Restoring Stability in a Turbulent Middle East: A Perspective From the League of Arab States

Restoring Stability in a Turbulent Middle East: A Perspective From the League of Arab States

Don Pollard

More on:

Middle East and North Africa

Economics

Conflict Prevention

Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit discusses the state of affairs in the Middle East, including the conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, countering the threat of terrorism in the region, the impact of the recent intra-gulf crisis, and how the Arab League operates within this complex climate.

BOIES: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome. We are pleased to have with us today the secretary-general of the Arab League. I am Mary Boies. I am on the board here, and it is my great privilege to preside over this meeting.

The Arab League was founded in 1945. It was originally a league of six nations. It has grown over the decades. It is now a league of 22, including Palestine. It encompasses much of the Middle East, the Arab(ic)-speaking nations, as well as those in the Horn of Africa and Northern Africa.

As we had many meetings this week, we have a parlor game of comparing who has the tougher job, and I’ve decided to award that prize to the gentleman who was in charge of bringing together all areas of common interest of all Arab(ic)-speaking speaking nations that are members of this league, and that is the very distinguished Mr. Ahmed Aboul Gheit. He has been the secretary-general since 2016. He was the minister of foreign affairs for Egypt for seven years, from 2004 until 2011, and prior to that he was the permanent representative to the United Nations from 1999 to 2004. This is a man who has been around, seen much, and knows a lot, which he will share with us today. It is my great pleasure to introduce the secretary-general and to welcome his beautiful wife as well. Thank you. (Applause.)

GHEIT: Thank you, Mary. Thank you very much.

Good afternoon. It is always a pleasure to be in the Council on Foreign Relations. I have attended these Council deliberations for so many years, possibly since 1974, and I have known many of you, as expected.

The discussion of today is how to bring stability and peace to the Middle East. I’m supposed to speak for seven minutes as an introduction, then we proceed. So I will limit myself to seven minutes. Now it is 3:33. (Laughter.)

So the Middle East, for one, to start I would say in 2011 the Middle East has been struck by an Indian summer storm. Countries were destroyed, civil wars were dominating the scene. And sadly, millions of people were evicted from their homes. Hundreds of thousands got killed. And strangely enough, and worst, it has been called the Arab summit—or the Arab Spring. I beg to differ. I think it is the Arab Destruction that dominated the scene for the last seven years at least.

How to bring it to an end, and how to pacify, to stabilize, to bring peace? I think there are at least four points that one has to touch upon in order to bring to bear the direction of events. The first, I think, is how to defend the nation-states that has been disappearing or being destroyed. Why is it so? Because the nation-state plays a paramount role in stability in the region. The nation-state, that failed, and failed due to certain practices and certain norms that should not be repeated. But the nation-state is paramount in our thinking in the region. In the absence of a national state, Syria, for one, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Israel—such states are beacons for stability. The absence of that state, fragmentation would ensue, and not only fragmentation but civil wars, and terrorism, and violence, and emigration.

(Audio break.)

BOIES: (In progress following audio break)—backing, the—you and the Egyptians brokered a deal, and Hamas has now dissolved its administrative committee and indicated an interest in reconciliation at least with the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas. Is this a short-term move to help relieve the financial hardship, or do you think this is a sign of possibly true reconciliation?

GHEIT: I hope first it was solely the Egyptians and the Emirates who have been brokering such activity, such change, but I hope it is a strategic move on the part of Hamas for the sake of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian National Movement. Why is it so? Because in 2007 the—Hamas took a separate course and the National Palestinian Movement was cracked, and you had an authority in Gaza and an authority in West Bank. So every time the Palestinians would call for negotiations with the Israelis, the Israeli response was, we do not have a partner. Here it is now I hope they will deliver their authority—Hamas—to the PLO or to the Palestinian Authority. And if the scene and the situation is stabilized enough in three month or four month, the Palestinian president will seek elections for parliament and for a new president. Then, from there, if we reach that point, we will have a Palestinian Authority consolidated enough with a new Palestinian president, and we would push forward for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

BOIES: Now there have been attempts at reconciliation before, and one of the main stumbling blocks was that Hamas was not prepared to have its security taken over by the Palestinian Authority. Do you think now is different?

