A Lecture by H.E. Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al- Thani on The Current Arab Situation and Future Prospects at Oxford Center for Islamic Studies|
Dr. Farhan Ahmed Nizami,|
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear colleagues and friends,
I am pleased to extend my most profound thanks to Oxford Center for Islamic Studies for inviting me to give this lecture and allowing me to choose the subject matter. I am also proud to have this valuable chance to address you at the eminent Oxford University and at a center well-known for its distinguished studies on the civilization, culture and modern development of the Islamic world, and well-known for its cherished endeavors to bring about new venues of cooperation between the Islamic world and the West.
More than a decade ago I talked from the platform of this center about Islam, the Arabs and the West as part of the dialogue of the turn of the century. I explained then some of the concerns and problems we were facing in our region and in the world in which we are living, and the hopes and aspirations that fueled our endeavors to build a better future for our coming generations. In that speech I said that we were looking forward with anticipation to developing our societies and democratic institutions, and enhancing the existing regional frameworks seeking to uphold the objectives of development and social and cultural progress for the best interests of all the peoples of the region. I concluded my speech by saying that I am one of those who think that we are really at a decisive and vital crossroads, and I strongly believed that we had the chance to divert the course of history towards a future where common good and best interests are prevailing for the benefit of all.
Today I chose for my speech this headline: " Thoughts about the Current Arab Situation and Prospects of the Future". This headline, needless to say, represents a futuristic vision where thoughts go hand in hand with the likelihood of mistake, truth and multiplicity of vision. This, in my opinion, sets the right basis for the dialogue which I am aspiring for in this gathering. Please allow me to remind you that I cannot be academic in my speech as I do not belong to the academic circles. My thoughts will be based on the real experience I obtained from politics which I have been involved in for a long time.
Ladies and gentlemen,
First we have to take note of the many momentous political developments that have been taking place in the Arab world since my first speech at this center in 2000. Since then, we have witnessed the 9/11 attacks and the following repercussions involving the war against terrorism and the occupation of Afghanistan. That was followed by the removal of the Iraqi regime by force and the occupation of Iraq in 2003, and the successive political developments in the Iraqi scene which are going on till now. We have also witnessed two brutal Israeli aggressions against southern Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza strip in 2008, a vicious division between Fatah and Hamas factions, and a setback in the peace process as a result of this disunity, and most importantly as a result of the Israeli insistence on settlement policy which had disrupted all the positive activities aiming to achieve peace in the region. Iraq persisted in living in an internal state of war. Lebanon had more than its fair share of political rivalry. Gaza strip continued to suffer from an inhumane blockade. The region had become quite open for regional and international interventions. All of this brought about murky political and economic situations in which regional and international conflict of interests was reflected in the most vicious form. If we add the problem of Iran's nuclear dossier and the economic and financial repercussions of the international financial crisis, we will not then be surprised at the magnitude of the effects these developments have as main factors of threat and instability in the whole region. In spite of the initiatives seeking to bring about convergence between rivals and redress the situation and put it back on the track of acceptable and practical solutions in every one of these areas of contention, all reconciliation efforts failed to reach their goals.
On the backdrop of the current Arab scene and at the beginning of this year comes the stormy transformation agitation, which had started with Tunisia and was followed by Egypt then Yemen, Libya and Syria to result up to now in a drastic political change in Tunisia and Egypt. In other countries difficult political delivery of reform which is still underway may produce similar or distinct results compared to the case of Tunisia and Egypt.
In this stormy atmosphere of transformation the strength and effectiveness of the sweeping popular demands for reform and the establishment of the basis of good governance, supremacy of law, respect of the basic freedoms and human rights, eradication of corruption and the endorsement of the prerequisites of economic and social development were quite evident.
These demands were in short calling for political, economic and social justice and equity; or in one word, they were calling for "reform".
Ladies and Gentlemen,
What happened and is happening of great political events in the Arab World, requires explicit review posture to the Arab political situation on the question of reform. First we have to admit that what was achieved in this area before the current events, did not amount to the level of expectations. We have witnessed laxity in the reform track after a period of attention some years ago under the pretext of the region conditions. We, in the State of Qatar, held numerous forums, conferences and meetings on the reform and the democratic process with broad participation representing different political groups, professions and specializations, and what was said in these events used to be considered as mere theoretical words not to care for.
We have confirmed, on our part, in many occasions that reform and popular participation represent an entitlement that stems from the original right of peoples in exercising their self-will to organize freely their own political life in order to ensure properly respect of rights and duties for the whole society members regardless to any foreign desires, concerns or pressures, and that what the peoples want is not unreasonable thing or mere imported ideas. We have warned that peoples' anger is ruthless, and that we should not ignore lack of the rule of law, spread of corruption and the high cost of living. For this, we see a political mobility aiming to change, we support it and in turn supporting the will of the peoples.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our confirmation for the necessity of reform and popular participation approach is not a desire to express preaching and guidance, because we have already started our approach, which was not a replication of a cut-and-dry international model nor produced by an exotic factor.
