Premier Fouad Siniora Speech At the 23rd Session of the Arab Economic Forum Entitled “Challenges Facing the States of the Region and their Economies and How to Regain Political Stability on the Regional Level” (The Said Khoury edition)
Over the past five decades, challenges have been accumulating and disagreements erupting in the Arab region. Uncertainty reigns, roles are reversing, and alliances are changing.
Sometimes, the role of the international players recedes while the role of regional actors grows. Thus, the struggle over influence and control bursts.
The result: the intensity of turmoil increases with the interaction of the factors that stir the conflicts and disputes in the world order and the region. These disputes are no longer geopolitical, national or economic, but they are taking cultural, religious, sectarian and confessional dimensions. All this happens at a time when the walls of fear and silence are collapsing with the collapse of time and space barriers because of the communications revolution.
The ambiguity aggravates with the emergence of extremist organizations like Daesh and other armed Iranian organizations in a number of Arab countries, and the attempt by Daesh and the Iranian armed groups to prevail and control. Uncertainty about the future of the American-Iranian relations and Iran’s role in the region. Ambiguity over the future of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Greater ambiguity over the economic and social issues, with the exposure of most Arab countries to the increased social, security, political and cultural risks incurred by these changes and worsened by the failure of most Arab regimes to build political institutions that respect freedoms and human rights, as well as their failure to build economic systems capable of adapting to the demographic and social changes in a way that allows them to deal with the growing economic and social problems. And ambiguity over how the Arabs can cope with all this and preserve the Arab national security.
Amid this amount of uncertainty associated with great changes, and in the midst of these shocks and changes that are shrouded by difficulties and obstacles, appears the importance of not losing the comprehensive vision of the macro changes and the extent of ineffectiveness with which our Arab countries deal with the issue of preserving collective security and the importance of maximizing the common interests.
Amid these stormy variables emerges the importance of not giving precedence to the marginal contradictions over the basic ones, and the importance of returning to the basics to tackle present and future issues efficiently. The depth of the tragedy in our Arab world becomes clear, with the absence of a just solution the Palestinian Cause and the delay in Egypt’s return to exercise its pioneer and responsible role in the Arab World, and the continuous effects of the quake that resulted from the American invasion of Iraq which shook the regional order in the Levant region, thus undermining the historic role of Iraq as a strong Arab country and as a buffer between the Asian inside and the Mediterranean. This allowed the rise and the escalation of the Iranian interfering role and domination in the region, driven by the theory of exporting the revolution based on the idea of Welayet el Faqih, which crosses political borders, and seeks to spread its control and influence through a network of armed groups that fuel these struggles and internal divisions and increase the intensity of tension and extremism.
This is proven by the tensions generated by this role in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and the aggravations caused by the attempt to hijack the Palestinian cause and the cause of defending Islam as well as the attempts to impose hegemony and dominance in four Arab countries as you have heard a few weeks ago.
On the other hand, all this allowed the rise of the role of extremist militias, some of which now have a so-called internal role of protecting the Sunnis and their rights from the sectarian and Iranian encroachment. All this opened the door wide to a host of evils to enter the Arab world and set fires in wide parts of the Arab region.
In light of this review of the allied and rival parties on the hot spots in Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Libya and to a lesser extent in Egypt and Bahrain, many may get confused and think that the essence of the problem in the region has become the Sunni-Shiite struggle. But we should make sure not to be drifted to it or accept it, thus the importance of emphasizing the numerous common factors that bring together the various components of our Arab peoples despite the multiplicity of regions, religions and sects. We also note how the importance of the Palestinian cause, which remains the main issue in our Arab world, is backing down because of our growing problems.
While emphasizing all this, we should highlight the other struggle, the struggle between the forces of moderation, which believe in the idea of the civil State that respects diversity, coexistence and human rights, and where all people are equal in rights and duties on one hand, and between the forces of extremism in all its forms, which believe in another kind of State based on involving the religion or the sect, not like they truly are, in the State, whether it is Jewish, the Caliphate or the Welayet el Faqih, and which depraves the religion and the state.
The fact is that the moderation forces in the region are facing the forces of extremism and terrorism. And though the latter seem to be fighting each other in some arenas, they in fact are nurturing and extending the lives of each other by this struggle. Thus, and in order to win in this struggle, work should concentrate on rebuilding the strategic balance in the region on one hand and strengthening the forces of moderation on the other.
Thus, we should say it loud and clear: The moderate Arabs and Muslims are the only ones capable of breaking the forces of extremism in the region and they have the responsibility to achieve it. Also, sole the civil State can be the real guarantor of the rights of all citizens whether individuals or groups, majorities or minorities. This cannot happen by creating regional and international guarantees, which are more like a mirage.
