My recent trip to the Middle East and Africa offered some tremendous insight on the region, and what needs to be done to stabilize the area. Our delegation met with a wide range of leaders and officials from several countries and I thought I would share some thoughts about the trip.
The Middle East currently has a mix of new, dynamic leaders including King Abdullah of Jordan and King Hassan of Morocco. These two kings are in their late 30s and follow in the shadows of their strong fathers. The region includes leaders with decades of experience inhibited by the scares of the peace process and their attempts to make peace and hold it together.
Morocco’s King Hassan succeeded his father upon his death in July 1999. Morocco has been a constant friend of the United States, going back the entire 225-year history of our country. The new king has established education, economic development and tourism as the principal goals for his country. He has structured his command with key appointments of new and talented businessmen and people from outside the government.
Egypt’s President Mubarak is the elder statesman of the region with a great deal of experience in making peace over several decades, not only for his own country but other countries in the region. He expressed much pessimism and negative opinions toward both sides in the Middle East peace process. He has grown very impatient with leaders on both sides and it is very obvious he is not involved in the current peace discussions. The economy in Egypt is in a recession. Tourism has been declining dramatically since September 11. The American business leaders in Egypt are not optimistic about the near-term economic future.
In Lebanon, the rebuilding of the Beirut infrastructure—particularly the war-torn mid town area and new roads, bridges and a new airport—showcase a beginning of new era of hopefulness. However, huge Palestinian camps, the presence of Hezbollah in the south part of the country and the dominant presence of Syrian influence continue to hamstring major progress in Lebanon. The economy is suffering high unemployment and a huge exodus of Christians from the country. Prime Minister Hariri is the dominant political figure and represents Lebanon in the region and world community.
Syrian President Bashar al Asad succeeded his father following his death 18 months ago. President Asad is an ophthalmologist, and at age 38 has the potential to move Syria into the 21st Century. He continues to be surrounded by the old guard from his father’s regime and the military. His country still harbors terrorist groups and only time and encouragement from other more experienced leaders will determine whether Asad can exert leadership necessary to improve the economy, and economic conditions and truly improve the quality of life for the people.
Four common themes emerged from our meetings in Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. All leaders spoke out strongly against terrorism and most favorable toward the United States and our efforts to fight terrorism. The economies in each country and the region are in decline since September 11. Peace between Israel and Palestine can assist all countries and is central to improving the economies in the region. The United States must become a much more significant broker for peace between Israel and Palestine. There is agreement that only heavy involvement from the U.S. will bring peace.
The situation in Israel is totally intractable, the worst that anyone can remember in decades. There are moderate, reasonable voices in the country, but they are drowned out and ignored by violence, killings and retaliation. Our meeting with Prime Minister Sharon left us with the distinct impression that peace was nowhere near resolution. IBI