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A Summit on Shaky Ground - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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No longer is it a forlorn summit on a high mountain. More than sixty years of summits cut off from the incline. Sixty years of monotonous agendas to discuss invariable and traditional issues. Sixty years of decisions without execution. Sixty years of repetition and statements about solidarity and rejection which became acceptance, while the angry state settles, divides and humiliates the occupied un front of their nation.

Neither is the summit a summit nor are decisions resolutions. Neither is solidarity. Neither is the mountain a steadfast rock. The ongoing summit is a hurtful and stinging meeting on top of a burning Arab surface. The summit is being held on top of a fragile surface on the verge of crumbling so that the Arab participants find themselves sharing the fate of those on the decline.

It is no use demanding decisions; no use from finding solutions to unsolvable problems; no use demanding resolutions be executed. Perhaps the only benefit from the Khartoum summit is for rulers to assemble and get a glimpse of the horrible situation their subjects find themselves in. Why has Arab disintegration reached this point? Why is Arab society suffering from breakdown and decay? Why is the Arab state threatened more than at any time in the past?

I am not a pessimist. Much has been achieved and there is hope that much more will be accomplished. There is no need to repeat what has been realized. In the current picture, I believe that security is the biggest triumph for Arab regimes. While occupation, killing and fighting continue in the streets of Iraq, you can plant in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco, safely and with the utmost confidence.

Security is as vital as bread: No work or freedom can occur without security. Security is the pride of Arab governments. But political and social stability are threatened by a number of negative factors.

I am convinced that the rise in population is one of the most important political and social problems facing the Arab world.

The Arab state system has failed to put an end to high birth rates. Without a doubt, it is impossible to oblige Arab spouses to only have a single child, as was the case in Mao’s China. But, if there was one benefit to the alliance between Arab governments with traditional religion institutions, it is the ability to convince it (not as of yet) to participate in a media campaign to convince the Arab street of the necessity to reduce birth rates. If the survival of the species is an instinct, then Arab leaders in the Khartoum summit are required to link child bearing with food production.

In the modern era, grapes of wrath are related to one another. One social problem is the consequence of another. Problems of unemployment and immigration are linked to the fear of Arab regimes being deprived of paradise, if reproduction and the economy are linked.

The Arab world is the size of America, both in terms of area and population. 280 million people crowded along fertile coastal plains and river shores, out of 12 million squares Km of mostly desert, whose only benefit is oil.

Amongst this acute lack of arable land and water, every tear three million young Arabs enter the labor market, without vocational training to enable them to integrate in the economy. High reproduction rates mean that three quarters of the population is aged between 15 and 30. Official figures hide the truth; they admit an unemployment rate of less than 15%. In truth, however, an estimated 70 million men and women suffer from hidden unemployment. They provide ample ammunition for anger and despair which political Islam exploits against the state’s security, society and the world at large.

The rise in oil prices in the 1970s was fairly reasonably invested in the development of basic infrastructure in countries of the Persian Gulf. Iraqi and Libyan funds were squandered in financing the Persian project. Revenues from the Gulf region were used by international commercial banks to develop Latin America and give loans to Asia’s Tigers.

With oil prices reaching unprecedented highs, Arab oil revenues are expected to reach $2 trillion dollars, between 2005 and 2010. These funds in countries of the Persian Gulf will be spent on human development after the infrastructure was completed. Most of the revenues will be invested in Asia, after the Gulf lost its trust in the western world and the war it is waging against Arabs and Muslims.

If participants truly believed in a common fate, the Khartoum summit would have produced guarantees and assurances by poor Arab governments to their oil-rich counterparts, in order to eliminate the anger and desolation of the unemployed and desperate youth.

By training millions of young men and women for work, the Khartoum summit could have agreed on the general outline on how to shift the focus of education from the theoretical to the practical and technical. If Arabs are to move with the times, they have to run an Arab-wide literacy campaign and teach 150 million men and women to read and write. They have to place culture in the service of education in order to raise standards and save the Arabic language from the illiteracy of the radio and television. The EU speaks 25 languages. The Khartoum summit will lose its only language in this century if it gives in to local dialects.

Discussing the Iraqi, Lebanese and Sudanese conflicts is a waste of time. The Khartoum summit ought to focus on protecting the Arab world from collapse. It is wrong to solely blame the occupation and foreign intervention. There are Arab reasons, especially official pressure on the sensitive shell that envelopes sects and elements of a fragile society. Another reason is the religious, sectarian and tribal revival, which has brought back from the sight and smells of sectarian killing.

The Arab world is guilty of stabbing itself. After the fall of nationalist regimes, traditional and radical regimes in the 1970s handed over society to traditional religion. By feeding the popular and social imagination huge and continuous doses of teachings and rites, this institution, in turn, handed over this society which is forbidden from politics to politicized religious movements. These groups, devoid of culture and intellectual analysis, either borrowed the slogan “Islam is the solution” or adopted takfir and placed religion and the Arab world in a violent confrontation with the regime, society and the world at large.

This is how the Arab state system finds itself surrounded by several civil and religious conflicts internally, because of the social and national fabric have worn off. It is also under threat from the outside either from international interference under the pretext of democratic reform and the war on terror, or regionally from Israel and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In spite of this, Farouk al Sharaa tired in Khartoum to convince Arab leaders of the legitimacy of Iran ’s nuclear weapon. He justified this, and I plead with you not to laugh, by saying it was for peaceful ends!

The present and future of the Arab state system is under threat. With it, the security, safety and stability of Arab society is in danger. No need for despair with hope. If only the summit of decisions and words would become a meeting to reflect and plan for the present and the future! How narrow is the summit if it weren’t for hope!

Ghassan Al Imam

Ghassan Al Imam

Ghassan Al Imam is a Syrian writer and journalist based in Paris.

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