Concerning our home policy, the vision of HH SHEIKH HAMAD BIN KHALIFA AL- THANI Emir of the state of Qatar identified- since he came to the high power in our country in 1995- the bases on which the modern state is built; including the Constitution, law, institutions and the popular participation in governance, administration and decision-making in a way that ensures the peoples' freedoms, rights and responsibilities. We have actually started by implementing this policy, and exerted active efforts and still, for the preparation of holding the first general parliamentary elections in the history of our country under the new Constitution which was approved in a general referendum with high popular majority on 29 April 2004. The Constitution guaranteed the freedoms and basic rights for all the citizens, males and females, and organized the bases between the ruler and the ruled in the framework of law, and stated the principles of accountability and transparency in governance and administration, and ensured the woman's empowerment as well as the activation of the civil society institutions in order to serve the social and humanitarian goals.
The democratic construction is not solely enough as we believe unless it is coupled with real comprehensive development projects in the economic and social areas.
Concerning our foreign policy, Qatar believes in peaceful living and co-operation at the international level based on mutual respect of rights, duties and shared interests in accordance with the international legitimacy.
We also focus on the values of tolerance, justice and openness, civilizations and the right of living in freedom and dignity. In this respect, the great importance of renunciation of violence, extremism and terrorism appears, and we condemn such phenomena strongly, whatsoever their reasons and motives might be. We decisively reject the regrettable attempts, we sometimes see, specially in some western political, informative and academic centers, for linking between terrorism and extremism as phenomenon of the human history, and ISLAM as a religion, civilization, culture and legacy. The phenomenon of terrorism and extremism in the world today expresses political orientations having nothing to do with religion, and should be treated that way so as to be solved successfully.
I believe that our responsibility, as Arabs and Muslim, is to exert further efforts to amend the global common deformed view on Arabs and Muslims, and others should also exert vigorous efforts to correct the wrong concepts about Arabs and Muslims. Finally, I think it is our duty all, while being concerned with fighting terrorist actions, to find out the real reasons behind committing them in order to widen the aspirations of success from which the international community will benefit.
We believe in the necessity of respecting human rights and non-discrimination between individuals on the bases of race, sex, color or religion.
We are strongly determined to resolve conflicts through peaceful ways according to the international law decisions and not to resort to force rejection and other styles of pressure and compulsion. Based on this, we always call for enhancing the status and role of the United Nations in the international relations as the sole global forum that its charter realizes the International legitimacy that governs the behavior of the states.
What increases our responsibility is that, the crisis in our region is gaining a severe and mounting intensity which requires us to exert maximum efforts in order to find speedy solutions, or at least alleviate the crisis and conflicts. According to this perspective, we are sparing no effort to settle Arab-Arab disputes, and also other disputes, without having a special agenda, through conciliation and mediation, because we believe that it is our duty to prevent the exacerbation of differences and conflicts, because our permanency return back by negative effects on everyone. This is what explains our practice to the role of mediation to settle the conflict in Darfur, and mediation efforts for years between Yemen government and Houthiyeen. We mediate in a border row between Djibouti and Eritrea, and the settlement of internal political crisis in Lebanon in order to achieve national peace. We also have done what we can to reconcile the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas, we are really happy to see, after the political change in the Sisterly Egypt, lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip from the Egyptian side and the signing of a reconciliation agreement in 4-May 2011 after a continuation of division since mid-June 2007, which will affect positively the arrangement of the Palestinian house and be a source of hope for positive movement toward peace
That our endeavor in the political field, accompanied by many initiatives to assist in the development and relief in emergencies under the umbrella of the United Nations, the last thing that we put forward was the initiative of establishing an international force for Relief (hopefor) in cooperation with the United Nations and our hope is to be adopted as soon as possible.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Based on these premises, it seems to me that the aspects of Arab responsibility in the matter of reform is characterize by internal affairs of each Arab state separately, and linked to its own different components, beside the national aspect for the Arab common responsibilities which is supposed to be embodied in active solidarity for the advancement of Arab real-life in a manner commensurate with the requirements of the current era and future perspective.
In this regard, we must recognize that there are factors of power inherent in the nation. From this, the unity of the historical background, and a common cultural heritage which is produced our heritage values which can help us creating a balanced process of constructive reform for a better life. And there is a determination unit as a fact proved by the history of the Arab world which forces the common request to modernize Arab life. In addition, the availability of many and very important elements that will qualify the Arab States to guide the reform process, especially economic and human resources.
The nature of the democratic process and reform requires in my modest opinion that the process should be comprehensive, for all spheres of life, and entirely without fragmentation or interruption. It should be of concern to privacy that reflect the reality of each Arab state separately, and the gradual reform process depending on the circumstances that characterize every Arab country, and the approaches to reform should be based on consensus. It should also exchange experiences and expertise in the fields covered by the reform process, as well as follow-up of solidarity for the success of the reform process in the common interest.
