AUSPC 2012: View from the Arab League – Mohammed Alsharif
21st Annual Arab-US Policymakers Conference – AUSPC 2012
Friday, October 26, 2012
ARAB-U.S. RELATIONS: A VIEW FROM THE LEAGUE OF ARAB STATES
H.E. Ambassador Dr. Mohammed Alhussaini Alsharif - Chief Representative of the League of Arab States to the United States; former Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Canada and Turkey; former Head of the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Houston.
[Remarks as delivered]
[Dr. John Duke Anthony] We have a relative newcomer to these annual forums, in the sense of the new League of Arab State Chief Representative Ambassador to the United States. I’ve known each one of them for the last almost half-century. Each one of them brings to the cause and the table a varied background and set of experiences. This Ambassador is no exception.
Ambassador Doctor Mohammed Al Husseini Alsharif obtained his PhD from the University of Houston, on the side so to speak – in the evenings, on the weekends – while he headed the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Houston, which is one of the most – the biggest and the most demanding and dynamic of the several Saudi Arabian consulates in the United States. But he’s also served in Venezuela, a fellow OPEC member, with a very colorful, controversial, populist leader of some issues and concerns to the United States. He served in the Philippines, he was Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Turkey – which is very much in the news and rightly so in connection with many of the issues we’re discussing here – and has continued to focus on issues pertaining to North America, because he was also Ambassador to Canada. Please welcome His Excellency Dr. Mohammed Al Husseini Alsharif, Ambassador of the League of Arab States.
[His Excellency Dr. Mohammed Alsharif] [Greeting in Arabic] Thank you Dr. Anthony for the kind introduction. Today, Muslims throughout the world are celebrating Eid Al Adha, a day of sacrifice, and I would like to convey my best wishes to all of those who are celebrating it today.
I will go just directly before the fast developments and everyday developments in the Middle East I don’t know from where I start, but I will start in the middle section of my speech as I summarized it in order to go by your time.
The recent developments in the region, or what is being labeled as the Arab Spring, are the first of their kind in the history of the region. The Arab Spring has, as we noticed, has one slogan – one common slogan in all the five countries – simply stated [Arabic phrase] “the people want the overthrow of the existing regimes.”
Evaluating these movements among the countries involved, one finds a common denominator or so, the regimes were all in agreement in calling the people’s demands for freedom, equality, and justice as an external conspiracy, which deemed as an insult to the people of the region.
There are four driving factors in the Arab Spring events.
They are first, the first and foremost in the mobilized masses who were enabled by technology and social media. What has happened is that technology has enabled citizens to challenge repressive security forces.
The second, the role played by the military and regime security forces. We have seen in Egypt and Tunisia the military was neutral, and thus depriving the regime of an essential tool of suppression.
Thirdly, the intervention by outside forces. NATO in Libya; Turkey in Iran, and Russia in Syria – I mean the foreign forces outside the area.
The fourth is that the longevity of the leadership in all the Arab Spring countries has left no doubt as to who has been responsible for each country’s plight and grievances.
Despite all the odds and notwithstanding the complexities involved, the League of Arab States adopted a number of unprecedented initiatives vis a vis the crisis mainly in both Libya and Syria. The League’s basic premise aimed at combating all forms of atrocities, violence, and killing of innocent civilians in the two countries.
Just as an example, on the 22nd February 2011, and as a result of the use of military force against civilians in Libya, the Arab League suspended the membership of Libya, called for a no-fly zone – in addition the League supported the intervention of NATO in the Libyan crisis.
With regard to the Syrian crisis, the League was deeply involved from the outset, and our involvement is reflected in many measures – I just mentioned some of them: sending a monitoring team to Syria, suspension of the membership of the Syrian regime in the League, the coordination of the League with Syrian opposition, the call to impose economic, financial, and commercial sanctions on the Syrian regime in a way that will not harm the people of Syria, requesting the U.N. intervention, the call to put Syrian officials who committed crimes against humanity on trial before the International Criminal Court, inviting – and this is very important – inviting the Security Council to bear the responsibilities according to the U.N. Charter, and even implementing Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter.
I listed the above measures taken by the League of Arab States without evaluating its success or failure, but their importance lies in the fact that they are unprecedented by the League. Anyway, no country or organization whether regional or international were able to deal successful with the Syrian crisis. The U.N. Security Council, as many of you know, could not resolve the problem due to the veto cast by Russia and China, three times against resolutions mainly aimed for the protection of the innocent civilian population of Syria, and this reflects the necessity of reforming the structure of the veto system in the Security Council of the United Nations, because I think no country will be allowed to decide the destiny of another nation who is facing atrocities by repressive regimes.
The Arab Spring has rejuvenated Islamic political trends in Arab politics, mainly in Egypt and Tunisia. As the Arab Spring gave birth to a new, democratically elected leaders and regimes with parliaments dominated by Islamists or Islamic movements and parties, the U.S., as it seemed, came to the conclusion that it had no choice but to deal with whomever is in power or elected.
A few months ago – mainly in April, particularly in April – the U.S. hosted a meeting in Washington, D.C. that brought together representatives of Islamic parties and organizations from Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. Some of these Islamic parties and organizations were banned in their own countries before the Arab Spring, and some of the delegates even were denied entry visas to the United States before the Arab Spring.
One member of the Islamist delegation justified the visit to Washington, D.C. by stating that, and I quote, “We are aware of the very important role that the U.S. plays throughout the world, and we seek to improve our relations with the U.S.” End quote. He further added, and I quote, “We are here to begin building bridges of understanding with the United States.” End quote.
