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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Syria, Russia, ISIS and the Tumultuous Transformations of the Arab World

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Please join me in welcoming our distinguished lecturer Rami Khouri

Thank you, thank you Anne. Do these microphones work? Everybody can hear?

Try it again... Go Wildcats! How's that? Is that better?

[audience] No!

Go Wildcats! How's that? Yes. Alright, here we go.

Thank you very much Anne and thank you for inviting me. Thank you all for coming out.

Not only is it pleasure for me to be here I've been wanting to come visit to the University of Arizona

for many years and logistics never worked out.

But they did for this brief visit

But I also have the double pleasure of seeing my sister who lives in Bisbee

friends from high school days 50 years ago in Geneva,

friends from Jordan and Israel and Palestine, from the Middle East, who I haven't seen for a while

and I'm sure there's others I will meet throughout the evening.

So it's a wonderful personal pleasure for me to be here as well as a satisfying opportunity

to exchange views with colleagues I've already had some meeting with students

and professors and we'll talk to some more people at dinner this evening

and I would like to basically share with you some thoughts about the situation

as I see it in Syria about Isis, about the Russians, arab-Israeli issues, Yemen, Libya

Egypt, Iran, Turkey and the United States Army and other issues.

All of which cannotall of which must be analyzed together for any of them to make any sense

because one of the things that has changed in the Middle East now from 20 or 30 years ago,

and I've been living and writing and reporting in the Middle East since 1971

which is around what 45 years. So I've lived through this whole process

of the last almost half a century writing about it journalistically

and the most important thing that's changed in my view,

is that we can no longer take one element like we used to be able to 30 40 years ago.

We say well let's study the arab-israeli situation or let's study human rights in the arab world

let's study turkey or something like that, or the oil, Gulf oil producing states...

You can't study anything anymore on its own,

you've got to put it in a wider context because of the tremendous interaction

that is now taking place among so many different actors.

The second point I would want to make is I think that we're passing through a moment now,

and this is where Syria is so instructive and so depressing.

We're passing through a moment in which the real drivers for political, social, development,

historic change in our region...

The real drivers are the regional powers as much as the global powers.

The global powers being in the United States, Russia and the Europeans a little bit here and there

but mostly the US and Russia who were both actively at war now in different parts of the Middle East.

But you now have Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, particularly. And Israel!

Israel is kind of on the sidelines now. It's not directly involved, it's indirectly involved in some of these issues

but Turkey Iran and Saudi Arabia, and even countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates

are driving a lot of the actual developments.

And the superpowers in many ways are responding.

So this is a fascinating moment. To make it more complicated you have also now many

non-state powerful actors: Hezbollah, Hamas,.... and his people

the Mahdi army people, the remnants of them. Iranian militias in Iraq, all the rebel groups in Syria,

the Houthis in Yemen the islamics the so-called Islamic state and its various little affiliates

All of these non-state powerful actors are driving a lot of the developments in the region.

And the combination of these non-state actors with popular uprisings a few years ago

continuing uprisings in some countries

with the rise of the regional powers and the evolving role of the great powers

makes the situation in the Middle East completely new. Unprecedented.

We've never seen anything like thisand certainly in in my lifetime.

And to try to make sense of it, it is a little bit difficult. But before we do that...

can we get some seats for some of the people standing up here?

If anybody has a seat next to them... $5 for that seat up there!

[audience laugh]

and the other seats back there

see there's one up there, $10 up there, $5 here.Any other seats available?

All right here's a young man who will give a seat to somebody who needs it

Thank you.

There's one more down here, there's a seat here, there's a seat here if you'd like.

Okay. So trying to make sense of all the things that are going on in the region

Is very difficult, and probably impossible to find one unifying theme or explanation

for all of the things that are happening across the Middle East. But I'd like to share with you a few thoughts

about what strike me as certain common elements, let's call them, across the region.

I mentioned one of them which is the rise of the regional powers

not only their power, but their assertion: the way they go to war now

the way they fund rebel groups, the way they face down the super powers or negotiate with the superpowers.

There's new elements like that that we can see across the region

and I would say that the only way to understand really what's happening

across the Middle East, is to see it in the context of the last century.

Which I call a rather calamitous century for the Arab world .

For Israel, Turkey, Iran; it's not so bad and good in many ways,

but for the Arab world the last century from 1915 to 2015 has been very problematic.

And started with half a century of nation-building and state building, and the birth of countries

mostly at the hands of drunken European, imperial retreat and colonial powers...

and some of them at the hands of marauding local armies of tribal soldiers

taking over land and creating a state.

And that combination of things created many of the Arab countries as they exist today

They went through half a century of quite impressive state building and nation building

education rates, employment rates, infrastructure building.

