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Arab League chief warns regional leaders that recent political upheaval is linked to deteriorating economic conditions. The head of the Arab League has told the region's leaders that the recent upheaval in Tunisia is linked to deteriorating economic conditions throughout the Arab world, warning them that their people's anger has reached unprecedented heights.

Amr Moussa told an Arab economic summit in Egypt that "the Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession." "This is in the mind of all of us," Moussa said in his opening address to the 20 Arab leaders and other representatives of Arab League members gathered in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The summit is the first top level Arab meeting since protests fuelled by joblessness and other economic woes in Tunisia forced Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the president, to flee, bringing an end to his 23-year rule of the country. The unrest has helped inspire similar protests around the Arab world and calls for political change, although activists in many countries face security forces heavily vested in maintaining the status quo and governments that refuse to allow dissent. "The Tunisian revolution is not far from us," Moussa warned. "The Arab citizen entered an unprecedented state of anger and frustration." He called for an Arab "renaissance" to lift people from their frustration.

Billion-dollar fund

The meeting in Egypt was originally intended as a platform to discuss trade, business and investment, but has been overshadowed by the revolt in Tunisia and its reverberation around the region. Thousands of people have demonstrated in Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Oman, Libya and Yemen recently over the economic situation in their respective countries, some explicitly in solidarity with the Tunisians. A rash of attempted self-immolations has also struck Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania, with protesters seeking to copy Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old whose set fire to himself and helped inspire the protests that toppled Tunisia's president.

Mindful of those events, Arab leaders at the summit committed to a proposed $2bn programme to boost faltering economies that have propelled crowds into the streets to protest against high unemployment, rising prices and rampant corruption. Sheik Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ruler, said the fund will "contribute to creating new job opportunities for young Arabs" at a time when the Arab world is witnessing "unprecedented historical crisis". The idea of the fund was first suggested by Kuwait during the economic summit it hosted in 2009, but the proposal has been slow getting off the ground - like many Arab League initiatives requiring members to pledge money. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have promised to pay $500m each and, after the economic-related unrest in Tunisia, additional pledges are pouring in.
It is not immediately clear how these funds would be dispersed and who qualifies to benefit from them.

'Basic demand'

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president for three decades, made no reference to the Tunisian revolt in his opening speech but acknowledged economic development and co-operation had become a national security priority. "We have realised that the priority of economic co-operation and development is no longer just about progress for our people ... but a basic demand of Arab national security," he said.

Among other developments at the summit, Arab leaders voiced their "total rejection" of foreign interference in Arab affairs, especially over the region's Christian minorities. "Arab kings and presidents ... express their total rejection of attempts by certain states and foreign parties to intervene in Arab affairs in the name of protecting the minorities of the East," they said in a final statement at the end of the summit. This "demonstrates a regrettable lack of understanding of the nature of the terrorist acts ... and a harmful ignorance of the history of the people of the region," it read. The statement came in response to repeated Western calls for the protection of the Arab world's Christian communities after two deadly attacks on churches in Egypt and Iraq.

'Stand alongside Jerusalem'

Palestinian officials at the summit also criticised Arab states for paying only a fraction of funds pledged to sustain Palestinian life in Jerusalem.
Foreign minister Riad Malki's comments reflected the Palestinians' frustration over the Arab failure to support them in the face of what they see as an Israeli campaign to "Judaize" Jerusalem, the city at the heart of the Middle East conflict. Addressing the summit, Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, said the city faced a "bitter reality" and ured the leaders to implement their previous resolutions on supporting Jerusalem. "We are looking to you, brothers, to stand alongside Jerusalem", he said. Malki, in an interview with the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, said the Palestinians had so far received only $37m of $500m pledged by Arab leaders at a summit in Libya in 2010.

Salman Shaikh

Salman Shaikh says uprisings herald new Arab, post-Islamist people's revolution. He says it's transformative, nothing short of the birth of Arab politics. He says it was propelled by youth, digital technology, increased literacy Shaikh: The West must strike balance: Support democracy and ensure peace in region. Salman Shaikh is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Director of the Brookings Institution's Doha Center. in Doha, Qatar. He focuses on mediation and conflict resolution in the Middle East and South Asia, and has also worked for the United Nations, including a post as a special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general on the Middle East. Brookings is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public policy think tank.