Facing some media criticism to the visit of the Egyptian delegation composed mostly of Islamists including the Muslim Brotherhood, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, and I quote, “Our policy is clear and is the same. It is a fact that Egypt’s political landscape has changed, and the actors have become more diverse, and our engagement reflects that. We will judge Egypt’s political actors by how they act, not by their religious affiliation.” End quote.
Though Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, and the GCC countries have not experienced the Arab Spring, but recent developments have shown some changes. The political institutions in some of those countries are in the process of transition toward more participation. Some did their best to mollify their people with ambitious public spending plans. We have seen legal systems and procedures are being reformed in response to the aspiration of the people and their yearning for a good governance and transparency.
Now, let me turn to the American policies during the Arab Spring. Since the advent of the Arab Spring, two initiatives by the American Administration emerged. These initiatives, two initiatives, I don’t think they were a coincidence, but anyway they came almost at the same time – one in August 10, 2011, and the other one in September 2011.
On August 10, 2011, President Obama ordered the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board. The President made the prevention of atrocities a key focus of his administration’s foreign policy. This initiative aimed at protecting civilians and holding perpetrators of atrocities accountable. But the focus of this initiative is Syria and Libya.
The other initiative, the second initiative is the open government partnership, which was launched in September 2011, but it was activated recently. It was launched by eight governments and nine society organizations, and has grown to include 57 – now – 57 countries, and over 300 commitments reaching – 300 commitment organizations reaching more than two billion people, all in just one year.
Some Arab countries have already joined, and there are others in the process of joining, which I think is a blessed thing for many Arab countries. The open government partnership is an international voluntary effort to improve government performance, and carry civic participation, and enhance government responsiveness to people, and to improve governance throughout the globe. The open government partnership – core principles are transparency, citizen protection, and accountability.
The highlight of the, really of the policy of the United States is the memorandum of understanding for cooperation that was signed recently between the General Secretary of the Arab League and the U.S. Department of State. This was signed on the sideline of the United Nations General Assembly Meeting in New York on the 25th of September.
This MOU is intended to promote more effective cooperation and coordination of policies, as well as to develop dialogue in various fields in order to achieve economic, social, cultural, educational, and humanitarian cooperation. The MOU also calls for an annual meeting between the Secretary of State and the Secretary General of the Arab League. It calls also for a senior officials meeting between the two parties. And at the press conference, the Secretary of State announced the establishment of a small, professional, cultural exchange program to bring Arab League officials together with Americans working on the same challenges.
This MOU came as a result of the unprecedented steps taken by the Arab League to highlight the challenges of development in our region, and particularly in Libya and Syria. The Secretary of State described the signing of the MOU as opening a new chapter in the history of U.S.-Arab League relations. On this occasion, she said, and I quote, “The United States and the Arab League have worked, have worked more closely together than ever before. We have stood shoulder to shoulder in responding to crises in Libya and Syria.” End quote.
Given all the developments in the region and in the United States policies, perhaps this is the right time to revive the Arab Peace Initiatives as there are several pro-Israeli voices who express their concerns that Israel’s future as a Jewish and Zionist state is really threatened.
Let me give some examples.
Before I go to that, also the Arab Spring brought leaders who are elected democratically and I am sure those are more responsible than the former ones and more accountable to the people and to the public opinion, who of course they will not accept any atrocities committed against the Palestinians and their occupation. I think you gave the American Ambassador 20 minutes – so 30 – I think you give me some, Dr. Anthony.
[Dr. John Duke Anthony] Yes. I have an idea where, because the next session involves what you’re talking about, we want you to remain for that.
[Alsharif] But as I represent 22 countries, give us at least ten minutes for each country. Because the last part I took my time because I thought I would be given the same time, but anyway I will try to finish. Anyway.
I will give you some examples of some prominent Israeli officials and authors who really commented on this.
Avraham Burg, I would like to refer to him, the former Speaker of the Knesset, wrote an article on June 7th 2012, where he suggested that it is not anti-Semitic, and not anti-Israel to tell Israel that it is impossible to be treated as the only democracy in the Middle East, while it is also the last colonial occupier in the Western world.” “On the contrary,” Avraham Berg continued, “The settlers, the conquers, and their political allies are the real enemies of Israel’s future.”
Here is another example. Peter Beinart, the author of the book, of the recent book The Crisis of Zionism, has said that Zionism as a liberal, democratic project will die, and that this will be the consequences of continued settlement building in the West Bank, encouraged by successive Israeli governments.
Mr. Ben-Ami, the former Chief of the Mossad, spoke recently at the Wilson International Center, and he said, and I quote, “The greatest threat to Israel is not the nuclear program of Iran, but the vanishing of Zionism.” End quote. I sense that he was worried about the future of Israel, and I asked him a question that since he was so worried about the vanishing of Zionism, why doesn’t Israel accept the Arab Peace Plan? I think he agreed with me that it should be put on the table now.
This initiative was endorsed by the 22 Arab countries, by the African Union, by the non-allied movement, by the Islamic Cooperation Organization, and it was endorsed of course mainly and for the first time by the 22 Arab countries, it was endorsed by the U.S.A, by the European Union, you name it. But it was rejected only by Israel.
To finish now, perhaps it is about time now that the U.S.A. takes into account the sentiments and attitudes of more than 360 million of the Arab population, of the 22 Arab countries, and those of 1.5 billion Muslims who are also sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. However, one does not have to be a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim to be sympathetic or a supporter of the Palestinian cause, but one has to be a fair human being.
Thank you very much.