Speech during the opening of the 37th edition of the International Cultural Moussem of Assilah, Morocco
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora
Speech during the opening of the 37th edition
of the International Cultural Moussem of Assilah, Morocco
August 7th, 2015
Head of the Future Parliamentary Bloc, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, participated in the opening of the 37th edition of the International Cultural Moussem of Assilah, organized by the Assilah Forum Foundation, in Morocco, and delivered a speech, in the presence of Moroccan officials and Arab intellectuals and thinkers:
“It would not have been possible to choose a better title for your seminar at this particular time than: “Arabs: To be or not to be.”
The Arab region is going today through one of the most delicate stages in its modern history since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the Sykes-Picot agreement. We are witnessing the near-collapse of a number of Arab societies and a change in the political geography of the Arab Mashrek, which was established in the region since that agreement that allowed the repartition of the French and British colonial influence regions, and the emergence of new countries in both regions.
In fact, the Sykes-Picot agreement happened nearly a hundred years ago as a result of the collapse of the Ottoman State and the division of the region between the British and the French colonial rule, with the blessing of the Tsarist Russia, after breaching promises given to the Sharif Hussein, who led at the time the Arab Revolt in 1916 which was followed by the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
The Arabs revolted in the east and west for several decades and rose up for independence and freedom. The independence was achieved, but what has been achieved afterwards is not comparable to the sacrifices made by the nation and its peoples.
In the midst of this struggle, the Zionist entity rose, which is a colonization in the heart of our Arab nation, that stole the Palestinian land and displaced its people and expanded at the expense of international law and the rights of vulnerable and subjugated Arab peoples. It led to large humanitarian and national tragedies and opened the Arab region from inside and outside, till now, to events, traumas and problems the repercussions of which we are still witnessing today, and which can be summarized as the following:
First: The fact that the Palestinian cause remained without a just solution, which caused the events and shocks witnessed by the Arab region in the second half of the twentieth century, from the Nakba of 1948 through the 1967 defeat, that led to Israel's occupation of new Arab lands, to the deep and serious implications of all this, and to the subsequent traumatic events in more than one Arab region and the expansion and escalation of settlement activities in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Second: The withdrawal of Egypt from the Arab world issues after it signed the Camp David agreement in 17/12/1978, causing a large vacuum that continued over several decades, in opposition to the Arab and regional role and weight that Egypt should have had, and should have, and that others from outside the Arab world tried and are still trying to play in its place.
Third: The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989, and the conflicts and wars it triggered, as it also awakened the demons of extremism and violence and those causing discord in more than one Arab and Islamic region.
Fourth: The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 02/08/1990 and the rifts it caused within Arab ranks.
Fifth: The escalation of Iranian interference, religious extremism and Iranian domination of the region starting from the eighties of the last century, backed with the theory of exporting the revolution and based on the idea of “Wilayat elfakih” that crosses political boundaries. Therefore, Iran has sought and is still seeking to extend its control and influence, and it is expanding at the expense of the unity of Arab societies and it is using its influence to tear the societies in a sectarian way. It also seeks to exploit the failure of some Arab countries to assimilate ethnic diversity and sectarian pluralism in their countries within the framework of one nation. It is implementing this through a network of armed groups that contribute in fueling these conflicts and internal divisions and increasing the tension and extremism. That is why it places young Shiite Arabs in confrontation with the others, and disturbs the strategic balance in the region for the benefit of outside interference, which it claims to be against, and bargains with it and makes deals. Iran is playing the role of kidnapping Arab and Muslim issues, using them as a cover for what it considers its national interests. It is working to penetrate and divide the whole of Iraq, and at the same time it supports «Hezbollah» in its disablement of the Lebanese constitutional institutions and in its intervention in Syria to support the regime in Damascus, which lead to the destruction of Syria and displacing its people inside and outside the country. In addition to its destructive and divisive role in Yemen.
Sixth: The continued effects of the upheaval that resulted from the US-led invasion of Iraq in 19/03/2003, which led to the dismantling of the Iraqi army and the State and spreading more split among Iraqis.
