A distinguished panel of Arab ambassadors to the U.S. discussed the widening gaps in politics, economics and public diplomacy between the U.S. and the Arab and Muslim world at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on Nov. 24. The event, sponsored by Cyber Century Forum in cooperation with the World Affairs Council, filled every seat in the ballroom and was covered by CSPAN.
The ambassadors responded to the recently released, congressionally mandated report from the U.S. Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World, on which moderator Ambassador Diana Lady Dougan had worked. The report details the misperceptions, misinformation and negative stereotyping on all sides. Dougan asked each ambassador a question to highlight an important issue facing their country.
In answer to Dougan's question about U.S. aid to his country, Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy described U.S. aid as "an investment that has served both sides well" for 25 years. The aid has helped Egypt build an excellent educational system, infrastructure, roads, and telecommunications, he noted. Egypt is not at war with any neighbor, Fahmy said, crediting U.S. aid with helping to stabilize Egypt and steer it in a wise direction. The aid, Fahmy pointed out, "is a good investment which costs you little." Egypt needs 650,000 new jobs every year for its growing population he concluded, and is working to become a "global player," not onlv a "regional powerhouse."
According to Moroccan Ambassador Aziz Mekouar, when Kins Mohammed VI came to power in 1999, he began to work for democratic reforms, human rights and women's rights. More than 99 percent of Moroccans are Muslim, Mekouar pointed out, which shows there is no conflict between Islam and modernity. His country held local elections this year, and has a long history of a multiparty system. Morocco has learned that society does not reform from the top down, Mekouar said, and that leadership and civil society must work together for reform.
Ambassador of Lebanon Farid Abboud noted that, after his country's civil war finally ended, Beirut was entirely "rebuilt in less than 15 years without a foreign aid program." Now quiet and safe, and enjoying a dynamic political system, Abboud noted that the major destabilizing factor in Lebanon is that 10 percent of the population is made up of Palestinian refugees, and called for a resolution to the Arab-Israeli peace process. Lebanese enjoy many freedoms, Abboud said, including the freedom to criticize their leaders. Their current focus is on education and tourism, and enticing the Lebanese who left during the war years to return.
Ambassador of Malaysia Dato' Ghazzali Sheikh Abdul Khalid said that politics in his country are guided by gradualism, and finetuning. Looking at the effects of globalism, Malaysia realizes that it no longer can compete as a source of cheap labor. Instead its leaders are aiming for the "high-end economic sphere" and the "multimedia corridor." Already Malaysians use e-commerce banks and receive e-mail traffic tickets, the ambassador noted, and the courts even recently upheld the legality of a divorce requested by e-mail. Malaysians have a smart card with details about their driving license, health care and banking information, with more developments expected by 2020.
Dr. Hasan Abdel Rahman, the Palestinian Authority's chief representative in Washington, DC, said that Palestinians would face the same normal challenges his associates had just described if only they had a state. "We have the challenges without the authority or power to control the destiny of the people or the land on which they live," he explained, "We cannot offer solutions without sovereignty. How can we plan economic development, education, and democracy if we don't have the freedom to move? …