Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rose-Colored Glasses

This is a repost of a blog entry here on December 17, 2006. Note that Ahmed Sheik is not some ignorant streetcleaner. He is Editor-in-Chief of Al-Jazeera.

Pierre Heumann is a writer for the Swiss Weekly, Die Weltwoche. He interviewed the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Jazeera, Ahmed Sheik, a Palestinian. The following is the conclusion of the interview.

Die Weltwoche: You sound bitter.

Yes, I am.

Die Weltwoche: At whom are you angry?

It's not only the lack of democracy in the region that makes me worried. I don't understand why we don't develop as quickly and dynamically as the rest of the world. We have to face the challenge and say: enough is enough! When a President can stay in power for 25 years, like in Egypt, and he is not in a position to implement reforms, we have a problem. Either the man has to change or he has to be replaced. But the society is not dynamic enough to bring about such a change in a peaceful and constructive fashion.

Die Weltwoche: Why not?

In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: You have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom. How can a teacher do his job in such circumstances? The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.

Die Weltwoche: Who is responsible for the situation?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this. Everything would be much calmer if the Palestinians were given their rights.

Die Weltwoche: Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public clinics in Jordan would function better?

I think so.

Die Weltwoche: Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems?

The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.

Die Weltwoche: In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?

Exactly. It's because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this.

Pierre Heumann is the Middle East correspondent of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche. His interview with Ahmed Sheikh originally appeared in German in Die Weltwoche on Nov. 23, issue 47/06. The English translation is by John Rosenthal.

One could argue that what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt is that playing the Israel card has stopped working. Governments and institutions are no longer able to change the subject from questions of corruption, incompetence, and dictatorship. No longer able to play the Israel card, Arab governments have no excuse for themselves. And collapse within days for lack of one.

Which raises an interesting possibility. It may be Pollyanna optimism to even suggest this, but with honest representative governments, Arab states might no longer have a vested interest in demonizing Israel to maintain the appearance of an external enemy to justify their corrupt dictatorial rule. And without that interest in maintaining a groundless and pointless hostility, it might wither away. So much has been invested for so long in the mindless campaign of vilification that it is not imaginable that there can peace, let alone friendship, anytime soon. But there can be a loss of interest. Israel might eventually become to them what Lebanon is today -- a confusing oddity which is of interest only to specialists, tourists, and businesspeople.


1 comment:

  1. Christy4:56 PM

    That would only ever happen if a just peace could be achieved between the two sides. There is genuine anti semitism in the Arab World, but there is also genuine concern over the treatment of the Palestinians. If Israel could make a bold step forward and normalise relations somewhat, a lot could be achieved. Islamist groups are by and large not popular in Arab countries. Even in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood (Which is relatively liberal by previous movements. More US Republican Party than US Nazi Party truth be told) can only expect around 20% in a free and fair election. A coalition of liberals, secularists, left wingers and Christians form a more signficant body in Egyptian civil society. There is promise for a better relationship in this part of the world, but Israel has to do something clever and brave, and needs to do it quickly.