GHEIT: I think they will maintain security. They will—they dissolved their administration, but their hold on the—on the strip and security terms, it will continue, or at least they are declaring so.

The change came due to certain reasoning. First, the pinch of the lack of money, because the authority is no more financing at least 50,000 employees based in Gaza. They stopped paying. They stopped paying for the electricity and for the subsidies. So that is one.

Two, the Emirates are in to finance those who have been or to compensate those who have been killed, to compensate their families. So it encouraged Hamas to proceed.

Third, I think the financing from abroad is not any more as open as it was, the channels. The channels are limited. So with the limitation of financing from abroad, that led to that reconciliation. And I think the Egyptians are encouraged, and let’s hope—let’s hope that it will continue.

BOIES: Now Egypt in past years has become closer to the Israelis, in part stopping the violence in and out of the Gaza, in particular through the northern Sinai. Do you see this move by Egypt as being a step closer to Hamas, or not?

GHEIT: The Egyptians—and I was foreign minister of Egypt—have maintained always very proper relationship with the Israelis, and we were working with them, aiming at encouraging them to take decisions and to take positions to help negotiations. The—(inaudible)—differ with Egypt because they followed a different course. Today they have changed—not the Egyptians changed. The Egyptians are still insisting on a peace process and finding a settlement recognizing the state of Israel on the part of the Palestinians and recognizing the PLO charter. And Hamas is the one who is moving towards the Fatah Egyptian position. All I hope is that they maintain that line and that they are serious, they are genuine, and it is a strategic move on their part.

BOIES: President Trump has made the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a high priority, and he has stated in so many words that he doesn’t see why it’s that difficult. (Laughter.) Has the U.S. administration put forth any new ideas or contours?

GHEIT: Not to my knowledge, not to my knowledge up till now. But I understand that they are reflecting on a certain course to offer to the parties. And as the president met President Abu Mazen, President Trump, what filtered back to me was that the Palestinians were encouraged by his determination to push forward.

BOIES: OK. With that good news, I shall move onto the second distraction. (Laughter.)

GHEIT: Let’s hope that things will move also in this front, because often there are goodwill, often. I have been working in the Middle East settlement since Camp David in ’78. And I have seen so many secretary of states, so many—Richard Haass was one of those people in Madrid summit in October ’91. But the problem is you try your best, nevertheless the problem is so complicated to the point that it is difficult to make a breakthrough. Let’s hope that this time it will.

BOIES: Let me move to the Syrian civil war.

GHEIT: Yes.

BOIES: There are a number of peace talks going on. One thread in Geneva. Another in Astana, Kazakhstan.

GHEIT: One political and one military.

BOIES: Yes. And in Astana, they’ve just completed their sixth round. And the—Iran, Turkey, and Russia are pushing for four deconfliction zones. And there’s a concern that were they to take hold, this could be the beginning of the partition of Syria led by and, indeed, overseen by three major powers outside the region. Part of their proposal, as I understand it, is that the overseers of these deconfliction process in the four zones, the overseers would come from Russia, Iran, and Turkey. Do you think that success on this front could be the beginning of a partition of Syria?

GHEIT: The Russians and the Turks, and even the Iranians, are insisting that it is not so, and that the agreement is only six-month renewable. But we have our fears, no doubt about it. And we are concerned because, as I said, the idea is the national state. In the absence of a national state that combines everybody but a new national state with a new charter, with a new approach to way of government, the problem would extend over time. And the effect of such extension over time is the continuation of a problem.

