Mar 31, 2003
The shouting match that broke out at the March 1 "Arab Summit" in Sharm El-Sheikh, an Egyptian Red Sea resort, was instructive on a number of levels. What it mostly confirmed was that even Arabs don't like (or trust) Arabs.
Behind all the wrangling are some stark economic facts about the Middle East that go largely unreported. (1) Arab economies are performing very poorly due to the structural weaknesses of inadequate growth, high unemployment and governments that don't manage their finances well. (2) The second part of the equation is the way Arab states spend lavishly for defense and security while doing little, comparatively, for domestic economic needs.
As the Arabic News.Com reported, "The Arab states in 2000 spent 27.4 percent of their total spending on defense and security, while only 9.1 percent was allocated for economic affairs." A report by Gulf News noted that $197.7 billion was spent in 2000 on military costs, while only $53 billion was spent on economic activities. That added up to 35 percent of their total expenditures. "
Why do they spend so much? Well, if you had a neighbor like Iraq, you would spend a lot too. And if you feared that your own population might rise up against you, a strong military to enforce your control would be a good idea as well. And, if you really didn't care about the prosperity of the general population of your nation, it really wouldn't matter that you ignored economic growth. Finally, if your economy was based on oil, you might be tempted to ignore any and all other forms of economic growth.
Depending on the sale of rugs, camels, and goats is not exactly a formula for economic success. Most of these nations need to build an economic infrastructure independent of oil revenues. Run by dictators who suck billions out of the economy for their personal use, the Middle East, like Africa, remains an economic basket case.
In a recent article posted on Middle East Times.Com took notice of a report by Brad Bourland, the chief economist for Saudi American Bank who warned, "current strong conditions are masking chronic and apparent weaknesses in the economies of Arab countries. The combined gross domestic product of Arab countries stood at $540 billion; smaller than that of Mexico and one-twentieth of that of the US."
As the Arab League leaders gathered in Egypt, ostensibly to find an answer to the dilemma of Iraq, the answer they really need to find was how to deal with economies growing more slowly than their populations. Levels of unemployment in Arab nations are astronomical compared to other regions of the world. In Algeria, it is 26.4 percent; Oman's is 17.2 percent; Tunisia's is 15.6; Jordan's is 13 percent; and Saudi Arabia's is 13 percent.
This represents a lot of young men who have nothing better to do than join terrorist organizations promising to overthrow their own governments and impose Islamic rule as the answer to their problems. However, as we have seen in Iran, a whole generation of young, often unemployed, young Muslims have identified the source of the problem. It is their own Islamic government, run autocratically by their ayatollahs.
So, when the unelected leaders gathered in Egypt at their Arab League summit meeting, their vain hope of avoiding a US-led war in the region fell apart very swiftly. As the Libyan dictator, Moammar Gaddafi, and his Saudi counterpart, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, hurled insults at one another, television coverage suddenly disappeared off the screens throughout the Middle East. That's a standard censorship throughout the region.
The summit ended with a declaration calling for a "complete rejection of any aggression on Iraq." Yeah, sure. Meanwhile, most of the nations in that region are cooperating with the United States to insure an invasion takes place. Their own national security depends on it. Only Egypt and Saudi Arabia are insisting that war can be avoided if Iraq cooperates with the United Nations inspectors. Since that hasn't occurred after twelve years of UN resolutions, it is not the most realistic position to take.
About the only thing Arab states have in common is their reliance on the United States to save them from an Iraq seeking to arm itself to the teeth with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The Arab League is a joke. The United Nations is a joke. It's time for the only serious nation, the United States, to get on with the job of eliminating Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party of Iraq. After that, the US will turn its attention to Syria and other Arab nations in need of regime change.
It's time to drag the Middle East into the twenty-first century to avoid more attacks on the US and more threats to the stability of the region. The appeasers will never achieve this. Only force of arms will impose change.
Alan Caruba is the author of "Warning Signs", published by Merril Press. He writes a weekly column posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center (www.anxietycenter.com).
Copyright, Alan Caruba, 2003
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