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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Egyptian dissident: "Arab leaders want conflict"

A very interesting interview with Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a prominent Egyptian dissident, by Jeff Jacoby (h/t Soccer Dad), where Ibrahim talks about hwo Arab regimes use the Palestinian issue to avoid democratization. Here are some excerpts:
should Obama say something about freedom and human rights?

A: Yes. Even when he talks about Palestine, he can help the cause of democracy and human rights, because that issue has been used by all the authoritarian rulers to postpone democratic reform. They say: "Oh, we have a bigger issue: the issue of Palestine."

Q: Do you agree with those who say that what Arab leaders want isn't a Palestinian state, but a Palestinian struggle?

A: Yes, there are vested interests in keeping the Palestinian conflict going. So if Obama's speech will really be a breakthrough for peace, it will also be a stepping-stone to genuine democratization. Peace will take away the excuse that the authoritarian regimes use to justify their own hold on power.

Q: Do you see any Middle East leaders today as visionary peacemakers?

A: Not yet. You don't have a Sadat; you don't have a Rabin; you don't have a Begin.

Q: If Anwar Sadat could return and see what has happened in the Middle East in the last 30 years, what would he think?

A: You know, Sadat is the one who alerted me.

Q: Alerted you to what?

A: That the Arab regimes are living off the continuance of the conflict. He summoned me one day to the presidential palace.

Q: When was this?

A: In 1981; five weeks before he was assassinated.

Q: What happened?

A: I traveled to his compound and Sadat said to me: "I know you hate us." I was dumbfounded. I said, "Mr. President, why would I hate you? I just disagree with some of your policies." This was after the Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor, and I had written that Sadat met with Begin three days before that attack. There were a lot of questions.

Q: About whether Sadat knew the attack was coming?

A: Exactly. If he did, it would be considered collusion with Israel against an Arab country. Remember, the whole Arab world had severed relations with Egypt [over Sadat's peace treaty with Israel]. Then Sadat said, "Do you think any of these guys really want to end the Arab-Israeli conflict?"

Q: Which guys?

A: The other Arab rulers. He said, "These guys do not want to solve anything. They want the conflict, because that's what justifies their continuation of power." He used an Arabic expression: "I will cut off my arm if 10 years from now any of them has made peace."

The exact same logic applies to the Palestinian Arab leadership today, a set of thugs who have consistently made decisions to extend their people's misery, year after year after year.

The entire interview is very good. Ibrahim is not as pessimistic as Westerners about the chances that democratic elections will put Islamists in power for any real timeframe, but he also realizes that Arab nations would need a number of years of freedom before being able to have real democratic elections - a point that I have made a number of times in the past, in eerily accurate postings about the Gaza elections from three and even four years ago.