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The battle the Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouq Husni fought for the position of UNESCO Director General was not a personal battle by any standard. Many powers had concerted their efforts so that this important position would not be occupied by an Arab, regardless of nationality and qualifications, whether the candidate was from a ‘moderate’ or a ‘non-compliant’ country, supportive of the Palestinian people or silent – as a result of frustration, submissiveness or currying favor with an oppressive enemy – about the crimes committed by Israel and its allies against the Palestinian people on a daily basis.
Farouq Husni’s Arab identity was sufficient for ambassadors of Western countries to work tirelessly against him, for some candidates to withdraw in favor of the Bulgarian candidate, and to mobilize all possible instruments, including the media, to insure that the Bulgarian, Irina Bokova, is elected. After the battle, they discovered that she was the first woman to be elected to this position, so they highlighted this fact and stressed the importance of gender equality. But the fact is that the battle was fought against the election of an Arab to such a position; for he might, in the future, “protest against the destruction of human and cultural heritage in Jerusalem”.
In the example of Farouq Husni, like in other innumerable examples, the history of Western relations with the Arabs proves that the respect others have for them is a result of the power they possess. This respect cannot be begged when they are divided, weak. I have always argued that Arabs cannot gain international respect unless they achieve it nationally and regionally and unless we respect each other in the same country. Had the Arab countries put real pressure for a cause of an Arab individual or an Arab country under threat, pressure or embargo, the world would have had to listen and concur. But as long as some of us stand against their own interests by replacing the Israeli threat by another, and by following a policy of ‘complying’ with or submitting to Western pressure as the way to success, it is no wonder that results are disappointing on any critical issue.
Despite all Western objections to Iran, most world media talked about two important speeches at the UN General Assembly, President Obama’s speech and that of Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Despite all alleged Western concern about Iran, the West cannot ignore or disrespect Iran, because it possesses the knowledge and the energy which have made it a regional superpower to reckon with. When they tried to weaken it, they targeted the unity of its leadership and people by co-opting some, either because they are ignorant of or complicit with Western interests.
Strength is the only thing which wins nations respect regardless of whether their actions are acceptable or unacceptable to others. The United States had to abandon its missile shield in order to win Russia over in its battle with Iran. This shows how important Iran is. It is important because it is working hard to possess the means of power, whereas one of the most important causes of Arab weakness is that they squander their strength and their capacities locally, nationally, regionally and internationally. Then they imagine that the world might care about them because they are on good terms with this or that Western leader, or because this or that Western politician visited them or invited them to his office for fifteen minutes. They seem not to have heard of the golden rule of American politics: “soft with people tough on issues”. This is something Arabs should understand and incorporate into their relations with others. They should not have paroxysms of joy when a Westerner visits them, because such a visit is part of their priorities, not our Arab priorities, and because they make their moves according to their own agendas, not ours.
They do not despair if other countries took a cautious or critical approach with them, because these countries could be working for their national interests not the interests of those who covet their resources. The Arab action and evaluation system has to be overhauled and modernized so that we do not live under illusions and do not build on grounds that no one acknowledges in their relations with us. From this very perspective which leads to weakening Arabs, because they weaken themselves, the prime minister of a usurping entity committing murder and destruction on a daily basis, says “we are not aggressors”. He who robs the Palestinians of their land, water and life talks about what happened to them in Nazi Germany as if it were sufficient justification for committing all these crimes against people who had nothing whatsoever to do with what happened to them in Germany over seventy years ago. He addresses heads of states at the United Nations with a racist condescending tone as if addressing his victims, the civilian Palestinians.
Benjamin Netanyahu berated members of the UN General Assembly saying: “aren’t you ashamed” to listen to the speech of Iranian president Ahmedinejad? Yet, no one responded. No one protested. All sat submissively not wanting to anger the “Western alliance” with Israel. Moreover, he made two preconditions for any negotiations with the Palestinians: first, “recognizing Israel as a Jewish state”, and second, “never withdrawing to the 1967 borders”. Nevertheless, he said that he wanted “negotiations without preconditions” on the Palestinian side. For Netanyahu, an Arab breaking the fast with him in Ramadan is no different from an Arab demanding the return of Jerusalem, the Palestinian state and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. He talked about “the refugees and their offspring” with racist and condescending disregard because the Arabs have not acquired the elements of strength to restore to the refugees and prisoners and to the women and children of Gaza the legitimate human rights according to international laws and conventions.
We see UN organizations and investigation commissions confirm Israel’s racism and crimes against Palestinians and Arabs, while the official Arab system is submissive or asleep, effective only in stirring disunity and fragmentation. The Farouq Husni experience can be added to numerous incidents through which the West has proven that it looks at the Arabs as Arabs, with no difference between moderate or non-compliant, and regardless of the country they come from or the sect they belong to. They are all descendants of Prophet Mohammad, slotted into the same category designed for them by Zionism and its allies. When will these Arabs, who suspect and accuse their brothers in order to curry favor with the West, see themselves under the same light and in the same way in order to gain respect for themselves. Only then will they win international positions and the international respect they seek.
BOUTHAINA SHAABAN is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She was the spokesperson for Syria and nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org