoid confronting the real challenges.

B.      Israel is traditionally the scapegoat, a tool used by Arab politicians, journalists, etc. to gain popularity among the Arab masses.

C.     The recent events in the Arab world indicate the beginning of a change. People in the Arab world are tired of the old empty and shallow slogans. Unfortunately, this change has not impacted the traditional animosity of the Arab street towards Israel. Not yet. But the fact that there is a change offers the hope that sometime in the far future, the change in the Arab mindset when it comes to slogans will also positively impact the way the Arab street looks at Israel.

Here is a link to the original article in Arabic:
http://www.aawsat.com//leader.asp?section=3&article=640285&issueno=11978

Here is a link to the original article in English:
http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=2&id=26573

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