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Khalidi discusses Arab world

By Alice N. Gilchrist

In a speech entitled "Towards Order in the Middle East?" Walid Khalidi discussed the Arab world, international relations with the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf war last Wednesday in 54-100.

Khalidi, whose speech marked the second meeting of the MIT Community Series on the Middle East, is a research fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. Previously, he was a professor of political studies at the American University at Beirut.

Khalidi compared the bonds and tensions among Arabs to centrifugal and centripetal forces. The centrifugal forces of "ethnicity and interstate conflict" keep the Arab world apart while the centripetal forces of "common experience of colonial powers, Islam, Arabic, custom and manners" keep it together, he said.

The Arab world is a "remarkable universe of reciprocal resonance," according to Khalidi. He said the Arabs have a "long historical memory, much like the Jewish people."

Khalidi's speech was divided into five sections: facts about the Arab world, Arab-Western relations, the impact of the gulf war on the Arab world, international relations problems concerning the Arab world, and US policy in the Persian Gulf.

He discussed the geography of the Arab world and divided the area into four parts -- the occident, the Nile valley, the Fertile Crescent and the peninsula. He said that there are over 200 million Arabs today and that their numbers will double in 25 years.

Historical impact

of the West

Khalidi turned next to Arab-Western relations. According to Khalidi, the Arab reaction to the "American motivation" in the gulf will be an important factor in Arab views of all Western countries.

He said the West has been a "tremendous force in the modern Arab world since the end of the 18th century," and divided this involvement into four major phases, including the period from Napoleon I's conquests to World War II, World War II to the 1970s, the 1970s to the Iran-Iraq War, and the Iran-Iraq War to Operation Desert Storm.

The first period -- from Napoleon's conquests to World War II -- was a time of "steady colonial impingement" on the Arab countries, according to Khalidi. Saudi Arabia and Yemen were the only two Arab countries not under colonial rule at the time of World War II, he said.

The next phase, between World War II and the 1970s, was a time of "decolonization and defeat of traditional powers," Khalidi said. The first countries to be evacuated were Lebanon and Syria in 1945.

The country under colonial rule the longest was Algeria, which was under French control for 130 years. Syria and Lebanon experienced the shortest rules, both of 25 years.

The third period, between the 1970s and the Iran-Iraq War, saw the Arab world split into radical and conservative countries. The radicals supported Moscow, while the conservatives supported the United States.

The fourth phase -- from the Iran-Iraq War to Operation Desert Storm -- brought a "new, unprecedented dimension" to the Arab world, Khalidi said. He spoke extensively about the politics of the two wars, including the difference in the United States' position in both conflicts. Khalidi also expressed disbelief at the gulf war coalition of "radical Syria, conservative Arab regimes, the United States and the West."

Khalidi said the Arabs will look back on Operation Desert Storm with many questions, such as, "Was the devastation of civilian infrastructure that sets Iraq back to the pre-industrial stage really necessary?" and, "Why isn't Bush helping others, like the Kurds, who are undergoing obvious genocide?"

Issues facing

Arab world today

Khalidi then discussed the Arab world and its internal problems, including the lack of democracy there. Beginning with a discussion on democracy, Khalidi explained that "not a single leader has been truly freely elected in any one of the 21 Arab countries."

He said Yasser Arafat was the most democratically elected leader "within the framework of the [Palestine Liberation Organization]." Khalidi pointed out that the power vacuum in Iraq was likely to promote a "fundamental government of persons who are not exactly dedicated Jeffersonians."

Arabs face many major international problems, Khalidi said. Among them are arms control, security and the balance of power, and the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Khalidi said he is concerned about the escalating race for military armament within Arab counties. Most worrisome to Khalidi is the current power vacuum in Iraq.

Concerning security and the balance of power, Khalidi primarily dealt with Iran and Iraq. Khalidi questioned whether Iraq could "contain an Iranian intervention," and also questioned the safety of Kuwait, given the small population of the country and its ideal location.

Khalidi ended his lecture with a discussion of the Arab-Israeli issue. He said peace could be achieved if both sides were to give in a little. Khalidi suggested that the Arabs recognize and accept the Israelis, and that the Israelis withdraw from the occupied lands. He was very hopeful that peace could come to the Middle East.

In his closing remarks, Khalidi discussed good and bad aspects of the gulf war. On the negative side, he said there are "increased misunderstandings" between all countries involved, but on the other hand, he said the war "increased international awareness and UN power."