This House believes that after Gaza, Arab unity is dead and buried

Sunday February 15 2009
MOTION PASSED by 77% to 23%


This House believes that after Gaza, Arab unity is dead and buried

A passionately argued motion at the Doha Debates left the Arab world in little doubt that unity in the region is at best in disarray and quite possibly non-existent.

The motion, suggesting that the Arab world’s failure to offer any meaningful response to Israel’s attacks on Hamas spelled the end of Arab unity, was carried overwhelmingly by 77% to 23%.

Yet despite the deep divisions that separated the two debating teams, both sides unusually agreed on one issue - that true Arab unity, to a lesser or greater extent, would be unachievable without democracy in the region.

As if to illustrate their point, a young Egyptian student drew applause from the 350-strong audience when he stood up to say that such public debating would be impossible in his own country.

“I feel embarrassed to be an Arab,”; said the young man, “when I see Hamas killing Fatah, Fatah killing Hamas, Shia killing Sunni and Sunni killing Shia.

“My leaders are oppressing me not to talk, my leaders who have been in power for 27 years and I am not allowed to speak.  I get the opportunity to speak here in Qatar, but am not allowed to go back to Egypt and say what I want because my leaders will not allow it.”;

Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Qatar’s Ambassador to Washington until 2007, suggested that far from Arab unity being dead after Gaza, it had never existed even before.

Speaking for the motion he said “since emerging from colonisation we have been ruled by dictators whose only interest is to stay in power".

“Give democracy and freedom to the Arab region and you will get unity. Unity has to be concrete. We don’t have the right to vote or get rid of corrupt officials.  When we have accountability then we will have unity.”;

Mouin Rabbani, a senior analyst and special adviser on Palestine to the International Crisis Group from 2002 until 2008, accused the Arab League of becoming a laughing stock by failing to respond adequately to crises in the region.

“Gaza showed that the core of the system is so badly decomposed that it reeks from Marakesh to Muscat.  It is neither ready, willing nor able to serve the ambitions of its people, least of all on questions of regional solidarity.”;

Mr. Rabbani agreed with Mr. Al-Khalifa that there would have to be far greater democracy in the region before any form of Arab unity could be contemplated.  He said it was easier to demonstrate in Tel Aviv than elsewhere in the Arab world.
Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist arguing against the motion, said Gaza had actually served to raise the public’s consciousness on pan-Arab issues and thus increased unity in the region.

“Gaza has revived interest in the Palestinian cause” leading to street demonstrations that in turn are “creating popular unity – unity from the bottom up instead of the top down.”;

He said that through satellite television, Arabs were nowadays far better informed and thus far more unified. “The only thing we need in the Arab world is democracy - for Arabs to have the right to get rid of autocratic leaders.”;

His co-speaker Abdulaziz Sager, chairman and founder of the Gulf Research Centre based in Dubai, said that recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations throughout the Arab world showed that it was important to differentiate between state and people.  “This was the people showing their unity.”;

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