Some Would Want a New Axis

Posted in Other | 20-May-05 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

Manuela Paraipan is WSN Correspondent "Broader Middle East"

For decades we have formed various axes and coalitions, either to protect us or merely to serve imperialistic aspirations. In this context, we recently witnessed a premier summit in Brazil where heads of state and top officials from South American, Middle Eastern and North African nations gathered together to start a new economic, social and political cooperation in order to diminish US dominance.

While everyone recognizes the US supremacy, it is preferable to have other key players, as well. On the other hand, an open dialog, social reforms and economic cooperation may very well promote a more open and hopefully more liberal-oriented political process. The Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva described the summit as "an historic opportunity to launch the foundation for a solid bridge of cooperation between South America and the Arab world." The end of the Cold War, the important economic growth of the countries that once were dismissed by the West with barely disguised contempt as Third World or undeveloped, and the emergence of powerful regional blocks have revived the idea of creating a counterbalance axis.

In the last years, there were regular meetings of regional blocks to discuss how they could work together, economically and even politically, to their own advantage. There have been Arab-European and European-Asian summits, and last week saw the first Arab-Latin American summit meeting that took place in Brazil involving 34 countries from the two regions. Arab and Latin American economies are complementary. Latin America has developed high-tech skills and industries that will find ready markets in the Arab world as will its agricultural produce. Latin America is also a good market for Arab oil and downstream petrochemicals. Developing business relations between the Arab world and South America would provide an invaluable balance to both regions' over-dependence on Europe, the US and Japan for imports and expertise.

In the final statement, the two regions demanded Israel to disband settlements in Palestinian areas, including those in East Jerusalem and retreat to its borders before the 1967 Middle East War. In daring terms it recognized the legitimate right of the people "to resist foreign occupation in accordance with the principles of international legality and in compliance with international humanitarian law," obviously referring to the Palestinian militias and Hezbollah's armed wing. "It's not against Israel. It's certainly against the Israeli occupation," Amr Moussa said.

If Amr Moussa's declaration was meant to calm things down, it did not. To further deepen the West's concern, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika reminded us that although the two regions are geographically far apart, they share similar political and economic interests and it should also be taken into consideration that they share a human factor, namely the ten million South Americans of Arab descent.

Sergio Widder from the Simon Wiesenthal Center said that the declaration in its final form "leaves the door open for terrorist groups to interpret it as a support for their criminal activities," while Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, a close friend of President Lula, declared that they do condemn the terrorist actions, but terrorism and resistance are two very different things.

The declaration called for freeing the Middle East from all weapons of mass destruction in what is seen as an endorsement of the Egyptian stand. It was not clear whether they demand Iran and Israel to give up their nuclear power or if the message was intended only for Israel. The resolution's terms were far from being music to Washington's ears, especially since President Lula rejected the observer status of Washington at the summit.

One of the most interesting speeches was that of Prince Saud. Besides emphasizing the charity of Saudi Arabia and its bid to encourage economic development, Prince Saud condemned terrorism in strong words. This was a wise step, since most of the 9/11 terrorists hold Saudi citizenship. As Middle Eastern leaders prove to us again and again, not only theory and practice are two different issues, but also terrorism and resistance. I do not know the rules of this game. When is terrorism terrorism, and when is it "the right to resist?" In Iraq we have Zarqawis' insurgents who oppose the US presence in the Middle East, at large and in Iraq in particular, possible foreign insurgents and also possible smaller groups of Iraqi insurgents. Now, the actions of their deeds are similar: Innocent men and women die because of their armed struggle. From all the above groups, which ones are entitled to resist and which ones can be branded as terrorist?

Finally I have got it. The Arabs know something we do not. They can tell which terrorist is good, and which one is bad. Even if the summit does not lead to any beneficial social or political activity, the simple fact that the South American and Arab leaders explained the term terrorism to us is a real gaining.