Meeting of Mideast leaders comes at critical time

This article originally appeared as an editorial by Ahmed Souaiaia for the Iowa City Press-Citizen


Ahmed Souaiaia

On May 13, President Barack Obama will welcome the rulers of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to the White House.

The heads of the countries making up the Gulf Cooperation Council will then accompany the president to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, for more talks. According to the White House, the "gathering will be an opportunity for the leaders to discuss ways to enhance their partnership and deepen security cooperation."

The unusual meeting comes at a critical moment in the history of these countries and members of the Arab League for a number of reasons.

The so-called Arab Spring protest movements irreversibly changed the geopolitics of the region. Tunisia, the first country to be transformed by this phenomenon, now has a new constitution and a democratically elected permanent government.

Egypt, which has been taking one step forward and two steps backward on the path to representative governance, is in war against ISIL and the Egyptian president continues to govern alone, without an elected parliament or independent judiciary.

Syria's government lost control of more than half its territory to ISIL and other armed groups. Libya is now fragmented; different rebel groups control different regions of the country, adding to increased insecurity in neighboring states and in southern Europe.

And most recently, Saudi Arabia has begun bombing its impoverished southern neighbor, Yemen, destroying its fragile infrastructure and killing thousands of people, many of whom were civilians.

The Arab Spring came with the hope of securing dignity for all the Arab people.

Without exception, all Arab countries were ruled without the people's consent despite the fictitious labels of "hard-line" and "moderate" regimes. These labels were assigned by Western governments and had no basis in principles of legitimacy. In fact, the first regimes to fall, Ben Ali's and Mubarak's, were headed by Western-designated "moderate" leaders.

The military intervention in Yemen underscores the fear of being next that the rulers of the GCC are experiencing these days.

However, instead of reforming their archaic political structures, they are pointing fingers at foreign countries as a source of instability in their own societies. Obama has correctly identified internal problems as the real threat to these rulers.

Given the long-standing strategic alliance the U.S. has had with the GCC states, and given the importance of stability in the Persian Gulf region, it is imperative that Obama communicate to the kings, sultans, emirs and sheikhs of the GCC nations that only a genuine shift toward representative governance can save them from the wrath of their own people.

That peaceful transition to representative governance is the surest and safest rebuttal to ISIL's vision, which imposes its will through beheadings and mass slaughter and that their imagined fear is distracting them from addressing the real grievances and legitimate demands of their peoples.

Iowa communities will be able to contextualize these transformations taking place in Arab countries and be informed of the need for a new U.S. Middle East foreign policy this coming week during the 2015 Provost's Global Forum.

The University of Iowa will host a number of national and international experts and public intellectuals to place the Arab Spring in a global context.

The series of events will start with the televised conversation WorldCanvass, featuring some of the most renowned public commentators on this subject at 5 p.m. April 28 at FilmScene. For a list of events, registration and venues, follow this link

Ahmed E. Souaiaia teaches at the University of Iowa, where he holds joint appointment in Religious Studies, International Programs and College of Law. His most recent book, "Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies," provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam.

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