A call for action on U.S.-Arab relations

A ‘safe zone’ should be created within Syrian land, where Syrians can have a safe shelter from the butcher Assad while a solution is being found

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
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The following is a speech by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor at the 24th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers’ Conference organized by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations at the Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington DC on Oct. 15, 2015.

I would like to start by thanking the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, led by Dr. John Duke Anthony – Founding President and CEO, for inviting me to speak at the 24th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers’ Conference. I thank you for having me.

In face of what is happening in our world, there could not have been a more relevant topic to discuss than the topic selected for this year’s conference: ‘the future of U.S.-Arab relations.’

The relationship between the United States of America and the Arab countries is at a turning point.

For decades, the alliance between the U.S. and the Arab countries, mainly the GCC States, has proven to be paramount for regional and global stability, prosperity and peace.

We recognize with gratitude, and cannot deny that we have greatly benefited from your knowledge for decades.

As per the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the volume of trade between the U.S. and the GCC countries is worth hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars every year.

Americans in the United Arab Emirates form one of the largest Western communities in the UAE; around 50,000 U.S. nationals reside in my country.

However, what the previous administrations have done to the Arab world in the last decade, particularly to the Sunni populations, leaves a dark stain on this great nation’s history.

America has nurtured the Ayatollah Khomeini to replace its former best friend the Shah of Iran.

Under false pretenses, the George W. Bush administration invaded Iraq.

When American troops pulled out, they handed Iraq to Iran on a silver platter, and this former great Arab nation, the Cradle of Civilization, was turned into a cradle for terrorism.

I cannot understand why the Obama administration is championing our common enemies and their expansionist agenda in our region.

Right now, we are witnessing the U.S.’s lack of decisive action against one of the most ruthless criminals of our century – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – and the empowerment of Iran, the patron of terrorism in our world, and most importantly, turning a blind eye to the continuous Palestinian tragedy.

The daily suffering of our Palestinian brothers and sisters is marginalized – it rarely makes the daily news.

But the U.S. State Department was fast to make a statement on Monday “condemning in strong terms the terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians which resulted in the murder of three Israelis”.

I never take the death of a human being lightly – any human being, whether Palestinian or Israeli.

But the fact of the matter is that Israeli forces are murdering Palestinian families in bulk on a daily basis, even burning them in their homes, and the American authorities have not once condemned those criminal acts.

I will not comment further on the Palestinian issue today. I leave this issue to you, ladies and gentleman, to consider what differentiates one man from another man? It is the decision making! It is the ability to make difficult choices when no one else can. That is what leadership is! And that is what is lacking right now!

We are currently facing one of the biggest challenges of our time, and that is the issue of refugees around the world.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the number of refugees and the internally displaced has reached its highest point since World War II.

The annual cost of this displacement, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, has reached almost U.S. $100 billion.

It is no surprise that many of these people are concentrated in the Middle East and in particular in Iraq and Syria. A third of the world’s refugees come from those two nations alone. Twenty-one percent of the world’s refugees are Syrians. More than 9.5 million have been displaced. That amounts to nearly half of the Syrian population – men, women and children. This is a human tragedy!

Hundreds of thousands of desperate Syrians have flooded to Europe, risking their lives for a chance of a better life. This tsunami of desperate people is unlikely to ease anytime soon. Do you think they want to leave their country? Their homes? Their family members? No! These people have no choice. This is a last resort, and they have given up hope completely.

Unfortunately, the reception the refugees are met with, in some parts of Europe, is not much better than the conditions they are running away from. And some of the European leaders are refusing to host Syrian refugees for fear of jeopardising Christian history.

It is a real disappointment to hear such statements from leaders in Europe in the 21st century. The fact that Syrians are being turned away based on their religious belief is totally unacceptable! The discrimination is blatant and unforgiving!

I am not here to point fingers, but rather to tell those who are fostering the hate feelings against those unfortunate refugees in camps that they are attacking the wrong enemy. Their enemy is not the women and children seeking refuge from a bloodthirsty leader.