You have always to tie the Iraq development with the Syria development, because in Iraq you have in the north Kurds and in Syria you have in the north Kurds. And the Kurds of Iraq, if they succeed, then the Kurds of Syria might be encouraged to succeed, with all the ramifications of such development on the Kurds of Turkey and Kurds of Iran. So you have—you might have a turmoil and a situation that would be damaging to everybody’s interests.

We have to be very careful on the idea of fragmentation of the nation-state, especially in El Majerak (ph), in Syria and Iraq. You see, the history of—and I’m sure many of our colleagues here and friends, they know that it was Sykes-Picot arrangements that led to such borders and lines. The French and the British, the Russians were also there for a while before the revolution, they delineated lines of control, colonization. Then that was transformed into states—Iraq, Syria, Lebanon—and with the Balfour for declaration and the activities of the British you had also the state of Israel and Jordan. So do not play with the borders. The borders came to be—or held apart for the populations.

I tell you a story that amazed me. The Syrian team was playing in Tehran against the Iranians football, soccer. And the Syrians won one-nil. And the whole of Syria, everywhere erupted in happiness. So be careful with the fragmentation. Oppose it.

BOIES: But those lines for those nation-states were drawn 100 years ago, give or take, by the British and by the French. Why would it not be better to have new lines drawn by those in the region?

GHEIT: Because it won’t stop. It won’t stop. The Yazidis will say: Why not us? The Assyrians will say: Well, why not us? The Kurds will say: Why not us? The Turkmen will say: Why not us? The Sunnis will say: Why not us? And it will be—it will be—we are opening a Pandora’s box.

BOIES: So next distraction—I will get through your priorities. Indeed, your first priority was the Kurdish regional government and the interest of President Barzani in holding a referendum on Monday for their independence. Now, the Iraqi constitution of 2005 called for a census and referendum no later than December 2007. That is 10 years ago. And since that time, the KRG has, many times, wanted this referendum. But it has never taken place for one reason or another. And now the weight of world opinion appears to be not to implement that article of the constitution. And if I understand you, sir, you agree with that weight of opinion. Why should they not get the referendum that was provided for them in that constitution?

GHEIT: They should get it. On the contrary, they should get it. But the problem is, you see, visited—I detected the tendency towards the referendum and secession. So I wrote a letter to President Barzani. Then he responded back and invited me to—or, at least, he said let’s engage in a discussion. So I visited him on the 9th of September in Irbil. He spoke about certain issues that have not been implemented by the central government. He was objecting to the behavior of the central government. But before going there, I passed by Iraq, by Baghdad. I had a discussion with the prime minister. He also said that the Kurds are acting in such and such and such. So both parties have certain reservations against each other.

If you want to go to a referendum and to secede, do it through negotiating the central government, the federal government. You do not defy the constitution by saying, well, I will do it on my own, or else the south—the south, United States, confederacy, would have seceded with no war—or the Basque, or the, what is that, Catalan. You need to consult, to negotiate, to agree upon the populations and the communities, or else you are creating again—especially if the Kurds are being accused by the central government, the federal government, that they are aggrandizing their own territory and that they are exceeding their own—the regions’ borders.

So my advice to everybody, stop—and that’s what I suggested to both—stop the slipping into referendum. Come negotiate genuine, sincere negotiations. And if you want guarantees, ask the Arab League to send delegation to observe. Ask the Security Council. Ask the P5. Ask the EU to sit, to observe, and to judge who is to be blamed if the parties cannot. But the parties can reach.

The danger of secession here is that the Turks will act—Turkey. One quarter of Turkey’s population is Kurd. And the eastern regions of Turkey is dominant—dominated by Kurds. Then Iran will act. Syrians will act. And again, it will be a very dangerous development. President Barzani is saying I will carry the referendum. Then I will negotiate. And I told him, President, the dynamics of an option opting for independence will be so heavy-loaded, like a snowball effect. You cannot stop it. So you put yourself in difficulty.

I hope—I hope that a change of course is to take place, though. It remains only three days. Today is Friday. The referendum is supposed to take place on Monday. Very dangerous development, sadly, added to our problems in the region.

