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Political and Economic Goals in the Middle East

Political and Economic Goals of a New Generation in the Middle East

William J. Burns , Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Testimony Before the House International Relations Committee, Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia Washington, DC March 19, 2003

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. I am grateful for this timely opportunity to speak with members of the Subcommittee. All of us are focused intently today on Saddam Hussein s defiance of the international community, and the critical actions which loom ahead for the United States and our coalition partners. This is indeed a time of crisis and great challenge for the Middle East. Iraq s disarmament and the further spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), terror and violent extremism, and the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians are all urgent and critical issues for the U.S., threatening regional stability and the security of the U.S. and our allies.

But there is also another set of issues which neither we nor the people of the region can afford to ignore, and which deserves a priority in our policy agenda which it has not always received in the past. Many in the region are beginning to realize that their most profound challenges at this moment lie not in war and conflict, but in meeting the political and economic expectations of a new generation. I know that members of this Subcommittee are aware of these challenges as well, and I appreciate the Subcommittee s interest today in discussing the ways the United States can support the region s people and leaderships as they look for a path forward.

As we enter the 21st century, it is a hard truth that countries which adapt to global conditions and open up and seize the economic and political initiative will prosper; those that don't will fall farther and farther behind.

The facts on the Middle East are sobering. Per capita incomes throughout the region are stagnant or dropping. Economic growth lags even as the labor force expands. Unemployment throughout the region averages more than 20%, and in some countries is even higher. Forty-five percent of the population in Arab countries is now under the age of 14 years and the region's population will double over the next quarter century. Most young people entering the job market lack the proper training, knowledge, and skills to be competitive.

These grim realities have proven extremely resistant to change. A primary reason is that too many in the region live in closed systems that afford them little opportunity to compete economically or participate in their nations' political life. As a result, many feel caught in a frustrating web of diminishing opportunities and unrealized expectations.

Last year, at President Bush's direction, Secretary Powell took the lead in organizing the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative to establish a framework for working with those in the region who are committed to change. The Initiative allows us to promote key regional reform issues, such as broadening economic and educational opportunities, and expanding political participation, in a systematic way. This is a long-term commitment to work with the peoples of the region in support of their efforts and aspirations. Real and enduring change can only come from within, not as the result of outside preaching or prescription. But there is a lot we can do to help.

We chose the term Partnership carefully. We are committing ourselves to work together with the people and leaderships of the region to support their efforts to address these critical issues. We want to listen to them and make this a genuine two-way effort. But for the Initiative to be successful, the Partnership will have to include as well Congress, the U.S. and regional private sectors, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other Executive Branch departments and agencies, and key nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). I certainly hope we will be able to draw on the experience and leadership of this Subcommittee as we move ahead.

We should have no illusions about the difficulties before us, but there are signs of hope. Many in the region understand much better than we ever will the challenges they face, and have begun to speak openly about what must be done. The 2002 Arab Human Development Report, prepared by some of the region's brightest thinkers, lays out in very candid terms the gaps in economic openness, political freedoms, educational opportunity, and women's empowerment that obstruct the realization of the vast human potential of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah recently seized on the Arab Human Development Report's challenge to issue a proposed "Arab Charter." The Charter document calls for internal reform, enhanced political participation, and economic revitalization based on free market principles. We need to encourage this ambitious and hopeful vision, and support it.

Together with our partners in the region we are developing a set of promising initial projects. In his speech launching the Initiative last December, the Secretary outlined a series of pilot projects. For fiscal year 2004, the Administration is requesting $145 million to broaden and deepen the Initiative throughout the region. In addition, State and USAID are working with host governments and non-governmental organizations to ensure that our existing regional aid programs are targeted on the kind of reforms -- educational, economic and political -- that are most critical. A comprehensive review of our current programs in Egypt is already well underway. Similar reviews for West Bank/Gaza, Jordan, Morocco, and Lebanon will follow.

We have focused our efforts on three key "pillars" -- broad areas in which progress toward reform and development will, we believe, have positive ripple effects across the region. These three areas are economic reform, educational opportunity, and political pluralism and democratization.

Under the economic pillar, we will support those who are working to open up their economies and expand opportunities for all their citizens. While there is no single model for change, we will be strong advocates for enhancing private sector involvement, diversifying economies, and preparing the region's workforce for the global economy.

