Who Were We?     Where Did We Go?     Who Did We Meet?     What Surprised Us?     The Warning Label     Links  

League of Arab States,
Inter-Civilizations Dialogue Group

24-sep-03, 11:15 am

We meet Samia Bibars, Second Secretary of the Inter-Civilizations Dialogue Department of the League of Arab States. We already met her last night; She is very well-educated, personable, and Western in appearance and dress. She will be very helpful to us throughout the trip, and we take a great liking to her.

At 11:15 we arrive at the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States, a lovely building near the National Museum. We meet Dr. Ahmad Kamel Magd, who has a PhD on the topic of "American Judicial Review". He lived for 7 years in the U.S.A, and has done much work with interfaith communication. He is the Arab League Commissioner for Inter-Civilizations Dialogue. Also with us are several other members of his group, and Ms. Bibars.

Dr. Magd says that he'll start with 7 minutes of remarks and then we'll open up the discussion. This sounds great; by now we're accustomed to long speeches instead of dialogue. However, he instead spends 35 minutes talking, then his second-in-command, Mr. Yassin, talks awhile, and then the meeting ends.

He says some interesting things, but also rambles. From my notes:

Inter-civilizations dialogue is now in the context of rapidly hastening communication and travel. The issue of dialogue becomes ever more relevant and imperative in this context. There is a danger for America in being the sole superpower; this is a role that requires great humility.

With modern communications and media, brainwashing becomes much easier. A small group can get anyone elected. (While he doesn't say it, the implication is that the last U.S. election was, essentially, bought.)

The prerequisites for dialogue are:
1) There are other people and other opinions; diversity is good
2) Don't try to convert the other; accept disagreement.

A current danger is the collapse of "preservative institutions" like family and neighborhoods, the growth of violence, and the growing scarcity of resources. Water, he says, will be a dominant issue in the 21st century.

He is careful to talk about the U.S. rather than "the West". The U.S. is different; for one thing, America never colonized the Arab world. Also, the Arab nations joined the U.S. in opposing the U.S.S.R.

Arabs feel marginalized and ill-treated. Dr. Magd recounted a conversation with a Very High-ranking American official (that he wouldn't name), who bluntly accused him: "you guys are killing our friends in Israel". This deeply offended him, given that Egypt has been at peace with Israel for decades and has given much support to the U.S.

When asked about a fair resolution of the Palestinian crisis, he cited an article by Abraham Borg, President of the Knesset, in which he argued that for peace, everyone must sacrifice an aspiration. When pressed for details on viable endpoints, Dr. Magd refused to discuss them, saying that we need to focus instead on the process. [A mistake, in my opinion.]

Clinton's efforts at arbitration were seen as sincere and fair. The arrivals of Sharon and Bush have caused great damage. The future of Jews in the new century, he says, depends on Jews in Israel and the U.S. He further emphasizes the need for the U.S. to be a fair mediator.

Dr. Magd tells many rambling anecdotes, waxing nostalgic about the time when Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together amicably. [The last Jews fled Cairo in the late '60s, when Nasser aroused anti-Jewish sentiment as a way of deflecting attention from his own failed policies. There is now only one Synagogue in Cairo, with an elderly caretaker and no regular services.]

Dr. Magd agrees that the Arab world has communicated poorly, giving too much voice to extremists. He does say that "Americans are the best listeners in the world" and that the Arabs have failed to speak up.

Click Here

Mr. Yassin talks about how Arabs could portray themselves. Arabs need to learn self-criticism and objectivity. He also says that America has a very positive image in the Arab world.

He decries the current American bias towards Israel, in particular that the U.S. is often the only country to veto U.N. resolutions condemning Israel's stated intention to exile or kill Arafat. He says that International Law explicitly allows citizens of an occupied country (ie: Palestine) to resist the occupation. He particularly cites the demolishing of houses. (The extrajudicial demolition seems to particularly outrage the Arabs that we have met.) [Mr. Yassin is lecturing us, though, rather than engaging in dialogue.]

In closing, Dr. Magd gives some advice to Bashar: be American, be a witness for moderate Islam, and don't ask for advice from the Arab world.

Eclipsoid Home Page
Copyright © 2011 by Bill Coffin: billc at eclipsoid dot com