The US invasion of Iraq has led to the destabilization of the regional system in the Arab Levant and undermined the historic role of Iraq as a strong pivotal Arab State between the Asian inside and the Mediterranean Sea and opened the way for Iran to advance to fill the vacuum created by the decline of the Egyptian role and expand up to the shores of the Mediterranean and to the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, and to the claim by some of its officials that they are building the Persian Empire and control four Arab capitals.
Seventh: The serious repercussions on the national, political, cultural, security, economic and social levels of the communications revolution, which broke the barriers of time and place, as well as the barriers of silence and fear in the Arab world. These shocks were aggravated by the population expansion in the Arab region, the escalation of the problem of unemployment, the increasing decline of private and public freedoms, the deterioration of living conditions and the growing gap between expectations and reality, especially among young people in more than one Arab country, and these developments had a big role in increasing frustration among the younger generations and in the launch of the Arab change movements, making them one of the manifestations of these shocks and developments in the Arab world , including internal clashes as well as regional and international interventions in a number of troubled Arab countries.
We are witnessing at the beginning of the twenty first century, a new phase of fragmentation and collapse in our Arab situation, as a result of the failure of the second Arab project launched by President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the fifties of the last century and the military rule that followed in a number of Arab countries to restore the land and the dignity and the respect of freedoms and rights of the peoples of this region. The tragedy for all Arabs was that the land and the human and social dignity were not restored, and that these regimes did not succeed in achieving the desired development. The truth is that these changes in the Arab countries and on our borders were accompanied by another change which is the decline of the pan-Arab nationalist thought and the enlightened national thinking.
The truth is that the decline of nationalism in its traditional sense relates to the failure of some Arab regimes, and of the policies they used as a source of legitimacy. The goal of these regimes shifted from regaining the land to keeping power, and from paying attention to the interests of the people to pursuing personal and family interests and making fortunes at the expense of the poverty, unemployment and the underdevelopment of the peoples.
Arabism receded also because the institutions created in order to progress towards the achievement of its purposes, like the Arab League -which for many reasons did not accomplish its tasks, did not evolve to fit in with the Era, and did not launch a movement of exchange, interaction and cooperation that would enhance the credibility of the idea and the evolution of its goals to build on the system of Arab interest based on Arab integration.
Arabism also declined because of the confusion that marred its relationship with Islam, which called for caution from a category of citizens of Arab countries from the idea of Arabism, and their retreat at the borders of the region, the community or the sect.
Arabism receded also due to the failure of the pan-Arab powers to deal with diversity within the Arab world away from the exclusion and exception, which meant not enriching the pan-Arab project that could have englobed everyone.
Therefore, many Arab regimes abandoned the Arab proposals and the Palestinian cause even though they continued using its slogan to ensure their survival in power and governance. This made it possible for non-Arab forces to carry this banner and use the abandoned Palestinian cause as a Trojan horse, allowing them to enter into the heart of our Arab causes and steal them, not in order to contribute to comprehensive solutions but in order to find a place for them in order to control and dominate some Arab societies and use them as a platform to export turmoil and sectarian discord.
On the other hand, the abandonment by a number of these Arab regimes of the economic and social interests of their people, and the fact that most of their leaders were busy gathering private fortunes and confiscating State facilities and turning them into personal property, led to the collapse of the middle classes that protect moderation, citizenship and progress in most Arab societies. Also to the entry of big parts of Arab societies, particularly the younger generations, in horrifying cases of unemployment, illiteracy, extreme poverty, marginalization, frustration and unexpressed anger, which contributed in the creation of environments favorable to the emergence and expansion of extremism.
In addition, the Arab region suffered from the indiscriminate war against thought and thinking, especially if it was a modernizing, free or brave thought.
These shocks, events and problems contributed to the emergence and expansion of a number of extremist organizations that use violence, such as Daech and others, in terms of origin, financing, training and armament, including groups remaining from the Iraqi army dissolved by the US administration and some extremist formations of the Syrian opposition.
In addition, those organizations have attracted hundreds of distressed young people from the Muslim communities in European countries, and others who are nationals of their countries but immigrants intellectually and fascinated by the delusion of extremism and a superficial and erroneous understanding of Islam, which is a stranger to the spirit of the era. The truth is that these are groups harmed Islam, spread destruction, terrorized innocent people, tarnished the Arab and Muslim causes, caused the escalation of Islamophobia and led to assemble forces and efforts to divert the attention of the international community from the just Arab issues. This strategic vacuum has contributed to encourage the near and distant neighbors to intervene in the Arab affairs, and harm the remnants of Arab sovereignty and cohesion.
