Way-out for Arabs: I suggest 10-point strategy
Let us first see the Arab League summit held recently in Sirte, Libya, which was dominated by Israel's announcement earlier last month of plans to build 1,600 settler homes in mainly Arab east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as the capital of their future State. Though some of the towering and very influential personalities of the Arab world were missing for obvious reasons, yet it appropriately decided not to resume Israeli-Palestinian talks unless the Jewish State halts all new settlement buildings. Arab leaders mulled legal and political measures to confront Israel and adopted a resolution to raise 500 million dollars in aid to help bolster the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem.
The Arab leaders also agreed to hold a special summit next September to discuss regional developments and to follow up on the decisions taken to develop Arab cooperation. Yemen had submitted a proposal backed by Libya to transform the Arab League into an “Arab Union” but the Arab League chief Amr Moussa proposed an “Arab Neighborhood Association” that would advance cooperation on the shared security interests in between Arab States and friendly neighboring States.
The outcome of the summit, one may say, is more our less satisfactory and the proposal of the Secretary General may have some reasoning, but in my opinion these are just diplomatic jargons and concrete results cannot be achieved unless and until the other side is made to realize that the Arab and Muslim world is united and strong and any delay in the solution of Palestinian and Middle East problems would adversely affect the interests of Israel.
How to achieve that is for the leadership in the Arab and Muslim world to ponder and come out with a long-term strategy. The Palestinian issue is dragging on like the Kashmir issue, for the last over sixty years and would remain unresolved, may be, for another so many years unless the Arab world does some loud thinking and takes some strategic decisions right now.
I may look over-optimistic but I think there is now a realization in the Arab world for greater collective efforts to build internal harmony and pool resources to emerge as a strong economic bloc on the pattern of European Union. I am saying this because I witnessed the GCC summit in Muscat in January 2009 hosted by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Saeed, which agreed for the Gulf Monetary Union and also in the same month the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah hosted a high profile two-day Arab Economic and Social Development Conference to address the economic, developmental and social issues aimed at creating a sturdy Arab economic bloc. I witnessed the proceedings of this high-profile Conference too.
I have also now participated in the festivities of the 25th National Festival for Heritage and Culture held in Riyadh (March 17-22, 2010) where about 400 literary men and thinkers from all over the world including Dr. Mahathir Mohammad of Malaysia, Dr. Mohammad Younes of Bangladesh, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former Secretary General of the United Nations were invited to discuss some of the crucial issues facing the world including Islam in the present-day context. The event was inaugurated by the Custodian of the two holy mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.
These are encouraging signs but let us first see where the Arab world stands today.
The Arab world population is estimated at around 350 million with vast natural resources including oil reservoirs and vast lands stretching from the Atlantic coast of northern Africa in the west to the Arabian Sea in the east and from the Mediterranean Sea in the northz to Central Africa in the south straddling two continents; both Africa and Asia. The Arab world encompasses a region that has made it one of the world's most strategic areas. Its long stretches of coastlines give it access to vital waterways such as the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Though only a few Arab countries possess petroleum and natural gas resources, others have tremendous natural resources including iron-ore, lead, phosphate, cobalt and manganese.
Thus, the Arab world today is a rich composite of many and diverse influences. In the 21st century it is a region in transition-developing, modernizing and building the foundation for its own renaissance.
The Arab countries with natural resources, especially petroleum, are devoting large funds to development programme and at the same time thousands of young Arabs are studying in old and new universities in their own countries or abroad, particularly in the United States where there are an estimated 60,000 Arab students. They are specializing in professions and disciplines that could enhance the progress of their homeland but on completion of their studies most of them prefer to stay in the developed countries.
Though there had been tremendous development in oil and gas rich countries, yet economic and industrial advancement in member States of the Arab League and the OIC, I would say, has been low to an alarming level. Lately there have emerged several major economic projects that are to be completed soon and appear promising i.e. the Arab Gas Pipeline, a project which is hoped to funnel Egyptian and Iraqi gas to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and then to Turkey and Europe and some others but they are like a tip in the iceberg.
