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I shared your thoughts with my friend, Medhat. He was very pleased you had visited his site and acknowledged the import of your question. He asked me to forward these thoughts to you in the hope that they would explain his position a bit. I know he would be happy to exchange ideas with you. This is what he wrote.
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Thank you for passing on to me your friend's comments. My answer to his question follows.
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I didn't write a single letter to any of the Arab dictators precisely because they ARE dictators. Even if I wrote thousands of letters it would have no effect. Nobody would listen to me. Here in the U.S., however, a simple letter can have enormous effect. Unfortunately, that was not the case when I wrote to White Plains Public Library.
The larger question that needs to be asked is this: who caters to these dictators? The answer is the U.S. Let me take Egypt as an example. Here we have Mubarak who pays just lip service to democracy and get reelected (I should say it is more a "plebiscite" than a real election) after the end of each mandate. He is accountable to nobody and runs the country like a fiefdom. Who supports Mubarak? The U.S. The U.S. has so much leverage over Egypt (I have none) that it could subtly induce Mubarak to walk on the path of democracy. Egypt, by the way, receives some $2.2 billion every year from the U.S.; this is quite a leverage. The U.S., however is doing nothing. Why?
This is probably will come as a shock: It is not in the U.S. interest to promote democracy, especially in the Arab world. Even when the U.S. publicly promotes democracy it doesn't really mean it. The U.S. keeps mentioning democracy in its statements about China, for instance, because it knows very well that it will never materialize. It is always good PR to show the American people that Communism is a bad thing. It also needs to cover-up its cozy trade relations with China.
As far as the Arab world is concerned, we are not even fortunate to have the U.S. remind the dictators how beneficial for the people democracy is. Let me give you the reasons as seen by U.S. pundits and scholars. I tend to agree with them.
In her article "At Hour of Triumph, Democracy Recedes As the Global Ideal" (New York Times of Feb. 18, 1996), Judith Miller said the following about the Arab world in particular:
Most analysts agree that democracy building has traditionally been ignored in Arab states, where the United States has vital interests... officials remain wary of democratization as a general rule for the region. The worry is that anti-American, militantly Islamic regimes might replace the durably autocratic but pro American governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and manyMost recently, in her article "A Rising Tide of Freedom Bypasses the Arab World" (New York Times of April 26, 1998) Barbara Crossette had this to say:
Here is perhaps the one region where the end of the cold war has brought the least progress toward democracy, and very little hope for it. Even the United States, which raises the question of democracy with great frequency elsewhere, has shied away from that in the Arab world. Its policy has remained fixated on supporting Israel, protecting access to oil and averting war.Finally, Stephen Zunes, in an article entitled "Hazardous Hegemony: The United States in the Middle East" in Current History of January 1997, said the following:
the United States does not actually support democracy in the Middle East because it is much simpler to manipulate a few ruling families--to secure fat order for arms and ensure that oil prices remain low--than a wide variety of personalities and policies bound to be thrown up by a democratic system, since elected governments might reflect the popular sentiment for self-reliance and Islamic fellowship ... There is a tragic irony in a United States policy that sells arms and often send direct military aid to repressive Middle Eastern regimes that suppress their own people and crush incipient human rights movements, only to then claim that the lack of democracy and human rights is evidence that the people do not want them.If I would have advanced such arguments myself, Joel, you would probably think me nuts. I think I am just realistic. One must listen carefully to what the US says with a critical ear and watch what it does with a critical eye and try to match the two. Once again, I am not blaming the US for looking after its interests. I am simply not so naive as to believe everything it says in public statements whose only purpose is the make Americans feel good.
Well, there you
have it. Medhat's thought on the question you posed. I am very happy
to have made your acquaintance and to share ideas with you. If you should
like to write Medhat you can always reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
December 25, 1998
* * *
What follows is just a kind of debate between Richard and myself
in which I elaborate more on the reasons why Michael will not engage in
any meaninful dialog with me.
I read your letter to Michael and his reply to you. I was kind of surprised, but not quite, because in his reply he didn't even referred to me, even though you made a point to mention my name. The reason he ignored me is that, in my estimation, he doesn't want to engage in any kind of meaningful discussion about the Middle East. This is, by the way, the tactic all Jews who worship Israel adopt. They first try to change the subject. This is what he did when he wondered in his letter to you why is it that I don't write to Arab dictators. This little diversion failed because I made it clear that I have no quarrel with him on this point. When he realized that he will have a hard time refuting any of the arguments I advanced he preferred to retreat. A classical tactic that happens all the time and that I encountered more than once.
I hope I am wrong.
January 4, 1999
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I hope you ARE wrong. I base this on two facts:
1. One for my friends tells me he likes my site
2. He states specifically that he supports the goals of Bat Shalom. This is significant, it seems to me. He did not have to say so if he did not want to. There surely is hope for Jewish person who supports Bat Shalom.
Furthermore he is a purely secular Jew as I read it. So he does not have the fanatical interests some have. I know you are a bit cynical of such people, but we must try to engage them in dialog. Maybe for a while it will be me that does so. But if felt as you describe him he would probably just write me off and not even bother to write me at all.
Give me a little
time with him and let's see what happens. You may be right, of course.
January 4, 1999
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Your two facts are a bit thin. First, your site doesn't deal with the Middle East in depth. Second, his support to Bat Shalom, as I see it, is just academic. Third, let me repeat he TOTALLY ignored your reference to me.
To tell you the truth, I trust the Israeli Jews more than the American Jews. I mean by Israeli Jews the 50 percent of the population who want to find some kind of a solution to the Palestinian issue and not the Israeli fanatics, even though the motives of the former are not that pure, since what they want is not to do justice to the Palestinians but to get rid of them. Groups like Bat Shalom, who see the Palestinians day in day out, have come to realize that the only solution for Israel dilemma is to give the Palestinians what they themselves already have, a state.
on the other hand, who only see the Palestinians as a threat to their beloved
Israel, because in their eyes the very existence of the Palestinians delegitimizes
Israel, will never fully understand the underlying issue. Since most of
them do not believe in God any more, they found in Israel a convenient
god. Their "religious" attachment to Israel somehow offsets, in their mind,
their atheism or agnosticism. They need Israel to give meaning to their
Jewishness, something that the Israelis themselves do not need, because
those "secular" American Jews, as you call them, want to believe that they're
still Jews. In a sense, Israel came to their rescue from total assimilation
in the American melting pot.
January 4, 1999
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Of course you are right about most American Jews and their attitude toward Israel. I just thought perhaps there might be an opening here for dialog since he seemed friendly and liked my web site. I still like to have faith in the biblical text: "N'éteignez pas la flèche qui fume encore."
We'll just have
to wait and see if anything positive comes of this. But I do understand
January 5, 1999