BOIES: And I believe that President Barzani has put some word out that he would view this not as a vote to secede but rather as a vote that is a step toward a negotiation with the central government.

GHEIT: I hope that is the objective. I hope. I hope.

BOIES: And nonetheless, as you fear, President Erdogan has indicated he’s prepared to send more troops at least to the border, hopefully not across it, should this referendum take place. What would you say to President Erdogan? I think I know the answer, but I’m going to ask you anyway.

GHEIT: The problem is with the destruction, with the Arab destruction. You call it here in the United States Arab spring. The neighbors of those who have been destroyed have been tempted to project themselves militarily and inside foreign territory. It’s a very complicated, ugly situation, sadly.

BOIES: My last question before we work with the members who are here relates to another difficult situation. It’s now over a hundred days since the—since the four countries moved against Qatar, at least to establish a blockade. And the rhetoric seems to have—

GHEIT: What are the four countries?

BOIES: The four countries are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain.

GHEIT: Yes.

BOIES: I believe.

GHEIT: Yes, because—

BOIES: Am I correct?

GHEIT: —they are four major players on the Arab scene, I have to admit. Egypt is 100 million people. Saudi Arabia is 30 million people, the largest—the largest producer of energy and oil. So just Qatar versus the four of them, yes. (Laughter.)

And mind you, they are all members of the Arab League, and I have to be careful there, because they are all members financing and paying their dues to the budget of the Arab League. They receive respect and proper behavior.

BOIES: Correct. And by dues, you’re referring, of course, to your own salary, sir, which I understand—

GHEIT: Yes.

BOIES: —of course.

GHEIT: Yes. (Laughter.) And it is good to have a salary. (Laughter.)

BOIES: It’s very good. And I am not asking you to take a side. But I do ask you what effect this dispute, rift, whatever we might call it, is having on the region.

GHEIT: The—what I detect—the development I detect is that the Iranians are consolidating their relationship to Qatar. The Iranians are trying to take advantage of the situation by building relations with Qatar, aiming at, let’s say, striking back on the Bahrainis and Saudis and Emiratis, who are showing—taking certain attitudes vis-à-vis Iran.

That is, I think, a factor that I detect. A part of that, the quarrel—and I call it a quarrel—the quarrel between the four and Qatar did not spill over to Arab League activities. We are still working and they attend our meetings, and they embrace resolutions. And we are working together, all of us. Last week maybe there has been some statements issued here and there, but it didn’t affect our operations. I do not see—I hope it will not affect beyond what we see the regional developments.

BOIES: Thank you.

And I would now like to invite members to join the conversation. I remind you that we’re on the record. When you get the microphone, please state your name and your affiliation. Please do not make a statement. Please ask a question, preferably one.

Yes, sir.

Q: Sir, I’m Ronald Tiersky from Amherst College in Massachusetts.

You’ve talked about—

GHEIT: My granddaughter had three weeks in Amherst two years ago.

Q: She did the right thing. (Laughter.)

Sir, you are a diplomat. You’ve talked about policy today. But you come back always to the issue of whether what happened in 2011 was a disaster. So I’d like to ask you for your analysis of what happened in 2011. What we saw was millions of people in action—millions of people. And it was spontaneous. To say that this was an era of destruction maybe is looking backward.

What would you say to these people, that they shouldn’t have done what they did? One of the things I remember was people being interviewed in Tahrir Square in Cairo. They say for the first time in my life I feel proud to be an Egyptian. Is it perhaps true that diplomats are inherently and deeply too conservative?

GHEIT: Actually, no. I was very proud of the Egyptians behaving this way, because they showed civility. And they showed patriotism beyond anything. But the problem was what followed. For people like me, who would know the Egyptian scene—and I know it very well—I figured that the force that would take power will be a reactionary force coming from the 7th century, the Muslim Brothers.

