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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

JOINED BY:
JAMES ZOGBY, ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE;
SHAHA ALI-RIZA, WORLD BANK;
HISHAM MELHEM, AS-SAFIR NEWSPAPER
TARIK YOUSEF, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

TAPED: JULY 24, 2002
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF AUGUST 24-25, 2002

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Arabian twilight.

The cover is bright but the contents are gloomy; the Arab Human Development Report of 2002, written by elite Arab intellectuals and policymakers and published by the UNDP, United Nations Development Program. Conclusion: The Arab world today is a civilization bypassed by global trade, by democracy, by technology and by women's rights.

This extraordinary Arab report scrutinizes 22 member states of the Arab League and their 280 million Arab people. The root cause for Arab underdevelopment, says the study, is three-fold, three deficits: a deficit of freedom, a deficit of women's rights and a deficit of knowledge.

Some findings on the last mentioned, the knowledge deficit:

Item: Illiteracy rampant. Sixty-five million adults of the 280 million Arabs cannot read, and almost two-thirds of them are women.

Item: Education deficit. Ten million children get no education whatever.

Item: Religion trumps scholarship. Millions more Arabs are poorly educated or attend religious schools, the madrasses, where they learn only to study the Koran.

Item: The baby boom. The problem of poor education is about to meet a demographic tsunami. With 38 percent of the population, almost two out of five, under age 14, the Arab region has the globe's highest percentage of young people.

Question: What is the root cause for the knowledge deficit in the Arab world? Is Islam to blame?

James Zogby?

MR. ZOGBY: That would confuse cause and effect. I think that Islam plays a role today in part because there's a problem of development. All the deficits go together, and there are many deficits in the Arab world. A deficit of freedom, there's a deficit of education, deficit of economic development. They are dialectally related one to another. As the countries develop, education will change to meet that. Similarly, educational changes will help spur new development. But they all go together, John. There's a lot of problems, and the report spells them all out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Shaha, can you speak to the knowledge deficit in the Arab world?

MS. ALI-RIZA: What has happened over the past 30 years, actually, is more there has been a democratization of education, in the sense that many more people have been educated in the Arab world. The problem is the quality of the education, and that is a real deficit in the Arab world. The other problem is, actually, not only the quality of education itself, but the kind of education that actually instills this gender differences in the Arab child and in the Arab society.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I see.

Now Hisham, what I meant by Islam being the cause is that Islam requires subservience to authority and the acceptance of revealed truth rather than the quest for truth. Does that not blunt the desire for knowledge right at the very root?

MR. MELHEM: I can say the same thing about my own religion, Catholicism, also, that it's the revealed truth which came in the past and we have to deal with it too.

Islam, throughout its long history, has been at times very dynamic, very creative, very forward-looking. It depends on the men and women who are doing the interpretation of the religious scripture at a given time in history. The same thing with Christianity and Judaism. That's a long subject.

But let me go back to our problem in the Arab world. One reason we have these deficits in knowledge and freedom and social development in general has to do with the nature of the repressive political structures that are in the Arab world. Most Arab governments suffer from a political disease we call "lack of legitimacy." You add to that the patriarchal nature of Arab society, which is a traditional society, and that explains in part the poor status of women and the poor status of education.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're not equating Catholicism with Wahhibi restraint on human thought, are you?

MR. MELHEM: No, no, no. But look at Christianity in medieval times. Look at Catholicism in medieval times, how it waged the Crusade wars and justified all these wars. And now, you know, it's the same scripture. The Koran, in medieval time, when Muslim societies were way advanced vis-a-vis the Christian culture, they were also relying on the same scripture, but who was doing the interpretation of the scripture at that time.

MR. ZOGBY: Societies change and religions change as societies change. Catholicism back then was identical to the role that religion is playing in some Arab societies today, no difference.

MR. MELHEM: Exactly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tarik, do you have thoughts on the intellectual stagnation of the Arab world?

MR. YOUSEF: I think the region is going through a tough transition period at the moment. The old development model, which focused on the state providing, producing and distributing, required a different set of educational institutions. In the last 15 years, the region is moving slowly, very slowly towards a new model whereby the private sector plays that role. Now, that requires a different set of educational institutions. Somebody has to pay for it, somebody has to provide it. It is slow, it is not fast enough. It is challenging and people are paying the price. It's an adjustment, a painful adjustment period.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: The demographic tsunami will break in about a decade and a half -- 2020 -- when almost 40 percent of its young will mature. Will the Arab world be dominantly ready or dominantly unready for this demographic tsunami?