From the 1930s to the 1980s across most of the Arab world was extremely impressive.

And there were moments in the 1980s when women's education rates in secondary school in Arab countries

were higher than some of the countries in East Asia, the Asian Tigers.

So there were moments of great feats of State Building and that those moments came to an end, basically.

Hello? it must have been the Egyptian intelligence [audience laughs]

Those moments of ... All right we try it again. Hang on.

Must be in here. Okay I think it's the little wire.

Those moments of state building and development from the 1930s to the 1980s were...

There was a period of 50 years of sustained State Building.

And broadly speaking the lives of the majority of people in the Arab countries were improving year after year.

There's housing, schooling, medical care, transport systems, telephones, jobs and national identities.

All were developing reasonably well of course most of the Arab world

with one exception: there wasn't a single state that was built or developed

on the basis of the principle of the consent of the governed. Not a single one.

So we had very impressive economic development, state building

but zero political development. That period from the 30s to the 80s

was punctuated by essentially two big issues:

one was the arab-israeli conflict and the second was the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

Other than that, throughout most of that period you had movements and political parties

and Arab nationalist sentiment, and communists, and Ba'athist , and lefties

and conservatives, and Islamists. You had all these different groups,

but none of them really were able to develop legitimate mass based political movements

based on citizens who joined together to achieve political goals.

Any significant mass movement was controlled from the top.

So the Ba'athist or the Arab nationalist or the communist

or some of the more the Islamist movements, as well...

And there was essentially no political development

sustained socio-economic improvements across the region.

That's why you had no popular uprisings in the Arab world like you did starting in 2011 and Tunisia and Egypt

were masses of people went out onto the street to overthrow their governments.

We never had that. The only one that I know of before was the overthrow of Ummadian, Sudan 1986or 85.

And other than that you had Colonel. Having a coup against the colonel

and a general taking over from a colonel

and somebody overthrowing a monarch. Like in Libya.

But you had no mass popular uprisings because for most people life was improving,

and there was the hope, constantly, that your children were gonna get an education

were gonna get opportunities for professional development,

were gonna get opportunities for jobs.

That life was improving and the opportunities for a better life for your kids

was going to be more significant than the opportunities that you have as an adult living in the Arab world

in 1955 or 1972 or any of that of those moments.

The arab-israeli conflict I'll mention only briefly tonight because it's not the main subject of my discussion.

But it's always there in the background and as you see with the events today, it keeps coming back

as a violent conflict a war between two people: Palestinian Arabs and Jewish Zionists Israelis,

who both feel that they have rights to their homeland and state in the historic land of Palestine.

The Israeli State exists the Palestinian state doesn't, and the tensions between them

which started really in the 1920s and then accelerated after the Holocaust

in a big way with the large Jewish immigration

and the reaction of the Arabs to the expansion of of Jewish settlements and communities.

And Arabs started feeling in the 30s and 40s that the Zionists of the Jews coming from Europe

actually wanted to create a state or a homeland. And they did, they were successful.

They created Israel in 1948 and ever since then the conflict has been going on non-stop.

We're in the fifth generation of Palestinians.

My grandparents in the 20s, my parents in the 40s, I was born in 1948, my children born in 1980

and my granddaughter now born in New York but of Palestinian identity.

We're the fifth generation and the fifth generation is the one in Jerusalem,

that's now fighting in a vicious way, fighting against the Israeli who they feel occupy them in East Jerusalem

And this is a continuation of a problem that's been going on for almost 100 years:

the conflict between Zionism and arabism in Palestine.

And the the Israelis also are fighting and killing Palestinians.

The kill ratio is around five to one: for every five Palestinians were killed one Israeli is killed.

The injury ratio is more like five hundred to one. There's thousands of Palestinians who've been injured

a thousand six hundred or so in the last month, and the Israelis are 60 or 70 or 80.

So there's a huge imbalance in the power of the two groups,

but the intensity of their determination to fight for what they believe is their homeland

is undiminished on both sides, and unresolved after a quarter century

twenty-five years of a monopoly of mediation by the United States,

which has been totally incompetent. A total failure.

Of trying to mediate a permanent peace between Israelis and Palestinians

the United States has been unable to do it for reasons that people debate for days and days on end,

and therefore I believe that a new formula is needed to achieve a permanent peace

that gives the Israelis their Jewish majority state

which, as it is now, gives the Palestinians their state: the West Bank Gaza and East Jerusalem

and resolves the Palestinian refugee in an equitable way based on UN resolutions and the international rule of law.