We will provide accelerated and intensive technical assistance to countries seeking accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), regional WTO members not yet in compliance, and those with which we plan to negotiate trade arrangements, such as Free Trade Areas (FTAs) or Trade and Investment Framework Agreements. For example, we have begun planning a broad program of assistance to the Moroccan Government and private sector to help them prepare for an eventual free trade agreement with the United States. The great benefits of free trade come at the price of sometimes difficult structural adjustments. We are developing programs that will help both rural and urban communities affected by these necessary adjustments to prosper under free trade. We have seen the impressive results of free trade in Jordan, where Qualifying Industrial Zones have been a powerful economic engine for growth and development, providing jobs especially to women and others who had been hard hit by tough economic times. Jordan s experience can be a model as we work to expand trade, and the economic opportunities it brings, across the region.

As we help open economies, we will work to spark the region s well-known entrepreneurial spirit. We will soon bring to the U.S. our first group of Arab entrepreneurs, many of them women, to participate in our Middle East Entrepreneur Training program in the U.S., or MEET U. S. . As the Secretary announced, we are also exploring the establishment of Enterprise Funds in the region to provide capital to small and medium-size businesses unable to obtain capital today. Finally, we are looking at ways to expose young people to entrepreneurship and market-based economics through education and skill-development programs like Junior Achievement.

The United States has a long and distinguished tradition of helping to bring educational opportunities to the region. Many of the region s leaders are graduates of the outstanding American Universities of Beirut and Cairo. The recently established Cornell Medical School campus in Doha continues this tradition. Under the education pillar, we will create new U.S.-Arab university partnerships, helping to expand the marketplace of ideas in the region. A Young Ambassadors program will bring undergraduate students to the United States to study the nature and function of democratic institutions.

We will also support literacy programs, especially for women and girls. We will expand existing programs such as a successful girls scholarship in program in Morocco that provides funding to help Moroccan girls complete middle school, with tuition, housing, and computer training. A literacy program in Yemen will expand opportunities for young women of childbearing age.

As we help expand access to education, we will also focus on improving its quality. Educational reformers in the region are looking at innovative ways to work to move away from rote learning to emphasize critical thinking and problem solving, and we will work with them and governments in the region to encourage this trend. We will also fund programs to bring computers and the Internet to more schools and students across the region. In this area, in particular, we are working with private sector partners, such as the Case Foundation, to establish computer learning centers.

Economic and educational modernization cannot, however, exist in a vacuum. Open economies and effective educational systems require open and accommodating political systems. Today, however, many political systems in the region fail to give voice to their citizens. Political structures all too often serve to insulate the regime and governing elite from change or accountability.

Under the political participation pillar, we will support those seeking openness and democratization in their societies. Last fall, we brought 50 Arab women leaders to the U.S. to observe mid-term elections and meet with U.S. political professionals. We plan to expand this effort, establishing regional campaign schools in the Gulf, North Africa, and the Levant, to provide political leaders with the tools to take advantage of new opportunities for democratization. In Yemen, we will help build the capacity of women and local councils in tribal areas to make their voices heard through the political process. We will help Yemen s Elections Commission organize effective voter registration and fund monitoring of upcoming parliamentary elections. In Bahrain and Morocco, we have provided technical support and training in connection with recent elections. We are working with the Government of Jordan to ensure they have the support they need to ensure their June elections are free and fair.

We will provide greater training opportunities for journalists and work with governments to reform media laws. Other programs will include initiatives to strengthen respect for the rule of law and human rights.

In our FY04 request, we have also set aside $10 million for programs focused on the empowerment of women. The Arab Human Development Report identifies the women s empowerment deficit as one of three key obstacles holding back the entire region. We will use these funds to work with groups in the region who are working for legal and regulatory reform to ensure women have equal treatment under the law. We will also fund programs, as I discussed above, to provide political skills, business training, and to support improved educational opportunities for women.

I have outlined very briefly what is an ambitious and broad-based program. None of it will be easy, and we will see results only over time. We have to approach this not only with determination, but also with a degree of humility. The Middle East is a diverse and complex set of societies and there can be no one size fits all-solution to the region s problems. However, in the end, our interests are best served by aligning our policies with the goals and aspirations of the people of the region: a Middle East that is stable, prosperous, and open. Secretary Powell last December called it "adding hope to the U.S. Middle East agenda." It s a sorely needed element right now.

Madam Chairwoman, we have no monopoly on wisdom in approaching these challenges. To be successful, we will need the advice and support of this Subcommittee, Congress, and many others. As we fashion and implement this Initiative, I hope we can turn to you and Congress for your support.

Thank you. [End]

Released on April 4, 2003


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