I ask you, James Zogby -- Jim Zogby.

MR. ZOGBY: Have to be ready, because if they're not, there will be convulsions everywhere. It is -- one hates to be deterministic about this, but simply the societies cannot ingest that kind of population explosion unless they're ready. In fact, I think, again, going back to the dialectic notion, this tsunami, as you call it, will itself be transformative and will usher in the change. It will either be evolutionary or it will be convulsive. I hope it's the former and not the latter because the price will be very dear to pay for everyone.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Shaha?

MS. ALI-RIZA: I agree with Jim. I think it will have to be ready because otherwise there will be convulsions, particularly in the kind of present atmosphere that exists in the world where all of these young people are not finding an outlet for their needs and for their aspirations.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. And also, the technological and scientific advances will continue to be the province of Europe, Asia and the United States if the Arab world is not ready.

Correct, Hisham?

MR. MELHEM: Absolutely. And that's why unless the Arab societies are opened up economically as well as politically, and unless we resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is sapping our resources, there will be upheavals in the Arab world and the rest of the world will feel them. This is a very important strategic region in the world, and the rest of the world cannot just watch it remaining in stagnation while the rest of the world moving as a caravan and leaving the Arabs behind.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tarik?

MR. YOUSEF: I think there's another tsunami that you need to pay attention to. It's not the demographic tsunami per se, it's what's happening to labor force, labor markets. That challenge is now. And Jim -- I would reiterate what Jim said, which is you need to start now because you have these huge inflows of people looking for jobs and you need to provide jobs for them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And if they don't have the knowledge, they will be increasingly part of the menial labor force, the Arabs will. Is that true?

MR. YOUSEF: Absolutely. Or they'll have to export their labor abroad.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: The 60-year war.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) For too long the citizens of the Middle East have lived in the midst of death and fear. The hatred of a few holds the hopes of many hostage. The forces of extremism and terror are attempting to kill progress and peace by killing the innocent, and this casts a dark shadow over an entire region.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The six-decade-long conflict between Palestinians and Israelis plays a key role in the grim portrait of the Arab world today.

Quote from the report: "Israel's illegal occupation of Arab lands is one of the most pervasive obstacles to security and progress in the region geographically, since it affects the entire region; temporally, extending over decades; and developmentally, impacting nearly all aspects of human development and human security directly for millions and indirectly for others." So says the Arab Report.

But there is a new twist on the Arab-Israeli conflict; namely, don't blame Israel alone for the region's ills, say the Arab authors. In fact, the Arab-Israeli conflict sometimes serves the interests of undemocratic regimes by giving them a rationale for curbing dissent and curtailing political liberty.

Quote: "By symbolizing a felt and constant external threat, occupation has damaging side effects. It provides both a cause and an excuse for distorting the development agenda, disrupting national priorities, and retarding political development. In all these ways, occupation freezes growth, prosperity and freedom in the Arab world." Unquote.

Question: How will an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict speed up the development of the Arab world?

Hisham Melham?

MR. MELHEM: Well, it frees us from the shackles of investing tremendous material resources, wasting tremendous human resources on a conflict that's been going on for decades. And that will make it easier for the Arabs to ask their own governments not to abuse that legitimate issue -- the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian cause --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You pull the excuse out from underneath them.

MR. MELHEM: Pull the excuse -- (inaudible) -- because they've used that excuse not only to prolong this war -- this conflict, but also to repress their own population and use it as an excuse to say, "Let's not speak about open rights. Let's not have debate. Let's not criticize the existing political orders, because you are engaged in a life-and-death struggle for our existence, vis-a-vis Israel."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that this conflict extends and bloats itself out to the impression that the Arab world is against the West and vice versa, and that is a further contaminant; a clash of civilizations? Do you follow me on that, James?

MR. ZOGBY: Well, I follow you on it, John, but I think that it's a clash-of-civilizations issue only because we make it that by the behavior of the United States vis-a-vis Israel.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But does it not fuel the perception of a wider conflict?

I ask you, Tarik. You see what I'm getting at? In other words, the Arabs think this is genocidal. They think it's a conspiracy of the West. And it pushes it out beyond simply Israel and Palestine.

MR. YOUSEF: That is right, except, John, that the conflict does have real consequences that are felt by every country and every citizen in the region. Take a country like Jordan, for example, having done a lot in the way of preparing its economy for globalization. The fact that it's in a bad neighborhood makes it impossible for them to attract foreign direct investment, employ their labor and get the engine of economic growth ignited again.