We are witnessing a repetition of history, in two images separated by one hundred years:
The first image:The blocking of the Arab project that had grown over five decades to achieve freedom from colonialism and establish the national State. This project failed after four decades of struggles, epics and wars, due to several factors including western interests and ambitions, obstacles and blockages of the cold war, the establishment of the State of Israel on the land of Palestine, and the deterioration of the national State experience especially during its second phase.
The second one:The failure of the Arab project initiated by Jamal Abdul Nasser, and which was derailed from its track through undemocratic practices and later by dictatorial military and security leaderships. This led to further fragmentation in the region that was still suffering from the first fragmentation.
What happened in a number of Arab countries, which became to be known as the Arab Spring countries, would not have happened without its coinciding with a number of changes, shocks and practices, most importantly:
First:The inability of the institutions and the elites in these countries to agree on steps for political and social reform, whether before or after the popular uprisings. The governing authorities and the institutions of these States did not respond to the calls for reform, reconciliation with the peoples and embracement of all components. They also did not provide the necessary concessions to adapt to the movement of the era; on the contrary, they actually revealed their class and sectarian prejudice in a brazen way.
Second:The popular uprisings in a number of Arab countries revealed the depth of division and cultural and political divergence in their societies, the historic failure of the institutions of these States to absorb this division and their inability to deal with it and bring its components together.
Third: Most countries of military and security regime nature witnessed an unprecedented revolutionary movement as a result of the accumulation and the depth of tyranny, discrimination, and exclusion and the growing failure of the State. But this movement lacked, in each country, the requisites of the successful revolutions. There were no clear programs for change, no leaders and no one to execute them. The participants in these uprisings did not agree on individual or collective leadership, which in turn led to the failure of the popular uprising in its peaceful form.
In light of these facts, the picture becomes complete. Thus, we witness today what Averroes spoke about when he used the term “the incoherence of the incoherence”. Yes we are living today a case of “the incoherence of the incoherence”.
The first incoherence brought us back from our nationalism to narrow minorities, turning us from Arabs to Egyptians, Syrians, Saudis, Iraqis, Jordanians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Algerians, Libyans and Moroccans, forgetting the links of nationalism and interests that bring us together. The second incoherence divided us today into Syrian Alawites, Syrian Sunnis, Syrian Druzes, Egyptian Copts, Egyptian Muslims etc… The fear is that this would continue and the consequences would accumulate, leading us to a circle of continuous and destructive incoherence, and the only way out would be through a complete Arab project that absorbs and embraces all components without excluding anyone, and builds on the integration between each other without forgetting the national affiliations.
What I want to say today is that the first incoherence could only lead to the second incoherence. And this second incoherence will lead, unless the augmentation of its problems is avoided, to a third incoherence that would divide the region not only into sects but also into ethnicities, races, clans and tribes, bringing us into endless and useless struggles that would be a waste of efforts, energies, resources, capabilities and opportunities. Incoherence leads to more incoherence. Thus, I will change a little bit our title to: “Either we are Arabs, united, harmonious, and cooperate in the vision, plan, project and will, or we won’t be.”
This means that it is imperative to make the civilized project of enlightened Arabism, which brings together all Arab ethnic components away from any calls for revenge and vengeance, succeed. This project should be enriched by the Arab project that recognizes the various entities of the Arab states based on civil rule and respect of individual freedom and where all citizens are equal before the law. The Arab project that makes the common Arab interests the basis to bring the Arabs together and unify their word in the framework of an Arab interest system. This is the only way for us to remain, and to give our people the dignity, justice, job opportunities and the true participation that they deserve in this era.
It is time to make this project succeed because time is running out and failure means new decades of dispersion, wars and struggles where everyone loses and no one wins. The rehabilitation of this project would be through eight axes:
First:Restore respect for the essential Arab cause, by working to remove the effects of the failure of the first project and the effects of the failure of the second project. By concentrating on the necessity of reaching a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian cause; a solution that restores the lost dignity of the Arabs and eliminates one of the most important repercussions of colonialism from our Arab region. It should be based on the Arab peace initiative.