In the political field, we have concern to achieve the State's Administration on the basis of the appropriate constitutional privacy prevailing in each country, and aimed at achieving good governance by establishing a state of law and institutions that provide transparency and accountability under the law, and frames of public participation responsible in governance and the peaceful transfer of power, taking into account the nature of the human texture of our societies.
In the economic field, we are to achieve the comprehensive development on the basis of plans wherein the financial, material, natural and human resources are interconnected, taking into consideration that the human being is the mode and purpose of development.
In the social field, we must be keen to follow well-considered social policies that are conducive to the realization of social equality, in addition to the provision of means of social security, redressing unemployment, combating crime , adoption of appropriate demographic policy and the accentuation of social awareness programmes, with a view to achieving balance in the development process.
Attention should also be given to education and scientific research. Indeed, ignorance is cumbersome to any goals of democracy and reform. Hence, effective plans to eliminate illiteracy must be developed and education curricula should be recurrently revised in order to update them and keep them responsive to the needs of modern life, without compromising the basic values underpinning the society public order. Women must also be integrated in the education process. They should be provided with adequate opportunities. Children and persons with special needs should also receive due care, in addition to the provision of the latest educational methods to them.
Eventually, we must recognize the importance of devoting much care to ensuring safety for the human being and guaranteeing his/her enjoyment of legitimate rights and basic freedoms.
The adoption of such an approach towards the reform and democratization process is apt to realize the aspirations voiced by the movements for change we are now witnessing in Arab countries. It is my own modest conviction that what happened and is still unfolding in Arab countries is an expression of genuine national and patriotic trends. It embodies a multitude of positive aspects, though there are some negative ones which if adroitly managed can themselves result in welfare for people. We have been always stressing the need to heed up the voice of the man in the street. From now henceforth, the situation can never remain the same as it had been during the period preceding the advent of the winds of change. It is therefore futile to attempt to curb these popular calls for democratization and reform with security and military means, particularly that peoples have already transcended the fear barrier and showed staunch preparedness to offer whatever sacrifices in the cause of defending their inalienable rights to freedom and reform gains which help them lead a better life.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The looming new challenges in the region prompt us to propose a new investment initiative to be nurtured and developed within the boundaries of our region and in its own interest. Through the new initiative we will manage to finance the long-term infrastructure, manpower, and humanitarian initiatives through self-resources and also with the assistance of the international community. This new initiative relies on the salient characteristics of the region which are represented in its affluent energy resources, vast segment of youth population, skillful labor as well as the region's economic risibility in confronting the global financial crisis. There is a multitude of reasons that justify the establishment of the Middle East Development Bank, including the lack of economic diversity, added to the high rate of unemployment among the youth sector. That would mean that the growth rate in the region will continue to be below the level of its vast capabilities. The people in both the eastern and western parts of the region share problems that can be solved through regional cooperation which will be facilitated by this new multi-lateral Middle East Development Bank. Through this bank local resources and capabilities can be mobilized and foreign expertise can be solicited. Thus, wider opportunities will be created for the unutilized labor force by means of linking the educated cadre with the employment market and this will in turn realize the required economic diversity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is still a very crucial issue which is complementary to the political scene we are depicting. It is my belief that the realization of reform and democracy can never lead to the desired results unless the Palestinian issue and the Middle East conflict are settled. The Palestinian issue acquires substantive importance in the region and the world at large, all the more since the lack of a solution to the problem will keep the region in a state of perpetual conflict. Thus, the steps towards political reform and development direly needed by the region will falter, and we are today facing a strained situation that portends untold consequences.
Solutions are not difficult to attain, if we view the whole situation realistically, and if compliance with the resolutions of international legitimacy is observed.
The substantive basis for the peace process is the principle of (Land for Peace), which is the concept of both the resolutions of international legitimacy and the Arab Peace Initiative. The latter confirms that the Arab official side wants and earnestly seeks the realization of a just and comprehensive peace. The peace process has come to a halt because of the intransigent position of the present Israeli Government, which is insisting on proceeding with the settlement policy in the Palestinian lands and Jerusalem and refusing to relinquish that policy, in addition to imposing new conditions which are apt to fragmentize the process of reaching a comprehensive solution.
What is required now is a comprehensive international effort which will restore the peace process back on its comprehensive track and relinquish the track of partial solutions which will lead us to no avail. We hope that a convergence shall be achieved with a view to implementing the peace process in accordance with the resolutions of international legitimacy which are now amply accumulated. The Israeli Government should seriously consider the Arab and international changes and understand that, for peace to be achieved, what is required is the mending of past mistakes, whatever the difficulties might be, by implementing the resolutions of international legitimacy, so that peace will be just and durable.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Last but not least, it is important to recall with you a basic rule in our Islamic heritage for governance and social life in general, namely that which is embodied in the authentic Hadith by our Prophet Mohamed (s.a.a.w.):" Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his folk"
We, in our march forward do take guidance from this Hadith, which was uttered more than a thousand and four hundred years ago. We cherish the hope that it would be adopted as a guidance by both the rulers and the ruled.
I hope that these ideas would inspire dialogue in the interest of our mutual advantage.