|VMI alumnus Dr. John Duke Anthony ’62 joins the
discussion from the United Arab Emirates by satellite. -- VMI Photo by Kevin Remington.
LEXINGTON, Va., March 23, 2011 – Dr. James A. Larocco, an expert on the rapidly transforming Middle East, served as moderator for the first plenary session of VMI’s “East Meets West” conference, “Diplomacy and Democratization.”
“The timing is truly uncanny,” said Larocco, of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, noting that recent uprisings across the Arab world had provided much for the session’s three guest speakers to discuss.
Dr. John Duke Anthony ’62, founding president and chief executive officer of the National Council on U.S.-Arab relations, joined the discussion from the United Arab Emirates by satellite.
Anthony encouraged leaders to be reluctant to try to force democratization upon Arab states. “We need to exhibit reluctance, if not refusal, to push our own self-centric agendas on other people,” said Anthony, “just as we insist that other people not press their self-centric agendas on the United States.”
Anthony also emphasized the importance of the United States’ acting as adviser to the Arab states in a way that promotes the interests of all parties.
“If we can lead not others, but first and foremost ourselves in this manner, while manifesting the requisite humility becoming of any well-meaning, friendly adviser, we will demonstrate that we can appreciate the region and its people, not as mere objects but also actors like ourselves,” said Anthony.
Dr. Daniel Brumberg, senior adviser at the U.S. Institute for Peace’s Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention, viewed the prospect of democratization of Arab states not as a foreign introduction but as an assertion of a population’s right to have a role in its government.
“Democracy as we know it is the exception, in many respects. It’s hard to build a democratic community, but you have to start somewhere,” said Brumberg. “This is a moment that could begin, in some cases, a real process of transformation.”
Dr. Hussein Hassouna, chief representative of the League of Arab States (Arab League) to the United States, talked of his pride in the uprising in his native Egypt and of the hopes that he has for the future.
“If the leaders are wise enough to respond to the will of the people, to introduce reforms, to give them more freedom, more participation, then this will really develop into a meaningful participation and a meaningful democracy,” said Hassouna.
Also, recalling his time as ambassador to Morocco, Hassouna related his appreciation for the past integration of cultures across the Mediterranean in al-Andalus – Andalusia – in Spain.
Hassouna spoke of the possibility of people of different cultures living together, referencing 800 years of peace among Christians, Muslims, and Jews in southern Spain and noting that a clash of civilizations occurs only between “a minority of extremists on both sides.”
“There are a lot of misconceptions, stereotypes, ignorance, and sometimes hatred,” said Hassouna. “The majority are people who are tolerant, are people who want to live together, are people who know that they have common values, that they have common interests. This notion of a clash is between extremists.”