Second:Develop a clear and constant Arab position that regains the strategic balance in the region by developing a unified Arab will regarding the issues and problems facing the Arab region. This would be a substitute to the prevailing various scattered and conflicting wills.
Third:Develop a proactive and clear position regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran. A position based on the realization that the Arab and Iranian parties have no interest in increasing the severity of rivalry and disputes which will only bring destruction and damage on both of them. The common interest requires efforts to establish sound and equal relations between the Arab countries and Iran, based on mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of the countries of the region. This was mentioned by the Iranian foreign minister in his article published by the Lebanese daily As-Safir on 03-08-2015. This should be based on the fact that the Arabs and Iran have three common interests: the long history of relationship between the Arab region and Iran in its sweetness and bitterness, the connected geography between the Arab countries and Iran, and the real interests which should be permanent and stable between Iran and the Arab countries in accordance with the good neighborhood policy.
Adversity and attempts to spread influence and domination are useless and would certainly lead to great damage on both parties, as in the end, it is in the interest of both to meet, cooperate and engage in dialogue and cooperation.
Such constructive approach of the Arab-Iranian relations requires that both achieve change, which could come as a result of the realization that there is no interest in continuing the state of adversity. Thus, change and harmony with the demands of the era should be achieved in order to put an end to the rivalry.
There should not be feud between the Arabs and Iran, thus there is a need to build on the historic relations, the good neighborly relations and the common interests relations. This means the Arabs would extend their hands to Iran to regain confidence and cooperation, and on its part, Iran should take initiatives in deeds and not just words, to end the dreams of domination and control, and return to the principles of mutual respect and noninterference in the internal affairs of both parties.
In this regard, we point to the words of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Sayyed Ali Khamenei with respect to the importance of finding solutions through dialogue and communication. We should focus on them because they differ from the method that uses weapons or force and was adopted by the Islamic Republic of Iran until now.
Thus, what happened with respect to redrawing Iran’s relation with the international community could also be applied to build a sound, healthy and normal relationship between Iran and the Arab countries.
Fourth:Concentrate on the importance of building on the joint Arab work and on drawing lessons from past mistakes, as the two aforementioned projects of Sharif Hussein and King Faysal, and of President Abdul Nasser, were not sufficiently based on developing and deepening joint Arab interests founded on Arab integration, including the economic, social, security and political interests. There were problems of individualism, divisions of the cold war, neglect of the spirit of integration and exaggeration of the Israeli superiority.
Activating the joint Arab work politically, and on the security and economic levels, requires the development of a clear and firm collective Arab stance that regains the strategic balance in the Arab region and with Turkey, and opposes the Iranian invasion of the Arab States and societies and certainly the basic challenge represented by the Israeli occupation and the continued absence of a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian cause based on the Arab peace initiative.
All this depends on doubling the efforts to return Egypt to the Arab world and restore its role which no other one can assume. This can be done by helping Egypt regarding its internal political, economic and security shocks.
In this respect, we once again should be honest with ourselves: No Arab country or economy can singlehandedly solve the huge amount of challenges it faces. Thus, it is time, and we are even late, to move according to a clear vision to achieve an Arab economic integration that would benefit all the Arab and neighboring countries, and contribute to achieve social, security and political stability in our Arab countries.
The greatest challenge facing our Arab countries today, and which will increase in the coming ten years, lies in how we listen to our peoples’ demands, particularly our youth who seek participation and dignified living. Thus, it is imperative to work on creating 50 million new employment opportunities to absorb those joining the Arab labor market. We should also work on rehabilitating a large number of them so that their knowledge and skills fit with the nature of the coming needs of our Arab economies and the needs of our young societies.
These problems, with the depth of their negative repercussions, may represent an opportunity that would come from the womb of the problems that the oil-producing and importing Arab countries are suffering from. It would allow the application of real reform programs for their economies and finances to diversify the national economies, enhance growth rates and efforts for human and economic development, and slim the public sector to allow the Arab private sector to attract direct local, Arab and foreign investment.
