Michael Totten

Davos in the Desert

Dispatches from conferences in the Middle East don’t tend to make interesting reading, but Jay Nordlinger managed to write five this week. He attended the World Economic Forum on the Middle East next to Jordan’s Dead Sea, and what he saw and heard is far more interesting than I would have expected.
Here is a taste.

It can be a wondrous thing to hear Arab elites talk behind closed doors. They can be bracingly, sometimes thrillingly, candid. They recognize the problems of Arab society; they are eager to confront and surmount them.
At a lunch, I hear things like, “We Arabs are at the bottom of everything — at the bottom of every index: literacy, capitalism, the rights of women. Everything. In our countries, we have cults of personality, dictatorships, dynasties . . . Where is democracy? Where is rotation in office?
“In the past, extremist Islam was unusual; now it is usual. In the Soviet Union, South Africa, South Korea, there was restructuring. But not in our region. We have no Gorbachev, we have no de Klerk, we have no Kim Dae-jung. The vast majority of our people are chromosomally reasonable and moderate. And the human spirit must be unleashed here.”
How touching it is, too, to hear a Syrian woman plead for human rights. Many of her countrymen — many of her best ones — are in cells.
I wish the whole world could hear what I have heard at this lunch.
But you also hear the old voices — the Old Guard, as I call them. And, as always, they are depressing. They cannot speak without fingering Israel and the United States. In their eyes, everything bad stems from Israel and the United States. And no progress can be made until Israel ceases to occupy the West Bank. (They’re now out of Gaza, of course. Fat lot of good that did.)
Arab countries can’t drop crippling socialism until Israel leaves the West Bank. Nepotism must continue until Israel leaves the West Bank. Women cannot drive until Israel leaves — and “honor killings” must go on. Corruption must prevail in Arab countries as long as Israel occupies the West Bank.
Etc., etc. This attitude is not only insane — it is harmful to the point of destructiveness.
As a rule, I encounter two types of Arab elite: those who recognize Arab problems, and are willing to tackle them; and those who fixate on Israel and America. Members of the former group are so refreshing, you want to hug them; members of the latter group are not just lamentable, but despicable. They are the excuse-makers. And they hold the entire region back.
There are major Arab excuse-makers here by the Dead Sea — and the leading one, I would say, is Amr Moussa, the longtime secretary-general of the Arab League. He is the epitome, the purest representative, of the Old Guard. But you know who most of the excuse-makers are? Americans and Europeans. Middle Easterners themselves are far more likely to be candid and clear-eyed.
In these journals past — from the Middle East and from Davos — I have remarked on the anti-Americanism of the Americans. It is always strutting about. An Arab says that his country must liberate itself from illiteracy and ignorance, in order to make progress politically. An American woman says, chortling to her companion, “We need to do that in America.”
Keep laughin’, lady.

Read all five parts “here”:http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MDYwNjEzNTgwNGYxYTEwODNjYmFhOTk4YTM1OWIxODI=, “here”:http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MzZhMDhjMTNkOWE4Y2Y3OTE2ODNmNDIwM2E2MTliYTM=, “here”:http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=MTUyMWU4NGNkNmRkNzI1NWIwMzA1NmViOTYxNDI0N2Q=, “here”:http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=YTFlMjNhMmY1MTk4ZjZkODM4MTZhMjgwODE2YTNlNmQ=, and “here”:http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ODUwYTg2OTk2NDgyMDhjZWRiNjUwODJiYjczODA1MmE=.