The uprisings raging from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen are heralding a new Arab, post-Islamist revolution. Today's events across Egypt illustrate the futility of a dictatorial Mubarak regime seeking to push back the tides of history with mere repression and brutality. They will not succeed. President Hosni Mubarak's days, like those of deposed Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, are numbered. The effects on the region were, until today, unthinkable. Today's Arab revolution is no less significant than those that preceded it in recent decades in Eastern Europe and Latin America. This time, Arabs are not being led by their leaders -- from colonialism to pan-Arabism or Islamism or any other "ism" -- as was the case in the past.

Instead, they have turned on those leaders who have failed to provide them their dignity, justice and a better life. Make no mistake, we are witnessing today an Arab people's revolution. Like those before them, today's Arab revolution will transform the region's politics. What is happening today is nothing short of what the respected Arab commentator, Rami Khouri, prophetically described late last year as the birth of Arab politics. He was right. Politics in the region will never be the same again.

Propelled by the young and the digital revolution, citizens will demand nothing less than the right to choose and change their representatives in the future. To glimpse the nature of what can emerge, we should understand the rapidly changing social structure of Arab societies. Those societies are more educated, urban and connected than ever before. Due to the phenomenal growth of secondary and university-level education, literacy rates among the region's youths have skyrocketed in the past 40 years. The percentage of people living in Arab cities has risen by 50% in the same period.

The number of mobile phone users and internet users has proliferated to hundreds of thousands since the technology was introduced to the region 10 or 15 years ago. No wonder, then, that the people have finally snapped at the lack of opportunity and representation and the high levels of corruption and control that characterize their lives.

Most tellingly, more has united the protesting people than divided them. Notable has been the absence of a clear, emerging leader of the protests, particularly from Islamist party leadership.

The call for dignity, justice and a better life has been a universal value -- not the domain of any one particular opposing party or movement. Instead, the national movements, which these conditions have spawned, will continue to demand a political system that is more pluralistic, democratic and produces effective and competent governments sensitive to the legitimate aspirations of all the society's people.

Crucially, the unfolding events will also require a new set of calculations from the old regimes' main backers: the United States and its allies. The long-term changes for Western policy in the region should be profound. Gone should be the reflex to side with those who willfully subvert the democratic and constitutional process out of fear of the Islamist boogeyman.

The binary calculation between supporting stability on the one hand and the risks of unprecedented regime change, particularly the rise to power of Islamist parties, no longer holds. The people of the region are deciding.

The irony is that while U.S. policymakers have been playing catch-up, it has largely been U.S.-created technology -- the internet, particularly Facebook and Twitter -- that has sustained the spread of the Arab revolution.

Now is the time for policymakers to suggest an appropriate response to support a peaceful political transition in each country. Western policymakers must strike a careful balance between ensuring key interests (including support for a comprehensive peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israel's security) and respecting the wishes of the region's people. In this regard, support for the peace process and Israel's interests will best be ensured by real and tangible progress over the next year.

In the case of Egypt, the most populated Arab nation and symbol of Arab leadership, the transition will be particularly important. If managed well, it will provide a useful example for all in the days and weeks ahead. The U.S. in particular has a role in persuading Mubarak to outline a peaceful transition of power to an interim administration that will manage the process to a new democratic constitution and elections.

There should also be a role for international and regional organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Gulf Council and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to lend technical and material support to the transition.

It has not been lost on many that the U.S. and other Western governments have been trying to catch up to the unfolding events -- attempting to balance support for old friends and allies with a call for restraint and urgent economic and political reforms.

This will not do. It is time to break through the past fears that have guided Western policy with fresh hope for a better future for the people of the region. It is time to choose change.

Salman Shaikh is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Director of the Brookings Institution's Doha Center. in Doha, Qatar. He focuses on mediation and conflict resolution in the Middle East and South Asia, and has also worked for the United Nations, including a post as a special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general on the Middle East. Brookings is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit public policy think tank.


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GOVERNANCE IN THE MUSLIM WORLD - by moeenyaseen - 05-06-2007, 11:11 AM

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