MR. MELHEM: And the conflict is real, because the West is also supporting Israel. It's not our perception of it. It's not that it's an imagined support. It's an actual, physical, material, political support.

MR. ZOGBY: And understand something else: At the beginning of the last century, when these conflicts all had their seeds, the Arab world was under colonial domination in large measure. In other words, when the modern era was starting, the Arab world got stuck behind the 8 ball, not moving, locked in the starting block, because there was French, British, Italian, whatever colonialization (sic). As they moved beyond it, they got caught one step behind. The last remnant of all that is Palestine and therefore remains a kind of powerful emotional symbol -- an existential symbol, if you will, in which personally, Arabs see themselves through the eyes of what's happening to Palestinians. It's a difficult burden to overcome.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. I have a question for Shaha.

The question for you, Shaha, is this: Is there any precedent for thinking that, assuming that the Arab-Israeli conflict is settled -- that this will mean a loosening of the grip of Arab regimes? Will it bring about, by itself, a termination of that conflict, a force to effect the loosening of the grip by Arab regimes.

MS. ALI-RIZA: In principle, one would expect that that is what is going to happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But they maintain that restrictive power that they currently have -- on freedom of the press and so forth, and also by denying women their emancipation.

MS. ALI-RIZA: Let me put it this way: For a long time, the Arab-Israeli issue has, just exactly like the report has said, been a cause and an excuse for more open societies in the region. And it is absolutely obvious to most of the Arab people in the region that an ending to that conflict would actually change the situation because people have to think about the real issues that are facing them, and certainly in terms of development, rather than wasting their time on a conflict that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This certainly happened with the breakup of the Soviet Union. There is now, of course, in those individual countries a tremendous growth and a tremendous burst of freedom, for the most part.

Exit: How many decades will this conflict last?

Please be very brief.

Jim Zogby.

MR. ZOGBY: Well, it will stop as soon as the United States makes a determined effort to put its foot down, bang heads on both sides --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why don't you factor that in and give me the answer that I want; namely, an answer.

MR. ZOGBY: I wish George Bush would do it. I wish he'd do it tomorrow.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it will happen within five years, 10 years, one year?

MR. ZOGBY: I think it's going to have to because America needs it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MS. ALI-RIZA: It could, if --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to make a prediction? How many years?

MS. ALI-RIZA: It could in five years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It could in five years.

What do you think, Hisham?

MR. MELHEM: I think the Arabs are ready for genuine, lasting peace, if the Americans could read the riot act for the Israelis and if the Israelis withdraw.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to put a number on that?

MR. MELHEM: The next decade it has to happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Next decade?

MR. MELHEM: Yes, absolutely.

MR. YOUSEF: Next decade.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Next decade.

Answer: Next five years.

Issue three: No veiled references.

FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH: (From videotape.) People around the world are looking closely at the roles that women play in society, and Afghanistan, under the Taliban, gave the world a sobering example of a country where women were denied their rights and their place in society.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The oppression of women is not unique to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Quote: "The utilization of Arab women's capabilities through political and economic participation remains the lowest in the world. Arab women remain marginalized and under-utilized in all arenas, notably in terms of their economic, intellectual and leadership potential." So say the Arab authors in the report on economic and social conditions in 22 Arab countries.

The Arab region ranks below every other region of the world on women's empowerment except sub-Saharan Africa.

Item: Practically no women's vote. In many Arab countries, women lack basic political rights, including the right to vote. In Saudi Arabia they aren't even permitted to drive a car.

The net effect of the lack of basic rights for women, the report concludes, is social and economic stagnation. The remedy offered by the authors, quote, "The complete empowerment of Arab women." Unquote.

Question: Let us assume a government willing to completely empower Arab women. Is that government on a collision course with religious authorities and, therefore, it will never, never happen? I ask you, Shaha Ali-Riza.

MS. ALI-RIZA: Well, the Arab world is actually grappling with two issues, modernization and Westernization. And they're grappling even more with reconciling the linkage between modernization and Westernization. And this is epitomized in the gender relationships that exist in that part of the world. So on the one hand, you have all of these educated women, and on the other hand, women are not really represented in the labor force. On the one hand, you have women who are in positions of decisionmaking -- very few, not too many of them, but there are women in decisionmaking positions -- and yet the laws that exist prevent them from moving forward even more than they are at this moment.