I should take this opportunity to salute Pope Francis for his call for mercy for the Syrian refugees in Europe.

Instead of dealing with this escalating crisis, this human tragedy, why are we not dealing with the source of the problem? We are looking at solutions to deal with its ramifications, rather than eliminating it at its root.

If Bashar al-Assad was dealt with in 2011, or when he used chemical weapons in 2013 against the Syrian people, then we would not be dealing with a world epidemic.

Didn’t President Obama draw a red line to the Assad regime, and all the players on the ground, when sarin gas and other chemical weapons were being utilised?

What the previous administrations have done to the Arab world in the last decade, particularly to the Sunni populations, leaves a dark stain on this great nation’s history.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

I quote what President Obama said in 2013, “It’s about humanity’s red line. And it’s a red line that anyone with a conscience ought to draw.”

With all that is happening to Syrians so far, has this not crossed yet any “humanitarian red lines” for the U.S. and The World? Two years later, and after continuous use of chemicals weapons in Syria, the world still fails to take any action and materialize on its promise. Are five years not enough for the international community to intervene?

While world leaders are making plans to host refugees in their countries, all they offer is a temporary solution. But you must know that Syrians do not want to be refugees in Europe even more than Europe’s reluctance to host them! What they need is to go back home to Syria.

A ‘safe zone’ should be created within Syrian land, where Syrians can have a safe shelter from the butcher Assad while a solution is being found. A safe zone protected by the NATO.

And the criminal Bashar al-Assad should be led to the International Criminal Court. Assad cannot be negotiated with. He should not be allowed an easy exit! He should be tried for all the crimes he committed against his own people. Assad must pay for more than 350,000 innocent lives he has taken!

This is what the Syrian people need from you! If justice is not carried out against Assad, you will never be forgiven.

What will happen after sanctions on Iran are lifted?

Let us not forget Syria is not the only troubled country in the Middle East. Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen are not any better. And the common denominator in all these problems is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran’s malicious fingerprints are left all over the region by supporting terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, militant groups and destabilizing forces in Iraq, and most recently the Houthis in Yemen.

If Iran has managed to create all this turbulence and damage despite sanctions, what guarantees can ensure that it does not do more harm once sanctions are lifted?

Iran officially supports terrorism. It does not only back Shiite terrorist groups but Sunni ones, such as Al-Qaeda itself. This is not an assumption, but a fact stated in official reports prepared by the U.S. Department of State.

Most importantly, the Iranian regime, which regards the United States as the “Great Satan”, has for decades been involved in state-funded terrorism against America and its allies in the region. All that has happened despite the crippling economic sanctions over Iran. Imagine what will happen if the sanctions are lifted!

If an Arab country were perceived to be hostile to the U.S. or the international community, it would be attacked without hesitation. On the other hand, this administration is treating its ‘favorite enemy’ with a velvet glove instead of the iron fist it deserves.

Both the U.S. and Iran have displayed exceptional commitment to the nuclear deal, and now a nuclear framework has been agreed. It is easy to understand Iran’s willingness to compromise when sanctions have bit hard. But why the Obama administration has made supreme efforts to shake hands with America’s long-time enemy is perplexing.

The P5+1 – Iranian nuclear deal is set to enrich and empower Tehran once economic sanctions are lifted. President Obama says Iran’s new wealth will be used to improve lives in Iran, rather than to fund Hezbollah, the Shiite Yemeni Houthis, or other troublemakers under the Iranian wing. One needs to be naïve at best to believe that.

According to a Daily Telegraph report, Ali Khamenei – Iran’s Supreme leader, controls “a financial empire” estimated to be worth $95 billion. That alone should tell you that Iran has no intention of prioritizing the needs of its people over its regional troublemakers.

Iran’s ayatollahs have been oppressing religious and ethnic minorities ever since they took power in 1979. Look at how they have treated Ahwazi Arabs in the occupied province of Arabistan, that they now call Khuzestan.

