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The Middle East at Holy Ramadan: Iraq - Lebanon - Israel-Palestine
Al Safi is a small grocery shop on High Street Kensington in London. Last week, at the start of the month of Ramadan, the owner placed on its door his seasonal wishes for salaam (peace), khair (goodness), yumn (prosperity) and barakat (blessings).

2 September   |   2009   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

With Ramadan this year having begun on the same day for all Sunnis and Shi’is, I wonder if any of those wishes articulated by Al Safi would impact upon the dour realities of Middle Eastern politics. From Iraq and Lebanon to Israel-Palestine, could this convergence in dates also become a good omen? And are the movers and shakers of the region truly ready to heed to it?

Today, I shall merely express a few observations, perhaps hopes, which could well make a difference for the men, women and children in this riven part of the world. Mind you, wishes do not often take hold, and at times even prove to be naïve if not also surreal and misplaced, but does the Japanese proverb not admonish one that vision without action is a daydream, whilst action without vision is a nightmare? Surely this is an instance when vision and action could blend into concrete solutions.

Iraq: this oil-rich country witnessed last month another recrudescence of sectarian strife and bloody violence that resulted in 456 deaths and seemed to coincide with the redeployment of US troops as much as with the anticipated national parliamentary elections in January 2010. Such violence has also involved a new realignment of political forces through the launch of the new Iraqi National Alliance that for the moment at least debars the Islamic Da’wa party (with PM Nouri el Malki) as well as a fresh and somewhat moot spat with neighbouring Syria leading to severe mutual recriminations. No wonder many Iraqis’ fears have augmented considerably about their future compass, since it is also noticeable that Iran and Turkey are now the robust mediators in the region whilst the Arab League sadly continues its political indolence and perhaps even gradual insignificance.

Will the Iraq of Kurds, Shi’is and Sunnis, as well as the beleaguered minorities who are often ostracised from the political platform, address themselves toward reconciliation and tolerance? Or will they persist in their confessional and power-hungry traumas? Will they realise that the inclusive good of the whole outweighs the exclusive dividends of the few?

Lebanon: eight weeks into his mandate, the prime minister designate Sa’ad Hariri is still struggling to cobble together a government of national unity that brings all the different political parties under one roof. Mind you, unity and consensus are two dissimilar truisms in orthodox political lexicons, but Lebanese politics distinguishes itself from many other traditional democracies by inviting both winners and losers of parliamentary elections to take part in the same government, so much so that opposition parties work from within Government rather than from Parliament. Yet, I hope that success will not remain elusive for much longer, or else the few reedy voices calling for a sort of UN trusteeship for the country would gain credibility, and that is not necessarily in the interests of Lebanon and its parties - or for much of the Arab world either.

It is important for Lebanon to reach agreement on its political specificity and nature, and for its politicians to accept that they are not above the laws that define the constitutional institutions of the State. This can only happen when personal interests and factional one-upmanship by all and sundry are left behind and there is a closer collaboration between erstwhile adversaries let alone a keener appreciation of the urgent daily needs of the hapless Lebanese citizens - from electricity, water, road works or telephones - to the loftier issues of representation, arms, Palestinian refugees, domestic reforms or external relations.

Israel-Palestine: I was struck this week by the news that the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was formally indicted on three counts of corruption following a lengthy criminal investigation. After all, this would hardly ever happen in any Arab / Middle Eastern country. However, a healthy domestic rule of law does not excuse Israel from its oppressive occupation of Palestinian land, nor does it excuse the world from dispensing with this conflict for the sake of their self interests.

It is by now axiomatic that new presidential and legislative elections, coupled with a rapprochement between the Palestinian adversaries, are long overdue for the welfare of a weary Palestinian people. My readers might perhaps opt to scan a recent report by Paul Scham and Osama Abu-Irshaid published by the US Peace Institute that explicates the Koranic concepts of tahdi’a (calm period) and hudna (truce) and helps transcend a number of latent fears and antagonisms. More broadly, though, Israel should also accept the re-booted pan-Arab Initiative of 2002 - perhaps even at the UN General Assembly this month - so we could at long last celebrate a just peace respecting the statehood, humanity, integrity and security of both peoples.

Will the basic Ramadan wishes reflected by Al Safi serve as tokens for the leaders of the region to metamorphose their laxity into political initiatives that bear coherence and promise? Will there be a transformation in the thinking of the leaders of the region so all the long-suffering peoples will no longer be subjugated to arrogant politics, interests, spins and agendas?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2009   |   2 September


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