Highlights from ‘Live It. Love It!’

Source - Jay Nordlinger, National Review June 11, 2007 Vol. 10

This conference is the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, held at the resort area by the Dead Sea. There are over 1,200 participants here, from over 50 countries. King Abdullah gives the opening address, and he stresses the need to find a solution for Palestinians. Conditions are desperately bad, he says, and these conditions “create radicalization.” The king also speaks broadly about the stagnation of the Arab world: About 325 million people live here, but standards of living are deplorable. He notes that, not so long ago, China and India were in a similar position: and they made “tough decisions to move forward,” opening their economies, accepting globalization. Why can’t Arabs do the same, and even better?

But much that is fresh and exciting is said — for example, on the subject of education. Khaldoon al-Mubarak, a CEO from the UAE, and not to be confused with Egypt’s boss, speaks for many. He says that education must be “diversified,” in part because the present system is not meeting the needs of the private sector. Mubarak further says that some textbooks are outrageous. In math, for example, fourth-graders read, “If you have five Muslims facing four infidels . . .” What is such a question doing in a fourth-grade math book? Moreover, the exclusion of girls from schools is a “great weakness” of Arab education, says Mubarak.

Appearing on a power panel is Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. As usual, he is the chicest guy in town — his cape happens to be green, on this occasion. And he begins his remarks in praise of “foreign intervention”: “Foreign intervention brought us freedom from an extremist occupation, from terrorism, from brutal, obscurantist rule.” It brought the return of refugees from abroad, the return of women to visible life, an infinitely improved economy.

Mostly, these are people who are honestly and sanely seeking answers to problems. One of the criticisms that many of us have had for years is that Arabs and Muslims will not wrestle with their own problems, preferring to deflect: preferring to blame Israel and the U.S. for the fall of every sparrow. But there is relatively little deflection here. A debate is staged, and it is aired live by al-Arabiya. The topic: “Is the Arab World Betraying Its Youth?” As the moderator explains, unemployment is very high, and hopes are very low. Young people are delaying marriage, having no means of supporting families. They are flocking to embassies, trying to obtain visas — emigration seems the only way out.

The audience is stocked with young people, brought in specially for the occasion. They air their grievances, condemning their governments and elders with something like joyous abandon. On the panel sits Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League. Normally he is gruff, blustery, and defiant. Al-Arabiya’s moderator is extremely tough on him — and he takes it like a lamb. Another panelist confesses that, if he were a young person, without opportunity and without hope, “I would either emigrate or join a terrorist group.” No one seems surprised by this. And the discussion continues free-flowingly and frankly.

Such discussion is music to the ears of all who hope for change throughout the Arab world — change that is occurring even now, if only in fits and starts.

MK - Yes, I too hope for change in the Arab world, I long for the day when the immigration queues are forming outside the embassies of Arab countries, if they could just hurry up and get on with it.

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