So I think the issue here really is this whole issue of modernization and Westernization.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A quick question on this. If you have the emancipation of women, aren't you really asking for a wholly new culture that would inevitably take place? A wholly new culture. Everything would change if there is the emancipation of women. Do you agree with that?

MR. MELHEM: Absolutely. But this will happen when you have the flourishing of democratic regimes in the region. I mean --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, which is it going to be first? Would not the women -- emancipation, would not that cause necessarily the dissolution of these restrictive regimes?

MR. MELHEM: It would contribute to it, of course, but again, when you're talking about the status of women in the Arab world, John, you have to keep in mind there is no one status. I mean, in some societies, women are part and parcel of the labor force, they are in government, they are in academia; in other places, they are veiled. In certain countries, polygamy is not allowed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will you allow that here you do have the force of Islamic religion, which has this emancipation by the throat and preventing it from happening, and that if it were to happen, it would be equivalently a defeat of that Islamic restriction?


MR. MELHEM: Certain interpretation of Islam.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Those chains would break, would they not?

MR. YOUSEF: Absolutely not -- it depends on who you are talking about, John. I mean, the very premise of the emancipation of women is questionable. Two --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: My premise is that --

MR. YOUSEF: -- not all Islamic or Muslim fundamentalist movements would be considered anti-women, anti-feminization, anti-empowerment of women.

MS. ALI-RIZA: Can I jump in here? I would like to jump in here because actually there are only two groups that are actually, if you want, challenging the status quo in the Arab world. One is the Islamist groups, and they are supported by some women; and on the other hand, women who are supported by men. So to use Islam -- to say that Islam is preventing the emancipation of women when actually a lot of women are supporting the Islamist movement, I think is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why don't we face up to the real truth here, that Arab men are totally ambiguous. On the one hand, they're fascinated by the Queen Noor and the other Westernized indications like Fayed and Princess Di, but at the same time, they don't want their women Westernized.

MR. ZOGBY: Oh, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You can speak to that.

MR. MELHEM: That's not true. That's not true.

MS. ALI-RIZA: I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: True? Not true?

MR. MELHEM: That's not true! Of course not!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is preventing it, then?

MR. MELHEM: What do you mean? We're struggling for it. We're struggling against these restrictions on women.

MR. ZOGBY: John. Wait. John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to talk to Tarik.

MR. YOUSEF: It depends on what the benchmark you hold the Arab world to is. In the last three decades, the Arab world has made more achievement in female education and female labor force participation than any other region. Some of these numbers you cited --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't know whether you read the same report that I read, but I didn't see that in that report. Look at the degree of illiteracy among Arab women.

MR. YOUSEF: It is still higher than Africa, South Asia and some parts of East Asia.

MR. ZOGBY: John, let me in here. When America became a democracy, no women. Women didn't have the right to vote for over 150 years.

MR. MELHEM: And only white men.

MR. ZOGBY: Number two, this report was written largely by Arab women, and it is to be -- they are to be credited. Arab women wrote it, Arab men have praised it; now the Arab world has to act on it.

MS. ALI-RIZA: But let me put something in here.

MR. ZOGBY: We're making progress on this issue.

MS. ALI-RIZA: Let me put one thing in here.

MR. ZOGBY: But let me tell you, Arab women are going to be the driving force of change in the region, no question about it.

MR. YOUSEF: That's right. It is happening.

MR. ZOGBY: And they are because they helped write the report.

MS. ALI-RIZA: Jim, let me tell you one thing. It had to take an Arab woman to be at the UNDP to write this kind of report.

MR. ZOGBY: Right. Right. That's the point.

MS. ALI-RIZA: So Arab women are a force for change.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Exit question.

MR. ZOGBY: Exactly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly. When will there be equality between the sexes in the Arab world? When?

MR. ZOGBY: When there will be equality of sexes here in America? Come on! Is "Playboy" equality?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What kind of an answer is that? Are we talking about the United States or are we talking about the Arab world?

MR. ZOGBY: It is a worldwide problem of gender bias and gender domination by men. Come on! I deal with it in my own family, for God's sake.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, don't tell us more than we want to know! (Laughter.)

MR. ZOGBY: No, there is an issue of the fact -- I have three daughters; they're tough. I have a wife; she's smart.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does she say that Arab men are torn in two because they don't want their women Westernized; on the other hand, they're fascinated by Westernized women?

MR. MELHEM: That's not true! That's not true!

MR. ZOGBY: Can I tell you something? They say that's men in general. Come on!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: When are we going to have equality of the sexes?