While recognizing that Israel will remain a Jewish majority state as it is now

about 80%, 75-80 % Jewish. That process should be doable if you had a serious mediator

and good leadership among the Israelis and the Palestinians.

We don't have any of those three elements today so there's no possibility right now

of any kind of breakthrough. But I mentioned the arab-israeli conflict because

in the background of all of the developments taking place in the region

it must always be recognized, I believe, as the most destabilizing and radicalizing dynamic

in the Middle East over the last 60-70 years.

There isn't a lot of mention of the arab-israeli conflict today in terms of Isis, or Syria, or Yemen, or Libya,

but indirectly the arab-israeli conflict has had a significant impact

on conditions in the Arab world (negative conditions, worsening conditions)

In many different ways which I don't have time to get into now.

But I've written about this, you can read it in my columns.

But the arab-israeli conflict to me remains the single most promising focus

of a peace process that could... if it resolves the arab-israeli conflict

which I believe is resolvable through a peaceful negotiation,

would have the most impact on quieting things down in other parts of the region,

or allowing other countries to focus on other things including their internal development,

including fighting Isis, including dealing with extremist movements and many of the other things.

things on getting on with national development that is sustainable rational,

integrated, humanistic and is not sidelined by the single greatest detriment

to the modern development of the Arab world

which has been the reality of military regimes that rule our countries.

And military regimes started to take power in our countries in the in the late 40s

(in ways) but really in 52 in Egypt.

And much of the rationale for these military people to take over and then later Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi

and the generals in Egypt, and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, and Omar Hassan Bashir in Sudan

and Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the generals in Algeria...

They're all across the whole place the whole region: Zin El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia.

You go across, one by one, and you name the leaders of these countries:

they're all former army generals.

All of whom took power undemocratically non of whom were accountable to their people.

They govern these countries, in some cases- –The Assad family stillthe president of Syria

Bashar al-Assad, his father took over in 1970...

some of these people have been in power for 45-50 years now.

And they're still running these countries and for the most part, without exception,

the country is run by military generals: have been run into the ground, have been destroyed.

As decent, efficient, humane countries.

So you look at Iraq you look at Syria, you look at Libya, you look at Yemen,

you look at Tunisia, you look at Egypt, and Sudan, across the board ...

And that, to me, has been the single biggest problem across the Arab world in the modern period.

And the development burst that happened from the 30s to the 80s

then started going downhill in the early 1980s. Because what happened in the 1970s?

Most of the non monarchies in the arab world were taken over by military people,

their families, and their chronic capitalist friends, and their cousins, and their business associates

ran these governments benefited from immense access to wealth, most of it illicitly gained

Became fabulously rich and ordinary people's lives started to decline slowly, slowly, slowly ...

because population growth was much faster than economic growth.

Per capita real income deteriorated, development spending

(which had been quite impressive in the first 50 years of statehood)

after the 1980s focused on the capital region and rural areas were pretty much forgotten...

There was disproportionate spending on areas where the ethnic population was related to the great leader

and therefore you ended up with a terrible situation in many Arab countries

of uneven development, inequitable development, massive abuse of power by state authorities

who were controlled by families that were anchored in the security systems.

So the what had been a nationalist development state in the Arab world of course most of the regions,

states that were developing, genuinely helping most of their people

with a sense of nationalism for their own well-being as countries

and with a wider sense of arab nationalist solidarity with other arab people: worked together.

The arab nationalist state in the 1980s transformed into essentially a security state

in which citizens were transformed into consumers. And starting in the 1980s you still had no rights,

no political rights, but you didn't even have developmental advantages either

as you did in the previous three generations.

So starting in the 1980s you could go and buy as many cell phones as you want

but you had no other real rights as a citizen other than to be a consumer.

So it's no surprise that in the 1980s, late 70s, early 80s,

we started to see the rise of serious Islamist mass movements

mainly through with the Muslim Brotherhood

mainly nonviolent and peaceful, with small off shorts of violent ones

like the ones who killed Sadat, or the ones who challenged the Syrian government

but predominantly peaceful, nonviolent Muslim Brotherhood movements

that were a response to the increasingly difficult life that people were living

at the socio-economic level and at the political level.

Combined with two other forces that have been problematic for people in the Arab world.

One is the continual humiliation and defeat by Israel, of individual or combined Arab armies,

repeatedly the Israelis defeated us militarily

because we were as incompetent at warfare as we were at governance.

Unfortunately. I say this with great sadness.

But the management of these countries, the Arab countries, was very low quality

and militarily the Israelis kept humiliating us and defeating us.