Although Arabistan provides Iran with 80 percent of its oil requirements and half of its gas, Ahwazi Arabs are persecuted and oppressed on daily basis. They are not entitled to their basic human rights. Their identity is being destroyed. They are forced to study in Farsi if they are lucky enough to go to school – a meagre 50 percent chance for boys, and 20 percent for girls.

Over 30 percent of Ahwazis under the age of 30 are unemployed. They have no access to drinking water. Their streets are open sewers, and they are deprived of electricity and gas. And more often than not, Arab farmers are stripped of their agricultural land.

There is no country on earth, which oppresses its population underfoot, both politically and socially, while keeping over almost 11 million illiterate and 15 million struggling below the poverty line.

Meanwhile, Iran spends $15-30 billion every year to support terrorists across the region, according to a recent report.

Its proxy Hezbollah has hijacked Lebanon and turned it into a hub for terrorism in the Middle East. Whether it is the military or the political wing, there is no difference, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization created and nurtured by Iran to destabilize the Arab world.

It goes without saying that the United States is far better off on the side of its long-term and stability-seeking allies, the GCC countries. Contrary to Iran, our countries track down and punish terrorists and financers of such groups.

I would love to know why this entity, which has been hostile to Western powers and their allies since its inception in 1979, is being rewarded for its terrorist associations and its regional will to power! Or is this hostility between Iran and the West just a farce to fool us?

Unfortunately, America no longer inspires the world. I say that with deep regret.

When President Obama signed up to the Iran nuclear deal, he placed the Middle East and the Gulf in danger from an enriched, empowered, and legitimized Tehran.

Upcoming U.S. election

As the American people prepare to elect a new president, a man or a woman who will influence the future of the world, it is important that voters begin scrutinizing the presidential candidates through a new lens – one that is serious, positive, and objective.

Americans should stop judging a man by his cover and dig deep to see who possesses the necessary tools as well as life experiences. Voters should not care about their candidates’ personal lives, or what candidates do in their homes, behind closed doors. That is nobody’s business. Instead voters should look for a shrewd businessman, with economic know-how, a candidate who will create jobs for them.

Money is power, and money comes from smart and healthy economies.

Americans need employment. Americans need opportunities. They need investments in infrastructure. Most of all, they want to enjoy a healthy economy. They have tried the speakers who made empty promises or announced unrealistic policies – who have failed to return America to its former glory.

The U.S. is a powerhouse of leaders, but this time instead of selecting a politician for president, it is best to vote for a successful businessman with a positive approach to run the country.

Some might say that the presidential election is an American matter, and as an Arab, I should not interfere. Allow me to correct them! The choice of President, and his policies, will affect the whole world.

The world needs leadership. The American president needs to gain the admiration of your own people as well as ours. America’s light of truth and justice should shine bright again!

To conclude, I invite you to please join me for a moment of silence to honor the UAE military men and women who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty in Yemen recently. May God bless their souls.

A large number of our finest UAE soldiers were killed while defending their Yemeni brothers and sisters from Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels. We Emiratis are a population tied together by tribal roots and family connections. Every single Emirati life is precious to us, and we will not forget the sacrifice of our heroes. Our shared grief has joined us together as never before. We are very proud of the martyrs, there are defenders of the oppressed.

I am very proud of my country. The United Arab Emirates never skirts its duty and has proved its courage time and time again. My country is committed to the region’s security and fighting terrorism. Our hands are always open to help our friends and neighbors, be it with financial support or assistance in preserving their freedom.

We are determined to prevail over the threat of the Iranian thugs. Our resolve to fight on the side of right will never falter. We will never permit terrorist plotters to be victorious when the future of our nations is at stake.

We extend our hands to our allies, and it is my deepest hope that the United States of America, our long-time friend and ally, stands with us again in our common fight against terrorism to make our world safe again.

God bless America. And God bless our troubled Arab World. Thank you very much.

Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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