Thus, it becomes necessary for the forces of Arab moderation to raise the level of response in this struggle by focusing on three axes:
The first axis:Not to forget the main cause, the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli struggle.
The second axis: Activate the joint Arab work in the political/ security and economic sectors. This requires the development of a clear and firm collective Arab position that regains the strategic balance in the region and addresses the Iranian invasion of the Arab countries and societies, the Israeli challenge and the continuing absence of a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian cause through the Arab peace initiative.
This would only take place by working seriously to return Egypt to the Arab world so it plays its assigned role that no other country can assume. This would be by helping it alleviate the internal political, economic and security shocks.
Saudi Arabia, with the participating countries, has taken the initiative to meet these challenges through the Decisive Storm. But the issue does not stop at this point and work is required to find a political solution as well as a political and social formula that would restore national cohesion to the region in general and Yemen in particular. This includes the implementation of an economic and social development program in all parts of Yemen.
This cannot be done without adhering to the protection of human rights and finding the political participatory formula, that will be similar to the spirit of the Lebanese solution based on coexistence, that has been established and confirmed in the Taif accord and includes everyone without excluding or marginalizing anyone, which motivates all Arab social and economic components to be efficient and participate.
On the economic level, the political challenges that we face as Arabs should not hide many of the economic challenges that we are facing and especially the population growth, the decrease of development efforts, the decrease of growth rates, the decrease of levels of productivity and thus the deterioration of the economic, social and educational conditions, the spread of corruption and the fading of confidence in the future. The biggest danger is the rise of unemployment rates, especially among youth. This is known to be a major source of concern in most Arab countries.
In addition to the challenges, there is the decline in oil prices, which can cause risks on the economies of the productive, exporting, and consuming Arab countries.
The great challenge that we witness now and over the next ten years lies in how to create 50 million new jobs to absorb the new entrants to the Arab labor market. How can we work on the rehabilitation of a large group of them in order to match their knowledge and skills with the nature of the coming needs of our Arab economies?
These problems, with the depth of their negative repercussions, could create an opportunity for the Arab oil producing and importing countries to engage in reform programs for their economies and public finances, to diversify national economies, promote growth rates and the efforts of human and economic development, reduce public sector and enable the Arab private sector to attract direct foreign investment.
We have to be honest with ourselves: no single Arab economy can solve so many challenges on its own, and therefore it is time and we're even late to move in accordance with a clear vision to achieve an Arab economic integration that is for the benefit of all Arab economies as well as the neighboring countries and contributes to social, security and political stability in the Arab countries.
The third axis: Cooperating in order to confront the extremist movements and make efforts to apply religious reforms, to save Islam from these heinous acts and crimes committed in its name.
Muslim thinkers, leaders, religious leaders and religious institutions, have a lot of work and great responsibilities to formulate programs aimed to reform the religious education, encourage critical thinking and change the vision of the world, especially after decades of control by the military and security regimes of the religious institutions. It is time for Muslims from all nationalities to contribute in the Islamic religious reform, by enriching and deepening the religious perspective through the rehabilitation of science and knowledge and providing human rights and openness to the world based on human fraternity and cooperation in many common subjects that bring them together in the present and the future.
In light of this difficult reality, it is clear that our Arab States and societies cannot receive attention and respect in their surroundings and in the world in the absence of a firm Arab stance and an initiating Arab thought. Whereas the situation of fragmentation and division pushes the regional neighboring countries and the international community to ignore us and disregard us.
There is an urgent need to create an Arab position that restores respect of the Arabs by themselves as a start and by others, and that will help Arab citizens regain some hope for the future, and restores to them and to their issues the respect of the world. We hope that this emerging Arab position, represented by the Decisive storm in Yemen, will be the first practical step in producing an Arab stance that will help the nation come out of the state of inaction and complacency and stop the Arab degradation.
There is a saying I previously said and would like to repeat now: "Stand up to be counted", which means that one should stand or take an appropriate position in order to be seen by those sitting around a table or in a theater, so they take into account the Arab initiator and the Arab participant.
Finally, we have strategic political, economic and religious challenges that require four things: develop the joint Arab defense initiative in the strategic field, progress on the path of integration in the economic and development field, and on the path of political reform toward a civil State that preserves the rights and duties in the areas of efficiency and participation, and on the path of religious reform to overcome the splits of extremism and violence, and support the orientations of the main path in moderation, social peace and openness to the world.
These challenges as mentioned above can produce opportunities. Nothing compares to the longings and hopes of our peoples for peace, safety, dignity and freedom, to participate efficiently in the world of the era, and the era of the world.