And the second thing that was going on

and then of course also colonizing land: occupy, colonizing, annexing the Golan Heights

colonizing East Jerusalem and West Bank, and parts of Gaza

from which they withdrew under pressure, but then led siege to Gaza

so there was terrible tensions between the Israelis and the Arab countries

which added to the frustrations and humiliations and sense of deprived citizenship

Of so many millions and millions of people in the Arab world.

And the second factor, that was continuous, was the military intervention of foreign powers

Western powers mainly, but sometimes also the Russians (or Soviets back then)

and more recently the Iranians. The Iranian military presence in the Arab countries.

So this foreignand now recently the Turks a little bit, in limited areas.

So foreign countries constantly coming at us with their military assets, waging war helping movements,

doing whatever they wanted to do in our country.

And the final factor was again with all of these negative things that I mentioned

with real income declining, no political right, socioeconomic distress,

poverty and marginalization, and vulnerability increasing... the final factor was

a very strong and consistent support for the Arab autocratic security state, family-run dictatorships

support from the international powers: the Americans, the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese,

the Iranians more recently

actively supporting these frozen decrepit political and socio-economic systems.

The Arab oil States the oil-producing States (Qatar and Saudi Arabia)

they did a little bit better because they had a lot of money,

they had smaller populations and they tended to be better managed. As monarchies tend to be.

Which is a fascinating subject that political scientists and political psychologists need to study:

Why our monarch is more responsive to the needs of their citizens?

So Morocco, or Jordan, or Saudi Arabia or others

tend to be more responsive, they're not any more democratic,

but they're more sensitive to what their citizens need

and therefore you don't have again big popular uprisings in these countries.

So that brings us to the 1990s and they continued pressure on a population that was 60 million in 1930

there were 60 million Arabs in 1930 and today there's 370 million.

60 million to 370 million. Two million Egyptians were born last year.

Two million every year, two million Egyptians are now born.

And the Arab world is faced with this immense pressure of population growth

and almost chronic incompetence by the governments

in addressing the basic social and economic needs of their citizens

And the things like water, agricultural production, transportation

So we have a very bad trajectory, that we've lived through in the last 30 years in the Arab world

with declining per-capita living standards

About 20% of the Arab world is wealthy and well-off.

Either they're oil-producing States (and that they're not all wealthy some of them have poor people as well)

But the oil-producing States and the elites in all the other countries.

So, Jordan and Morocco and Egypt, Tunis

there's about 15 percent of the population that's living very comfortably.

Professional people, people near the regime. But the vast majority are not living comfortably.

And what happened in December 17, 2010, when Hamad Bouazizi, a fruit and vegetable seller in the Sidi Bouzid,

(town of rural southwest poverty-stricken Tunisia) set himself on fire

and sparked the biggest mass political spontaneous movement in the modern history of the Arab world.

Maybe in the whole history of the Arab world. I don't know.

Where thousands of people demonstrated in Tunisia and then overthrew the regime there, and then in Egypt,

and Libya, and Syria, and Yemen, Bahrain,

and smaller demonstrations in Jordan and Oman and other places.

A tremendous movement spread across the Arab world spontaneously.

Why? Because, of the 370 million Arabs,

I would say, conservatively, 200 millionand this is just my rough ballpark figure

based on my last 45 years of traveling and living in the region. Studying it.

I would say about 200 million out of the 370 million Arabs

understood exactly why Hamad Bouazizi set himself on fire.

Because he had lost any hope of enjoying that critical factor of national development and integrity

and stability that had defined the previous five generations in the Arab world

He had lost the sense that his life and his children's life

or his brothers and sisters life would improve with time.

And the critical element, the critical dynamic, that sparked these uprisings and these revolutions

and that caused millions of people in the area to be glued to Jazeera watching this every day

In December 2010, January, February, March, April 2011, and throughout 2011...

The critical factor was that individual men and women

no longer felt they had the ability to improve their life conditions

by going to school, by working hard, by obeying the law, by being loyal to their government,

by following the rules.

They felt they just that option was no longer open to them.

They had reached a state of hopelessness. And it was captured in those few hours

of December 17 2010 by Mohamed Bouazizi a young fruit and vegetable seller

who had to drop out of school to make enough money to keep his mother, and brothers and sisters alive

and going to school. And he would sell fruits and vegetables from his cart

And he'd make probably 10-15 dollars a day, something like that,

but that was enough for them to to buy what they need and go to school

and buy food and stay alive, expecting that life was going to improve,

that his brothers and sisters would graduate from high school

maybe go to college, maybe get a good job...

And what happened was in the span of a few hours the two government representatives, of his own government,

in his home town in rural southwest Tunisia:

a policewoman and the governor's office... treated him like a piece of dirt.