And as they acted, they behaved in a manner proving myself, because they were buying votes. They were buying votes. And the Egyptian, despite the fact I said, full of civility, what is poor? And not only poor, many of them are not educated in the countryside. So the Muslim Brothers bought power and were dragging Egypt, the largest Arab country, back possibly 200 years. That would have affected beyond your imagination regional developments when it comes to culture, when it comes to policies, when it comes to behavior of the population itself. They were approving and pushing into parliament legislation that would approve girls of nine and 10 years old getting married. So that I saw coming. And because of this, I object.

But I’m not talking about Egypt. I talk about a place like Syria. If you observe what had happened with the Syrian cities, for instance, over the last three or four years, as if it is Dresden and Hamburg and Berlin, bombed 10 times with 500,000 killed, with 5 ½ million immigrants, refugees, and, sadly, 11 million displaced internally. This is what I say destruction. Or Libya, the NATO, the West intervenes. OK. Well done. You got rid of some guy who overruled the country for 41 years. Then thank you very much, bye-bye. And that bye-bye led to fragmentation of a country that produces a million and a half barrels a day of oil, meaning very wealthy country with a population of 3 to 4 million people. That is Arab destruction. Why is it so? Because it is fragmented. You have in Libya three governments. Three governments right now. Yes, the international community is recognizing one of them, but the international community cannot impose a settlement.

So the sad thing—I was foreign minister at the time. Many European foreign ministers, many senators, many congressmen, came to Egypt and said: Hooray. You are liberated. They do not know our societies and what to follow. And what followed was bad, was bad. The least was—Yemen. Yemen was a part and parcel of the Arab Spring. You know how many Yemenis today are suffering from cholera? Seven hundred thousand people—cholera alone.

BOIES: Is that because—

GHEIT: Polio—polio is back to Yemen. It is because of the loss of the central government, the chaos that has been introduced, the civil war. Civil wars are a plague—plague. In Egypt, people erupted not because of—people erupted because of the long-term rule of a president for 30 years. So people wanted a change. All of us wanted a change. And thank God that we have—we have had—we have a great army that when the people, again, when to Tahrir, again in objection to the Muslim Brothers, the army intervened and got rid of those who were coming from 7th century—7th century! Thirteen hundred years ago, applying ideas that were applied 1,300 years ago. That is the danger in the Middle East.

BOIES: Yes, sir, in the back. Yes, you.

Q: Sorry. Sorry about that. Ayman Mohyeldin with MSNBC.

Secretary—

GHEIT: NBC?

Q: MSNBC, NBC, yeah. One big family. (Laughter.) I wanted to ask you, if I may, in some of the comments that you’ve been making, the seven minutes and since then, I’m a little bit struck because I haven’t heard the words democracy, reform, political pluralism, freedom of speech—all of these issues that constantly keep being brought up, if you will, by those that protested in Tahrir Square and others. I’m curious to get your thoughts, is there a path for the Arab world that includes democratic reform, freedom of speech, political pluralism. Because if I’m not mistake, I get a sense you’re making the argument for stability. You served in one of the most stable governments in the history of the Arab world for 30 years, and it literally was flipped overnight. So how do you see stability being achieved in any other way besides strongmen rules in the Arab world?

GHEIT: Very good question. Of course, one has to support everything you spoke about—democracy, human rights, the rule of law, everything. And as civilized people, we have to accept. But we have to create the conditions for such eventuality because it will come. But we have to create the conditions. In the absence of the conditions, then a government and power and authority will be taken over by a demagogue or by a group that is antihistory or against history. So for me, I say gradual development—gradual development. Let’s work on economic development. Let’s work on education. Education. You have in Egypt sadly 25 percent of the population illiterate. If you had that rate, then you have to be careful because someone evil enough or with disturbed ideas might take over authority. I am a believer of stability and development, but energetic development, serious development, genuine development, honest development.

BOIES: Thank you. Miss in the back, and then this gentleman, and then this gentleman.

Q: Amin Asris (ph), Sky News Arabia.

