Friday, May 27, 2005

Mideast Observations

Jay Nordlinger, National Review's Managing Editor, has been in Jordan for the May installment of the World Economic Forum. He's been reporting all week but the epistles haven't been as colorful as those from Davos, about which we wrote here.
He makes up for it today.

Al-Arabiya — the TV network that’s not al-Jazeera — holds a debate. The subject is, “What Will It Take to Unleash an Arab Renaissance?”...The participants make an interesting crew: Amr Moussa, the Arab League honcho; Prince Turki al-Faisal, formerly Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief and now its ambassador to the U.K.;... Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister of Iraq; Bassam I. Awadallah, the finance minister of Jordan; and . . . Liz Cheney.

...Zebari, of course, is masterly. He speaks of a “wave” in the Middle East that “cannot be stopped.” For “this is a matter of popular demand. Society wants change, and people are tired of being marginalized.” Zebari quotes the slogan of the Egyptian opposition: “Kifaya” (“Enough”). He will quote it yet more times in the course of the debate, for he is jabbing a nemesis, Amr Moussa (formerly the Egyptian foreign minister, and a personification of the Old Guard).
Bassam Awadallah, the Jordanian finance minister? I swear, I can hardly believe he is a lieutenant to an Arab king. He speaks like a scholar of the American Enterprise Institute: markets, democracy, transparency, rights, the rule of law, opportunity, opportunity, opportunity. He might as well be Jack Kemp, c. 1978, by the sound of him. “We see Arabs in the U.S. and Europe succeeding. Why can’t they succeed here?” he asks. “The answer is that we’re not giving liberty to people.” Ay, caramba!

Next, Prince Turki — getting uncomfortable — plays the Palestinian card. Before any change can legitimately take place in the Middle East, “the Palestinians must be freed.” For “this is a bleeding wound of 60 years’ duration, and it is impacting us negatively.” Why the Palestinian situation demands that Saudi Arabia — or any other country — be a police state, he does not say. They never do. [emphasis added.]

That HAS to be the comment of the day.
I must give Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, the last word. And it concerns words. He points out that, in Arab League discussions, his counterparts were reluctant even to use the word “reform”; it had to be “modernization,” somehow less threatening.

The Old Guard is scared sh*tless.

An outstanding participant in these Davos conferences — including the ones in Jordan — is A. C. Grayling, the English philosopher, writer, columnist, and leftist. He is a complete pleasure to talk with, a gentle man, reasonable, humane. Very unlike the leftists I have met in my own country. He’s the type of man you’d want in the classroom, or entrust your kids’ education to (at least part of it). Anthony does not hate you if you disagree with him. He does not treat conservatives as subhuman, as our professors — and many of our media bigs — do. He possesses a tolerant and democratic spirit.

As many of us frequently say, a lefty who is decent is worth his weight in gold.

Decent lefties? Reminds me of Andrew Stuttaford yesterday-- ours seem to 'remain trapped in a mindset that blends traditional working class belligerence with the idiot radicalism of a third-rate provincial university.'

I encounter a most remarkable entrepreneur, a Jordanian Palestinian, or a Palestinian Jordanian, if you like. He was brought up in Kuwait — and speaks to me at length about discrimination against Palestinians in Kuwait, Jordan, Syria. You may finish at the top of your class, but you are still kept back professionally, he says. A Palestinian has to be three times better than “native” others to land a job — and even that may not be good enough. This fellow longs to be free of onerous taxation and regulation, to make his business grow. I swear, when I listen to him, I’m listening to the most natural Reaganite in the world. And I condemn societies that keep people down, blocking their dreams. It’s one thing, I suppose, if you can’t make it on your own effort and talent; it’s another if anti-meritocratic arrangements thwart you, depriving you of a chance.

Notice how the Palestinian problem is a 'hurt that never stops' but they are despised in the other Arab lands. Somehow, though if you push the Jews into the sea the whole problem will be solved.

Last, I will tell you this: He says one of the most striking things I’ve ever heard: “We never have any ex-presidents” in this part of the world. Oh, how wonderful it would be to see an ex-president! “You in the West have ex-presidents. Here, you’re president for life. If you’re not president anymore, it’s because you’re dead.” But won’t Abu Mazen be an ex-president? I ask. My friend is highly skeptical.

So, there is one possible definition of freedom: Where it reigns, you have ex-presidents.

Wisdom for the ages.

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