The police woman came and overturned his vegetable cart, took his scale

he couldn't sway stuff and he couldn't sell, he couldn't make money

And this was done apparently arbitrarily, he couldn't work anymore

simply because the police woman decided to do that to him (maybe she wanted a bribe, we don't know)

So he was deprived by his own government of making a living and keeping his family alive

Then he went to the governor's office to complain

and he went to knock on the door of the governors office

to say "Look, I was mistreated by this police lady, give me my scales back)

and the governor's office told them: "go away there's nobody here"

of course there was somebody: the governor was there, everybody was there

They just didn't care. They didn't want to talk to him.

And that's when he went off and set himself on fire. Because he realized

we assumed, he died we don't know

We realized that he realized that he just had no power as a citizen or as a human being.

He had absolutely no meaning.

His life had no meaning, he had no power, he had no value, he had no rights

he had no mechanism for seeking or address grievance,

he had no political action capabilities as a citizen. He didn't count.

He didn't exist he was an invisible man in his own community,

in the face of the two official representatives, of his governors. His government who live in his town.

And the uprising spread because, I would guess, hundreds of millions of Arabs

precisely understood how he felt. Because they felt exactly the same way.

They felt that in their communities, in their homes, in their countries

in their political structures, they also had no rights. They also had no opportunities.

And if they weren't living well and had some money saved away and they own their home

and could take care of their basic needs,

they lived the life of great vulnerability.

And the the sense that drives somebody to this point of killing himself or herself,

is supported by two statistics I'm going to give you.

Now I'm gonna get the Russia and Syria and Isis but you need to understand this background...

Two statistics: 60% of all new entrants to the labor market in Egypt

60% go into the informal sector . What does that mean?

It means they have no health insurance, they have no minimum wage, they have no contracts

they have no social security, they have no defined working hours, they have no labor health standards,

no protection. They're totally informal workers.

They carry sacks of potatoes, they clean somebody's car, they run errands around town,

they sweep floors, they might (if they're lucky) they might drive somebody's broken down old taxi

60% of all new entrants. And what is all new entrants mean?

It means the youngest people who dropped out of school or even graduated from school

go into the informal sector.

The worst news is that educational testing that has been done internationally for many many years

the latest statistics from two-three years ago, showed that across the Arab world, on average

about 45 to 50 percent of middle, primary, and middle secondary school

between 45 and 50 percent of kids in Arab public schools at mid secondary

and mid primary school are not able to read and write and cannot do basic numeracy

cannot do basic arithmetic.

Almost half of the kids in primary and secondary school are not learning anything. That's why they drop out.

And to make it even worse about 26 million kids in primary and secondary school are not in school. Now.

And that number by the way is increasing because of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and Libya.

The active wars in those countries.

As well as people just dropping out of school because they need to go and make five dollars a day

to keep their kids their families and their brothers and sisters and parents alive.

So we probably are closer to 30 million out of school by now

that the figure of 20 to 25 million is from last year.

And in the last week, forty thousand Syrians (in one week) forty thousand Syrians crossed into Europe

risked their lives getting into Europe. There're about seven thousand per day

crossing into seven to eight thousand a day and then in the last week.

Were leaving Syria and trying to get to Greece and Europe.

I mean these are astonishing figures. And what do they tell us?

They tell us that these societies have failed their own people.

In education, in jobs and civic rights, in political rights, in national identity.

In almost any criteria you want to choose we have societies that have been run into the ground

across much of the Arab world. And this is why we have these incredible uprisings four years ago,

and why some people are still fighting.

So when we look at Syria and Russia and Isis. What do we see?

We see the worst manifestation of domestic, regional,

political, national, economic, religious, ideological, and international dynamics.

The worst of all of those dynamics compressed into one country.

I'm talking about Syria, initially, but I could be talking about Iraq as well.

But Syria and Iraq both are pretty calamitous in their in their own ways.

In their own ways these countries capture all of the bad things that have happened in the Arab world

since the 1960's since the 1970s, maybe.

The regimes that took power there took power and in the 70s;

the Baath in Iraq Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad in Syria

about 1970-75 these two individuals took power that their parties to power before.

Military rule, family-run military rule, ethnic-based military rule

total lack of democratic rights, mismanagement of economic and social resources of the state,

a human development, national development process that had peaked in the 70s

and then was driven into the ground because of the incompetence and brutality of the regimes

that were actively supported by the United States

and Russia, and Europe, and others.

And then we had the uprisings.

The uprisings started in Iraq, in the Kurds and the Shias and in the 90s before the uprisings of December 2010.

But they were brutally suppressed.

We had the intervention of foreign military powers. The American various wars and sanctions on Iraq.

in the 90s and beyond.