Fifth:Progress on the path of political reform, by re-establishing the civil rule that embraces all components, and the civil State, the good governance State. A large part of the illusions of the religious State are due to the failure of the Arab national State in its second phase and the emergence of tyrannical and sectarian regimes. People escaped these regimes to what they thought was the paradise of the religious State. Good governance regimes are capable of bringing down the illusions of deadly fundamentalism and the temptations of dictatorships, from which the Arab peoples suffered over the last decades.
Sixth:Work on the political, cultural and consensus levels to address the causes of disintegration of the Arab societies from within, which are worsened by external interventions. We must realize that we cannot achieve this solution without emphasizing on "gathering identities" instead of identities below the national level, and seeking to restore the respect of the principles of citizenship and full equality through ruling systems based on these principles.
Seventh:Progress on the religious reform track, save Islam from its captors, save the Arab world from falling into the struggle of deadly fundamentalisms, and avoid wasting further decades in meaningless wars and failed experiences.
Cooperation should be focused, in confronting extremist terrorist movements, and on the necessity of exerting efforts designed to achieve religious reform in order to save Islam from the crimes and heresies committed in its name. Serious work should also focus on the importance of moderation and the respect of human rights and public and private freedoms.
Muslims scholars, leaders, intellectuals and religious institutions have great responsibility in preparing programs that aim at reforming the religious education to our youth. Clerics should also be pioneers in calling for openness and modernization. There is a dire need to encourage critical thinking in our societies, in order to change the world vision from the part of the coming generations, especially after decades of subordination of the religious institutions by the military and security regimes. It is time for Muslims, of all nationalities, to contribute in the Islamic religious reform, by enriching the religious perspective through restoring the respect of science and knowledge, requesting human rights, and opening to the world on the bases of the brotherhood of the human beings and their cooperation for the common interests that bring them together at present and in the future.
Eighth:In light of this difficult reality, there is no doubt that our Arab states and societies cannot receive the needed attention and respect in their surroundings and in the world in the absence of a firm Arab stance and a creative Arab thought. On the contrary, the fragmentation, division and continued subordination to the logic of conflicting wills instead of being in harmony in the framework of a unified Arab interest, will push the neighbors and the international community to ignore and underestimate us, or attempt to get hold of our nations and violate our sovereignty.
There is an urgent need to reach an Arab stance that would restore the respect of Arabs, from their part first and from the others, whereby the Arab citizens would regain some hope in the future and restore the respect of the world to them and to their causes. This could be achieved by progressing on the path of building a joint Arab force to preserve Arab national security on land, and in the sea and the air. This could represent the first practical step to develop an Arab stance that would put an end to the situation of inaction and dependency, and stop the Arab decline.
On the other hand, I call for a large Arab country or a large cultural and political Arab entity to establish an “Arab Strategic Group” composed of scientists, intellectuals and strategists from more than one country, known for their objectivity and insightfulness regarding Arab causes. The group would study ways to convert the eight points I, and many others, mentioned, into policies or proposals of policies that we can take to the institutions of the Arab States and then to the comprehensive Arab institutions in order to think, decide and execute.
In order for this initiative to become comprehensive, I suggest holding a strategic meeting between the three large Arab countries: Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, but not limited to them. The mission would be the development of common policies for Arab security in the current decade, and ways to deal with four issues: The strategic threat to Arab security, cooperation with the Islamic states and societies, extremism and terrorism, and dealing with the international community and the world today.
The Arab poet says: “Spears won’t break if united…but would each break if separated.”
There is a saying in English I mentioned earlier and I reiterate today because it is useful to cite it. It says: “Stand up to be counted.” It means the necessity to stand up or take the appropriate stance, in order to be seen by those gathered around the table or the stage, and thus take into consideration the Arab participant.
The real answer to the question asked in this conference’s title: Arabs: to be or not to be, is yes, we are and we should be, and we have no other choice than to continue with determination and perseverance in order to be, and this can be achieved only when we have the strong determination with which nothing is difficult. The orientation of our compass should be correct and should commit to the Arab constants based on the Arab interests, and the aim should be the Arab citizen who is in harmony with his needs and the needs of the future of its nation, its security and progress.
Yes: we will be.”