No doubt the rich Arab countries have implemented and launched massive development projects yet a lot needs to be done to enable them to join the community of developed nations and this is quite possible as they have all the necessary financial resources. I would therefore suggest the following 10-point strategy that, I am confident, would bring a revolution and that would make their voice strong and heard across the globe:
1-The first and foremost would be the realization on the part of the Arab world to say goodbye to their obsession with Arab nationalism. Instead of thinking inwardly, they should start talking in terms of greater Muslim Ummah. This is because there are only 300 million Arabic speaking Muslims, which means that they constitute slightly above 20% of the Islamic Ummah and the overwhelming majority of the Ummah is non-Arabs, which should be seen as strength. Once there is realization about this, then the logical next step would be to promote pan-Islamism, a cause that can best be served if we activate and strengthen the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). A group of eminent personalities was assigned the task of proposing recommendations for reforms in the organization but progress has been marred for unintelligible reasons.
2-Muslims, these days, are at the receiving end and are subjected to cultural, information and physical invasions. There is a dire need to establish an effective and comprehensive network of Islamic media and coordinate activities of the media of the individual Muslim countries to counter the negative propaganda and project causes of the Islamic world.
3-The 22-member Arab League, which is supposed to be the voice of the Arabs, has so far held 32 summits but I am sorry to point out that it has not been able to leave the desired impact in any field. Its main focus has been promotion of Arab nationalism but here too it could not devise a strategy to respond to the political challenges confronting Arabs.
4-I am of the firm opinion that the top priority for the Arab world and the Ummah should be education. No doubt, literacy rate in Arab countries is significantly higher than other Muslim States but quality and higher education is almost missing. Arabs have the resources to establish centres of excellence and hire best of the best faculty to make a difference. As they have the necessary resources, generous scholarships be offered to students from other Muslim countries, which will not only mitigate the educational problems of these countries but will also generate necessary goodwill for Arabs. Till that is done, countries like Pakistan, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam should offer scholarships to students from other Islamic States.
It would be a promising approach which must focus on active involvement and participation of younger generation in strengthening the fields of science and technology. This involvement is a time-tested concept and has shown tangible results. The establishment of such centres including those in science and technology may take a decade or so but the cream that would be produced by these universities would essentially be an asset in different fields.
5-They should give priority to Research and Development particularly in hi-tech areas. In addition to developing new technologies, the researchers can replicate the proven technologies for adoption in the Muslim countries rather than relying on imports at huge costs.
6-There should be innovation in technology which is one of the Middle East's best routes out of dependence. Technology can foster the educated population. Cooperation within the Middle East and the Muslim world will encourage and improve innovation. It can also provide solutions to other global issues such as the environment and energy supplies.
7-The region is strong in energy and should utilize it as a solid platform for addition of new energy be bold, be part of what is going on out in the world and look at the alternative sources of energy including wind and solar to replace oil and gas when these resources may exhaust.
8-With good education fundamentals and high levels of technological readiness and innovation that are essential engines of growth, the resource rich Arab and Muslim countries should either severally or jointly launch projects in engineering sectors to meet both their present and future domestic needs. These projects could include manufacturing of equipment needed for oil fields, refineries, defence and even civil aircraft.
9-It is regrettable that no worthwhile attempt has been made so far to carry out systematic, scientific and comprehensive research on the teachings of Qur'an and Sunnah. This should be undertaken without further delay as this would not only strengthen the faith of Muslims in the universal religion but would also equip them with necessary weapons to counter anti-Islamic propaganda.
10-The Arab world, in collaboration with other members of the OIC, should devise an acceptable internal mechanism for dispute resolutions (among Muslims) and resolve sectarian differences as this would lend the much-needed cohesion, strength and unity to the Ummah to face the external dangers and challenges.
I am of the firm belief that once the Arab and Muslim countries have the necessary educated and technologically equipped manpower, they can undertake projects in different fields to reduce their dependence on others. I am saying so because the European countries have joint ventures in civil and defence aircraft, space rockets and in the nuclear fields. If the Europeans can do so, why can't the Muslim world?
The OIC members have a combined GDP of USD 10,140,000,000,000. They need to harness their resources rather than opposing each other on petty issues. When the Arab world and the larger Ummah will be able to stand on their own feet, their strength would surely be better felt around the world.
These are my tentative suggestions for the consideration of the Arab world and if found appropriate and suitable and of some value, these may be mulled over in the coming Arab and OIC summits.