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A call for unifying the ranks - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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On October 15-16, 1991, President Hafez al-Assad spent more than 15 hours discussing with James Baker, the then U.S. Secretary of State, the terms and phrases which should be used in the Madrid peace process in order to express the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights, stressing, in particular, that “East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Arab land occupied in 1967”. He also stressed the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees and their right to create their independent national state. By citing letters written by Jimmy Carter on March 27, 1978 and letters from Ronald Regan on July 29, 1988, President Assad tried to prove to James Baker that “recognizing the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including political rights, has always been US policy expressed by US presidents”. Al-Assad dwelt on the “the common factors which bring the Arabs together” and explained that “just and comprehensive peace and restoring all rights, including Jerusalem and the refugees is the only viable peace”. In a moment of spontaneity, Baker said, “I wonder how important the Arab world would be if all the Arabs reached consensus on this vision. It is a tremendous idea”.

It is very rare for a Western official to articulate the points of strength which the Arabs enjoy, and which their leaders have failed to use so far citing Western agreements and ‘international’ treaties. But the objective of all those agreements was keeping the Arabs divided and fragmented. After the West divided our nation into 22 states, here they are sowing sedition and separation in every Arab country. Every day we see a new attempt to divide Arab countries and giving priority to country interests as if they contradicted Arab interests. Hostility to pan-Arab parties was promoted while takfiri groups have been encouraged. People’s imagination has been fueled by promises of economic prosperity to the countries which signed peace agreements designed to guarantee Israel’s hegemony and arrogance so that it could swallow the whole of Palestine.

In return for this unilateral peace, and for breaking from the ranks of the Arab nation, Israel became more arrogant and oppressive against the Palestinians, killing them, assassinating their leaders, settling on their land and depriving them of their freedom. For decades of ‘peace’, frustration and desperation grew among successive generations of Arabs watching how Arab blood has become so cheap in the eyes of Arab rulers who persisted in making deals with the enemy and appeasing war criminals like George W. Bush who waged war on Islam. For all these long and tough years, which have seen tragedies and humiliations of the Arab nation, including the destruction of Iraq, the ongoing war on Lebanon, the war on Gaza and the siege imposed on its people by the enemy and the ‘brother’, I used to repeat one question to Western media: “if we Arabs are not worthy of life, as you portray us, why this continuing preoccupation with us and our region?”

During the past two weeks, Washington has been on top alert as never before. American officials have been holding meetings of the National Security Council chaired by President Obama; the Secretary of State has been giving statements every two hours; the White House and State Department spokesmen have been appearing on TV screens more often than their predecessors during the war on Afghanistan and Iraq; not in support of freedom, democracy and human rights, but in order to lengthen the life of ‘friendly’ regimes. This unprecedented concern on the part of the United States reflects an Israeli concern for its security which was guaranteed by unilateral peace agreements.

The Israeli war on Arabs, by accusing them of ‘terrorism’, ‘backwardness’ and ‘fanaticism’ aims at destroying Arab self confidence and convincing Arabs, before others, that they are not worthy of life. Then, they feel more frustrated and feeble so their enemies play havoc with their destiny without any resistance on their part. Our enemies have realized that the Arab identity is what unifies and empowers us and that our strength lies in our cooperation. That is why they have been trying to undermine this sacred tie of Arab identity. They replaced it with religious, ethnic and sectarian infighting until our countries are divided and sedition is planted in the ranks of our people. This is the source of Arab weakness, politically, socially and economically. Could an investor imagine a single unified Arab investment space ruled by one set of laws, regulations and objectives in an Arab market of about 400 million Arabs instead of 22 small investment spaces governed by different laws and procedures? This in itself would have turned the Arabs into an emerging economic power in the footsteps of China, India, Brazil and Turkey. But this is what our enemies in Israel do not want to see. Nor do their allies in Washington and other Western capitals who used to shout in support of democracy while we see them today worried about the prospect of an emerging Arab democracy.

However, the Arab masses have shown, by confronting the oppressive security systems trained by Western powers, that Washington dreads democracy in the Arab world. Its politicians and commentators are wondering whether an Arab democratic regime would maintain the same relationship with Israel. When some Iranians protested against the regime, Neda Soltani became a universal martyr of freedom; and her photographs were published in all newspapers of the world. Obama himself expressed sadness for her death; while Western media failed to mention the name of a single Arab freedom martyr. This shows that they are not interested in the cause of freedom or the cause of democracy in the Arab world. These are all slogans raised in the face of those who oppose their anti-Arab projects; and that is why Israel killed Palestinian democracy with declared American support; and that is why you hear them wondering why the Arabs have risen now calling for democracy. What the Arab masses have proven this time is what the Arabs have always shown: that they are a free and proud people who love freedom.

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Prof. Bouthaina Shaaban is political and media advisor to the Syrian presidency, and the former minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer, and has been a professor at Damascus University since 1985. She received her PhD in English Literature from Warwick University, London. She was the spokesperson for Syria. She was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

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