Q&A : Where Is the Democracy in International Relations?

Q&A : Where Is the Democracy in International Relations?

It’s about the oldest dispute around, which is good enough reason to hear more on it from those who can influence a possible resolution. So when Abdelwahab Derbal, head of the mission in Brussels of the League of Arab States speaks of his anger over the Palestine issue, these may be words to listen to, whichever side of the divide (if any) you are on.

Derbal speaks to Sanjay Suri from IPS of his anger over the U.S. position in the Middle East, and of the need for dialogue – that shows some understanding of civilisation and culture issues. He himself was participating in an inter-civilisation dialogue organised in Venice last week by IPS together with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Venice province.

IPS: What has Annapolis done for the Arab cause?

Abdelwahab Derbal: As Amr Moussa, the secretary-general (of the Arab League) has said, we are looking with a lot of reserve at these processes because we have known a lot of hopes before, but they have gone nowhere. And the Arabs up to now haven’tgot anything positive vis-à-vis the Palestinian affair.

IPS: Are Arab demands different from Palestinian demands?

AD: I think the demands of the Arabs have always been collective — the Syrians, the Lebanese and the Palestinians. I don’t think that no one would be glad to have their problems solved separately. The Golan Heights have been occupied because of the Palestinians. So is the south of Lebanon. And the resolutions of the United Nations talk about all of the Arab occupied territories. I don’t think getting each party in alone will be the best way.

IPS: But there are so many divisions within the Arab League.

AD: In every collective work, every organisation in the world working collectively, there will of course be differences. But Arabs have no differences over the Palestinian issue.

IPS: But some Arab states recognise Israel, others don’t.

AD: The states that have recognised Israel have done so because they have problems that they have solved with Israel as such.


IPS: When we look at the emergence of Hamas in the Palestinian areas, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, are we seeing political Islamists on the rise?

AD: Islam makes no distinction between the relation of a human being and his senior (god), and between him and his society, and between him and his state, and between him and his family. Then, there are no two Islams, there is only one Islam, which organises your life in relation with your god, as well as with your society, with your state, with your people, with everybody. So this difference between religion and life is not known in Islam. And that’s why the background of Arabic society, Muslim society, is always religious.

From this point of view, the political movements in our world think that a lot of problems will be solved in Islamic thought. And that’s why there are these movements. I think a dialogue should take place on this subject, but a dialogue that is scientific, objective and wise.

IPS: There seems to be so much anger around in the Muslim world.

AD: I am very angry too, on this subject. As an Arab, and as a Muslim. And this anger is not just in the Muslim and Arabic world. It is there in other parts of the world too. In what we used to call the third world countries, or most of them. Because we live a lot of injustice in international relations. We know this song of democracy which they taught us day and night. That to be modern you have to be democratic, and to be democratic you have to be multi-party. But when we go to international relations, we don’t find the same logic. Because they don’t want to realise that we don’t belong to one civilisation.

Secondly, when we call on our countries to obey what we call the international resolutions of the UN — and myself, I would like everyone to implement these resolutions – but for all people and for all nations and for all states. When it comes to Israel, it doesn’t work like this. And if one is ill-treated in our countries, as we heard about the teacher in Sudan, we hear about that on the BBC. But every day there are more than 15 Palestinians slaughtered and killed, that is considered very normal. These things, that people in our region, our society live each day, don’t leave any margin to have good feelings towards the United States.

IPS: How will people deal with this anger?

AD: We say to our friends, the Europeans, and the civilised nations as they call themselves, that dialogue is the only way to understand each other. I think we need dialogue inside our societies, between society and the authorities. And I believe strongly that here in the West, society is more powerful than the authorities. They choose them, they control them, and they throw them if they want to. We have to establish a dialogue within our societies to find a way of real democracy that arises from our culture, our civilisation. (END/2007)