In an article titled 'Colonial Echoes' which appeared recently in Al-Ahram Weekly, Galal Amin, a professor of economics at the American University in Cairo, reacted to the U.S. administration's Greater Middle East Initiative. The following are excerpts from the article:
The U.S. Greater Middle East Initiative – What For, Why Now?
"A few lines into the text of the Greater Middle East Initiative one is gripped with puzzlement. The initiative tops the agenda of the G8 conference scheduled for June in the U.S. The text, published on 13 February in the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat, gets into the drawbacks of Arab societies by line three. A small introductory paragraph and we are faced with the horrors of the Arab world. The combined GDP of members of the Arab League is less than that of Spain, for example. About 40 per cent of Arab adults, or 65 million persons, are illiterate, two-thirds of these women. The list goes on, establishing the claim, made in the first sentence of the text, that the situation presents a 'challenge and unique opportunity to the international community.'
"An opportunity for what exactly? For reform? In what field? For renaissance? In what area? The initiative cites three areas of reform, based on the two Arab Human Development Reports issued by the UNDP in 2002 and 2003. The text cites the UNDP reports frequently, stressing the fact that their authors were Arabs. So their conclusions about the problems of their own countries must be beyond question, right? The initiative's text notes three areas where the Arabs are particularly at fault: (a) democracy, (b) knowledge, and (c) women's empowerment. The initiative speaks at length of the 'expansion' of economic opportunity in the Arab world."
'What Business Have You Interfering In Our Affairs? Have We Complained To You About Our Democracy, Knowledge and Women, and Asked for Help?'
"The first thing that must come to the Arab mind is: what a bundle of nonsense is this? What business do you have interfering in our affairs? Have we complained to you about our democracy, knowledge and women, and asked for help? The more one thinks of it, the more outrageous the whole thing seems. For one thing, the ailments the text mentions – democracy, knowledge, women – go back a long way, decades if not centuries. So why the sudden interest in righting the wrongs? Why now?…
"The only explanation the Greater Middle East Initiative offers is that the deplorable conditions in Arab countries spawn Arab and Islamic terror and the latter threatens U.S. and European security, as the September 11 events show. So something has to be done at last. According to the text of the initiative, 'the three drawbacks mentioned by the Arab authors of the two UN Arab Human Development Reports for 2002 and 2003 – freedom, knowledge, and women empowerment – create conditions detrimental to the national interests of all G8 members. So long as the number of people deprived of their political and economic rights is rising, the region will witness an increase in extremism, terror, international crime, and illegal immigration.'"
'No Conclusive Proof' that 9/11 Was an Outcome of Arab and Islamic Terror – It May Have Been Done by Americans or with American Assistance
"The claim that the Greater Middle East Initiative aims, wholly or partly, to eliminate terror of the type seen on September 11, 2001 is unconvincing, for several reasons. One is that there is still doubt that the September attacks were the outcome of Arab and Islamic terror. No conclusive proof to this effect is yet available. Many writers, American and European, as well as Arab, suspect that the attacks were carried out by Americans, or with American assistance, or that Americans knew about them and kept silent. Such doubts are strong and rest on damning evidence, but the U.S. administration forcefully censors them and bans any discussion of the matter – something that, by the way, makes one suspect the US administration's commitment to 'knowledge.' But enough of that."
'The Claim That Terror Is The Outcome Of Lack Of Freedom, Knowledge And Women's Empowerment Is Untenable'
"Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the September attacks were truly the outcome of Arab and Islamic terror. Let's also assume that so-called Arab and Islamic terror is a phenomenon truly independent from any foreign intervention. Let's assume that Arab and Islamic terror has not been helped and abetted by intelligence services from other parts of the world… Let's assume that Arab and Islamic terror is purely Arab and Islamic, emanating from Arab sources, grown on Arab soil. Even if this were true, the claim that terror is the outcome of the lack of freedom, knowledge and women's empowerment is still untenable, for several reasons."
'What Guarantee Do You Have That A Democratic Arab Government that Faithfully Expresses the Sentiments of Its Own People would Not Engage In Acts of Terror Against You?'
"Firstly, on the basis of what rigorous analysis can you claim that the cause of terror is the lack of democracy, knowledge, and women's empowerment? The terror you complain of is a terror directed against you. What guarantee do you have that an Arab government that is democratic and faithfully expressing the sentiments of its own people would not engage in acts of terror against you, or encourage certain individuals to carry out such acts? Take, for example, the case of the Iranian government, which came to power in 1979 as a result of a popular revolt overwhelmingly supported by the Iranian people. Was it not under that government that Ayatollah Khomeini issued an edict sanctioning the murder of U.K. writer Salman Rushdie for writing a novel thought to be anti-Islamic? Perhaps democracy is not sufficient to eliminate terror, one would think."