The active engagement of the Russians on supporting some of these dictatorial regimes

Now the active military involvement of the U.S. in Syria and Iraq, again, after many years of fighting in Iraq.

After destroying the regime...

and the creation in Iraq in 2003, because of the anglo american-led invasion

and wiping out the state that existed.

Bad as that state was, it was a state. And it provided a certain stability

you know inequitable, undemocratic, but there was there was a stability of some sorts

that was wiped away by the anglo-american invasion

Creating the vacuum and the chaos that opened the door for the al-Qaeda,

initial group that came into Iraq in 2004-2005 headed by a Jordanian called Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

a young Islamist fanatic-terrorist who was who was radicalized in Jordanian jails.

Like the head of al-Qaeda now Ayman al-Zawahiri was radicalized in Egyptian jails.

So what you had was in Iraq as al-Qaeda took root

and then started changing into ISIS around 2006-2008, they declared Islamic State of Iraq

and then they moved into Syria.

The origins of ISIS go back to 2004 in Iraq

and what are the two forces that came together and Iraq to create that environment

that allowed Isis to take root and then grow...

Arab autocratic regimes

and the policies of political subjugation that radicalized their own citizens in their own jails.

Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, all over the region.

combined with active American and British militarism

that overthrew the regime in Iraq and created the environment of chaos

in which these guys could do their thing.

That combination of Westernparticularly American militarism, but now also Russian militarism.

Foreign militarism and Arab autocracy are the creators of the environment that gave birth to ISIS.

They're the midwives of ISIS.

Inadvertently for sure, I don't subscribe to the theory that ISIS was created by the United States, not at all.

But American policies and Arab autocratic regimes created this environment from which ISIS developed.

And how did al-Qaeda grow? How was Al Qaeda born and how did it expand?

and aim at American targets?

It was the consequence of two big powers, as military interventions in Islamic countries:

the Russians in Afghanistan, the Americans in Saudi Arabia.

First one when Al-Qaeda was born,

the second one is when it flourished and turned against the United States.

So, these factorsthat's why I say you can't study any of these issues by themselves:

Arab democracy, human rights abuses, foreign militarism, arab-israeli issues

economic mismanagement, foreign support for Arab dictators ...

these things all form a integrated cycle, that leads us to where we are today .

So in Syria we've reached really the zenith of bad things that can happen

as a consequence of these trends that I'm mentioning.

and Isis grew out of this process, basically for two reasonsI think:

there's many ideas about ISIS

there's many very good books by the way that are now being written about ISIS...

But essentially, ISIS is a extreme radical criminal reaction to the trends that I have described.

The negative trends that really defined, I would say, at least two-thirds of the Arab people.

Again: maybe one third or one we're living fine, but the majority of the Arabs were not living fine.

And that's why you had these big uprisings

and that's why you had the previous signal (in the 70s and 80s and 90s)

of the mass development of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The Muslim Brotherhood movement was a reaction to these autocratic political regimes, lack of citizen rights,

humiliation by Israel, humiliation by Western military powers, all of economic stress,

all of the bad things that I mentioned that people suffered for decade after decade

The first sign of mass reaction was the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the 70s and 80s.

And the few of them became violent, but most of them were peaceful.

The second sign was the mass emigration of our best and brightest to young people.

There's tens of thousands of brilliant young Arab bankers and engineers, doctors, lawyers and professors

and they're all outside the Arab world,

because they had no chance to achieve their full potential professionally and personally

or to live a decent life politically in Arab countries. So they left.

And I don't blame any of them for leaving.

I decided to stay because there was an incredible development taking place

that I felt as a journalist and Arab I wanted to experience, to attend and to write about.

And the third warning sign we had was Al Qaeda.

The development of Al-Qaeda has a very very small movement

and it remains a small movement.

Partly because it didn't resonate with people in the Arab world or just Arab Islamic society.

Its very small numbers of people followed it initially a few hundred here and there.

May be a few thousand here or there,

but this was not a serious mass movement.

But it was a red sign, a red warning light: that something was so wrong in our societies

that people would go and create this kind of movement to try to overthrow Arab regimes

fight against foreign powers,

and try to create societies that are based on what they consider to be true Islamic principles

So we had three very important warning signs.

And then the fourth, one of course, was the uprisings of 2010-2011

which was the final straw, which had nothing to do with Islamic movements

had nothing directly to do with arab-israeli issues

had nothing directly to do with foreign military interventions or repression...

All of these things were factors in people's lives but they were indirect behind the scenes.

They hadthe uprisings were basically the consequence of millions and millionstens of millions of people

who had lost any hope of living a decent lifefor their kids especially.