MS. ALI-RIZA: Not for a long time yet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A long time?

MS. ALI-RIZA: Not for a long time yet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that means that the whole picture will not change, because that's got to go first.

What do you think? Quickly?

MR. MELHEM: No, we are struggling to have equality. I mean --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When will it happen? When?

MR. MELHEM: You can't -- I mean, you cannot deal with history like that -- with the future like that, John.

MR. ZOGBY: John McLaughlin's great --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're not playing this game, Tarik. I hope you will play the game. (Laughter.) When will it happen?

MR. YOUSEF: It is happening. Different countries have different sets of constraints. I think you need to look at the trajectory. The last three decades, tremendous progress has been made. I don't think this is the business of governments or the outside world per se. These societies have to negotiate their way out of it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: My answer is that it is the role of the government because when there is a constitutional separation between church and state, then there will be a relaxation and an emancipation of women.

Issue four: Let a thousand Al-Jazeeras bloom.

HAFEZ AL-MIRAZI (Al-Jazeera Washington bureau chief): (From videotape) Al-Jazeera is seen, actually, in more -- all over the world, first, because we broadcast via satellite. In the Arab world, where you have a population of 280 millions, at least we have about 40 (million) to 45 million viewers in 22 Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Even here in the U.S. we have more than 150,000 Arab-speaking households that they can watch Al-Jazeera.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Each year, Freedom House conducts an annual survey of the world media. Last year's press freedom survey found that not one of the 22 member states of the Arab League had a genuinely free press. Only three Arab countries had media rated as partly free, including Qatar, home to the Al-Jazeera television broadcast network.

Quote: "Any society is only as free as its media," say the Arab report authors. By this yardstick, they are declaring, in effect, that most of the Arab world is not free. Also, the Arab world is largely unable to access free media via the Internet. Only 1.4 percent of the region's 280 million people own personal computers, and a mere 600th of 1 percent have Internet access.

What is the incentive -- I ask you this, Tarik -- to permit freedom of the press?

MR. YOUSEF: It's a right that's enshrined in most constitutions in the Middle East. But more importantly, it is a tool for assessing, judging public opinion and assessments of how governments are performing during a critical period where they're doing reforms at the political, social and economic level. If you don't know how the public is reacting to you, then you will have no way of assessing how good a job you're doing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the Arab regime has encouraged freedom of the press, or do they want to have it all ways? First of all, they deny literacy to their population. Secondly, they bottle up freedom of the press. And thirdly, they collect all the spoils. That's really a very severe indictment. It's not mine, but I think it is a prevailing thought in a great part of the world. Do you have any thoughts on this subject of the importance of freedom of the press?

MS. ALI-RIZA: It's one of the most important and basic necessities for a democratic society. Beyond that, it is one way of actually keeping the checks and balances, as Tarik has said. And even beyond that, it is one way of actually keeping in touch with the rest of the world and knowing what's going on. Actually, what is really interesting in that part of the world is that you know quite a lot about what's going on outside because of satellite TV, et cetera, and you don't know what's going on in your neighborhood, because of the lack of freedom of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Al-Jazeera popular in Cairo? Is it popular in Amman? Is it popular in Kuwait City?

MS. ALI-RIZA: It's not as popular as some of the others. I think it is watched quite --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Some of the other television --

MR. ZOGBY: John, we --

MR. MELHEM: Sure, sure, sure. Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Television -- you mean the government-operated television stations within Cairo?

MR. MELHEM: No, no, no, no, no.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean the networks? From where?

MR. MELHEM: From Lebanon, from --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Name a network.

MR. MELHEM: Lebanese Broadcasting Company, which is widely watched throughout the Arab world, more than Al-Jazeera.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about MBC?

MR. ZOGBY: MBC is widely watched. Abu Dhabi, the one I'm on, is also widely watched.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On a probability scale of zero to 10, zero meaning zero probability, 10 meaning metaphysical certitude, what is the probability of a new culture dawning in the Arab world in 10 years?

James.

MR. ZOGBY: Ten -- certitude.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Shaha.

MS. ALI-RIZA: Ten.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hisham.

MR. MELHEM: Five or six -- no metaphysical certitude, unfortunately.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Five or six -- that's more than half.

MR. MELHEM: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tarik.

MR. YOUSEF: Ten.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is five. Due to insatiable viewer demand, The McLaughlin Group will broadcast a special half-hour of historic footage to salute our 20 years on television Labor Day weekend. Please join us. And we welcome the Arab world.

Right?