Weren't Those Who Piloted the Planes Into the Twin Towers Educated? Weren't the Female Palestinian Suicide Bombers Empowered?
"As for the lack of knowledge, what do you have to say about the young Arab men who you say piloted the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? Weren't they well educated, with enough technical sophistication to commandeer commercial planes? So, knowledge is not sufficient to eliminate terror, one would think. Or do you mean something else by knowledge? For if you mean knowledge of international literature and humanities, please say so, as it is much easier to catch up in that domain.
"Concerning women, what do you have to say of the Palestinian girls and women – people who you definitely regard as terrorists – who blew themselves to pieces in protest against the usurpation of their national rights, hoping their sacrifice may bring back Palestine? Most of these women were educated, independently minded, and loaded with confidence. Yet you would see their actions as high terror. So women's empowerment is not sufficient to eliminate terror. Or is it another type of empowerment you have in mind?"
The True Cause of Terror – Arab Relations With The U.S. and the U.S. Position On The Palestinian Issue And Israel
"It is much simpler to assume that the main cause of terror is not related to inadequate democracy, knowledge, and women power, but to the special relations we have with the U.S., and to the U.S. position on the Palestinian issue and Israel. If so, then the Greater Middle East Initiative is likely to increase, rather than temper, the region's inclination for terror. Because such a project would strengthen the region's relationship with the U.S., and make this relationship even more lopsided. The initiative seems geared towards worse treatment of the Palestinians – for one thing, it does not have anything to say of the Palestinians and their suffering. The only country in the region the initiative has a good word for is Israel.
"Secondly, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that a regime more democratic, more dedicated to education and knowledge, and more respectful of women can eliminate terror. How long would that effort take? All these matters are slow to change, and their beneficial consequences would only be felt in the long run. Are you really willing to put up with terror for that long? Or should we be looking for a faster and more effective way to eliminate terror, such as the elimination of counter-terror, of the type Israel practices in Palestine, and the U.S. in Iraq?…"
The Initiative's Real Motives: 'Iraqi Oil, Regional Markets, and Softening the Region for Israel's Domination'
"If the doubts mentioned above are justified, and I think they are, then this sudden interest in reform has ulterior motives, such as controlling Iraq's oil, carving off regional markets, softening the region for Israel's domination. Since none of these motives are in the interest of Arabs, they had to be sugarcoated with slogans superficially compatible with Arab interests: democracy, knowledge, women's empowerment, and development.
"Freedom and democratization would make the occupation of Iraq more palatable. Changing the education curricula – under the guise of fortifying knowledge and improving the lot of women – would make students accept the idea of cooperating with Israel. Television channels created with U.S. funding, on the pretext of improving knowledge and the media, would help sell U.S. and Israeli goods. Creating a Middle East development bank, as mentioned in the initiative, would give Israel a share in the distribution and sharing of oil revenues and any foreign aid coming to the region. It is no wonder, therefore, that an initiative exclusively critical of Arab countries should be envisioned at the scale of a Greater Middle East – for its aim is to bring the prey closer to the predator, to help the top dog have its way."
Bush Follows In Napoleon's Footsteps: 'Napoleon Spoke Softly, But, Like the Americans of Today, Carried a Big Stick'
"The Greater Middle East Initiative reminds me of the leaflet Napoleon Bonaparte distributed to the Egyptians when his armies invaded Egypt in 1798. The similarity is striking, although the French and U.S. projects are two centuries apart. I went back to Napoleon's statement, cited by one of his Egyptian contemporaries, the historian Al-Gabarti. The statement opens on a devout note and proceeds to advocate democracy and equality, while maligning the local rulers of the country for treating foreigners unjustly…
"Just as the U.S. initiative does two centuries later, Napoleon's statement proceeds to promise the Egyptians progress and prosperity under French rule: 'From now on, no Egyptian is to despair of assuming high office or moving up to high places. The scientists and the best minds of the nation would be in charge, and this would improve the situation in the country.' Napoleon spoke softly, but like the Americans of today, carried a big stick. 'Any village rising against French soldiers would be put to the torch,' goes Article II of the French statement."
 Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), April 1-7, 2004.