Kids who werehalf of half of them were not learning anything in school

and could look forward only to a life of informal employment

perpetual poverty, chronic marginalization, polarization, vulnerability

People who would live their lives like Mohamed Bouazizi:

with no rights, no dignity, no opportunity, no hope.

They were people who had given up the idea that they could live in a better society in their own countries

and they do what most people do in such situations: they had a revolution. They have an uprising.

Totally unplanned Totally unscripted

Leaderless for the most part. And it has resulted in a lot of the chaos we see today,

because the counter-revolutionary forcesincluding foreign interventions

including interventions from within the Arab worldfought back.

The military regimes in Syria in Egypt and other places fought back...

and you had active intervention by some of the Gulf countries, some foreign countries,

(by Iran, Russia and Syria) to push back these uprisings.

An this the situation we're at today.

So what do we see in Russia, Syria and ISIS?

in the context of this history that I've tried to encapsulate for you...

We see all of the bad trends of the last century coming together creating the, sort of, worst possible outcome,

which is a rebellion in Syria that started peacefully turned into a active military war within the country,

with the regime fighting back militarily, very brutally, against its own people

and then its own people started mobilizing militarily.

Foreign countries and Arab countries: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan,

and Egypt and other people... all actively (and then Turkey)

all actively sending support to their favorite rebels to overthrow alsad.

Or some people like Iran and Russia, sending support to help alsad stay in power...

So what started as a peaceful uprising (like the one in Tunisia in Egypt) turned into a domestic civil war

which then turned into a regional conflict between Arab and Iranian forces

who kept the government in place and others who wanted to drive it out ...

and finally the Americans, and the Russians and the Europeans,

have now been involved actively with their Jets: fighting and shooting and killing.

So we now have the biggest most complicated proxy war, would say, of the of the last century

I don't know if this is worse than the Spanish Civil War but it certainly seems to me,

because of the intensity of the fighting going on,

the number of local, regional and international actors that are involved

and it and the impossibility of achieving a political settlement.

The latestthe most serious development was the emergence of ISIS

creating this Islamic state a (so-called Islamic state)

which has gained some territory, and controls some territory

I believe the Islamic state is very weak. I don't think it's a long-term phenomenon,

except if it remains in a situation like today.

Where basically the local and regional powers are not coordinating a military response to defeat it.

If you just have airstrikes by Americans, and British, and an occasional Saudi (and now the Russians):

That's not going to do it.

You need to have coordinated land-forces from Syrians, Iraqis, Kurds, Turks,

Jordanians, Saudis, Iranians... whoever wants to fight them, defeat them with aerial attacks.

And they can be defeated very easily.

Islamic state is not a mass movement, like say the Muslim Brotherhood that has millions of adherents;

it's a small cult-like movement that started and could only take shape, could only take root,

could only be daring enough to declare this state and this so-called caliphate

because of the total chaos all around it.

That's the only reason it could do that. And you see this anywhere you see the Islamic state

or Al-Qaeda groups springing up, or their affiliates:

like Shabbaab in Somalia, Boko Haram, islamic state in the Maghreb, Islamic state in Yemen... different places

The only places these groups take root and emerge is zones of chaos, and total destruction,

and societies where there's no order, there's no control, there's no government

and a lot of that is a consequence of the domestic depravity of the governments

and the conditions that they created in these countries

combined with the international military actions that help create this situation.

Who are the people who join ISIS? Who are the people who support ISIS?

These are mostly young young men or middle-aged men,

who have completely given up any hope of a normal life

and see in ISIS a desperate promise of some kind of better life

with order, with the jobs, with electricity, with bread,

with a life that has some meaning to them...

And you have to see this in the context of cult-like movements.

These are like small cults.

People who go and join cults in the United States, go to join these cults

because they have a need in their life to be part of a group that gives meaning to them.

that gives purpose to their life, that gives them solidarity, gives them fraternity, friendship, support

and a sense of order, a sense of mission in life.

When you combine this with the basic fundamentals scriptures of Islam

and you say that this is what God wants Muslims to do,

it becomes even more powerful for Muslims who are so down and out

that they would go and join a movement like this.

Out of sheer and utter desperation because it's their last hope of having a decent life.

There are some members of ISIS, no doubt, who are very devout very serious Muslims

who believe that this is actually the apocalyptic moment

and the end of time is coming and the Mahdi is coming back

and we need to create the Islamic state now for the Mahdi to come back, because the end of days are here .

But there are very few people, and the overwhelming majority of Muslims feel that these guys are extremists

you know: people behaving strangely, to put it to put it nicely.

And then the foreigners who go and join them.

There's a exaggerated coverage in the press of Americans, and British, and Belgians,

and people who go join the Islamic state from overseas.

Again: these are these are lost young souls who would normally either go join a cult or a motorcycle gang

to find meaning to their life

the Islamic state then becomes an option for them.

Many of the people who are joining the Islamic state are radicalized in jails in western countries,

some of them they just convert to Islam and go

and many of them have no idea what they're going to do...

again there's some who are probably very very devout Muslims

who think this is actually the time of the the return of the Messiah, of the Mahdi...

but the majority I don't think are like that. And they return because the creation of the Islamic state

is only a more extreme form of the autocratic state-system

that the Arab world has experienced in the last hundred years

It's just a little bit more extreme than what the Arab people have suffered in many, many cases

There are forms of Islam that are dominant in the region, that are very very extreme, very harsh

and this is the latest most extreme and harshest one.

The entry of Russia into this, finallyand I'll stop here so we can have some discussion...

The entry of Russia into this process is fascinating on a whole different level

and it has really very little to do with the Arab world and the Middle East.

I believe the entry of Russia into Syria

marks the end of this period from 1990 until now,

which people have called the post Cold War period.

Cause we didn't know what to call it.

People have various names that they thought, but there wasn't a good explanation for this period

from 1990 until today

Some thought it was the Americans dominating the world, some people thought it was a unipolar world,

some thought it was the end of history... there's all kinds of ideas that came about.

but none of them made a lot of sense. because they were not consistent.

But what we have now is a dramatic move by Russia

to say well the end the post Cold War period is over and this is now a new moment

in global geo-strategic, and political, and military relationships.

I don't believe the Russians are interested in challenge in the United States

but they're basically trying to re-establish their credentials in the Middle East,

help an old ally that they've helped for 50 years or so.

Revive their role regionally in the area with Iran, maybe with Turkey, with Syria,

the Saudis and the Egyptians are going to Moscow every other month for strategic meetings

they're selling weapons.

So these Russians are taking advantage of this moment of change

with the United States readjusting its relationships in the region,

and the Russians are filling in some of these vacuums that are being created,

they don't expect to replace the Americans nor do they want to challenge them across the board,

but they want to regain their foothold in the region and to be in a situation

where they can reignite, rekindle their relationships: economic, political, and oil, energy and technology

with people around the region. Especially people in some cases who are disappointed with the U.S.

and maybe the Europeans.

And the Russian military involvement closes that circle

that started with European military involvement here 100 years ago.

The Europeans first came in militarily and then the Americans took over in the 70s and 80s

and now the Russians are in.

And with that now he have a complete circle of foreign military direct action in the region

which exacerbates that basic fundamental problem which I mentioned in the beginning

which is the destructive role of Western militarism

combined with the support for Arab dictators and autocrats in non-democratic societies

So the Russian involvement can only make things worse in the short and medium term.

The Iranian involvement in Syria, equally,

is only going to make things worseHezbollah's involvement in Syria...

All of these military involvement are gonna complicate the situation.

There is no military solution to political problems.

And there is no foreign military involvement that can bring a solution to indigenous political problems.

And why the big powers don't learn this simple lesson? I don't know.

But this is how the world works, and I think we just have to let this conflict in Syria play itself out.

Unfortunately there is no political solution in sight right now.

Unless one side militarily defeats the other... which is possible

I don't rule that out, but there's going to have to be eventually some kind of political settlement

and what we're going to see (it could be in a year, could be in five years)

is the beginning of that reconfiguration of Arab political systems

which should have happened a hundred years ago but never did.

So what we're seeing a hundred years after the birth of the modern Arab world

is I believe the preparatory steps for the mechanisms by which

for the first ever in modern history

indigenous Arabs can shape their own political systems,

maybe define their own borders, if the Kurds end up being their own country

(the South Sudanese already seceded and created their own country)

Yemen may divide again, we don't know. this Syria may end up being a federal state...

We may be seeing the early stages of the reconfiguration of the Arab world

which for the first time ever would be based on the indigenous will of the people themselves

but they don't get to this situation very easily unfortunately

we're passing through now the worst military phases of this,

and this is something that's going to have to play itself out

until either one side beats the other... or everybody gets so exhausted

like in the Lebanese civil war, or the Northern Ireland, or in South Africa

where people get so exhausted that they accept a political resolution that gives everybody equal rights.

So there's good news and there's bad news,

but I think we're passing through a historical moment

in which ISIS, Syria and Russia are our reflections of these terrible trends that we've had in the past,

but at the same time encapsulate the seeds of that indomitable desire

of ordinary Arab men and woman to live like dignified citizens in their own free and democratic countries.

Thank you very much. [Applause]

The Description of Syria, Russia, ISIS and the Tumultuous Transformations of the Arab World