I have two questions if—

BOIES: You may ask one. Pick your favorite. (Laughter.)

Q: OK. So talking about referendum—the Kurdish referendum. So I have been speaking with foreign minister of Iraq. He said they are looking for any solution except military action to avoid the referendum. But I’m pretty sure that the Turkish, they will not allow a kind of referendum or a Kurdish state in the area. And I’m pretty sure that the military option can be maybe the only option for them. Did you discuss that with any of the leaders in the region, especially Barzani?

GHEIT: No. No. Not at all. None of them—none of them touched on the military option. But history teaches us that when you have territory contested, people tend to sort things out through military option. But we didn’t touch in any discussion on this subject.

BOIES: Sir.

GHEIT: Is this camera new?

Q: I’m sorry. (Laughs.) Hi, Jeff Laurenti.

Secretary-General Aboul Gheit, a delight to see you again in New York and at the Council.

GHEIT: Thank you very much.

Q: I wonder if you could explore with us—

GHEIT: Are you still with the UNA?

Q: UNA you mean? (Laughs.) Yes. Years pass. But on a volunteer basis still.

I wonder if you could explore for us a bit what the role of the League of Arab States can now be in bringing Syria to some kind of settlement. Back six years ago, there was a split within the Arab League. You had your—the Gulf Arabs, who were pressing vigorously an anti-Assad political line, making heartfelt speeches at the U.N. about the need for democracy and human rights that we had never heard before from the Saudis and the Emiratis. And the Lebanese, the Iraqis, Algerians being against it.

BOIES: I think we have your question, sir.

Q: Well, so what now is the League able to do and what is left of civil society in Syria with which to do it?

GHEIT: The problem—the problem with the Arab League, the expectations of our action is that the Arab League in 2012, I recall, froze the Libyan—the Syrian membership to the League, so they do not attend anymore or deliberate anymore. So the Arab League froze itself since that time on Syrian affairs, because we made a choice. These days, people are reflecting again on the developments and he need for the League to play back or to come back to play its role. Let’s hope that the attitudes would change within the membership of the Arab League. And as that attitude would change, then it would open the way for the Arab League to participate and to do what is required of her. But for the time being it’s not yet.

BOIES: The gentleman on the aisle, and then the gentleman on the far aisle.

Q: Bill Luers. Welcome, Secretary-General. Good to see you again.

GHEIT: Thank you very much. You once invited me to breakfast years ago when we were both young. (Laughter.)

Q: Are you making a comment about my age? (Laughter.)

GHEIT: I ordered pancakes that day. (Laughter.)

Q: We understand that the—at the hajj this year, the Saudis made a special effort to be kind to the 850,000 Iranian Shia pilgrims, and that the Iranians took note of that and, in fact, they say that the Saudis have reduced dramatically their criticism of the Shia and of the—of Iran. Moreover, they’re going to open consulates in both countries where the pilgrimages take place. And finally, they’re beginning to talk about other issues. And according to what I hear, the Iranians are taking special attention to the relationship with Saudi Arabia and downplaying this potential opportunity with Qatar to divide the Arab states. Have you heard that? Am I—is this a biased view, or is there something happening between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

GHEIT: First, let me say the figure—the number is not 850,000, because all the hajjis were 3 million, from everywhere in the Muslim world. I think they do not exceed 60, 65 million—65,000 Iranians. That is one—

Q: Sorry, 85,000.

GHEIT: Yes. So that is the figure.

This year, the Saudis made that effort not solely to the Iranians or to the Shias—made the effort to ensure the safety of everybody, because two or three years earlier there was an incident where a stampede took place and hundreds got killed, not because of Saudi responsibility, not at all. It was a misfortune.

I read articles in the media and pieces of news that the Saudis and the Iranians are exchanging delegations to visit. But the Saudis made reference, too, that their delegation and the Iranian delegation coming to Riyadh and going to Tehran was to inspect the facilities of both parties, because they cut relations a while ago.

I have to make reference to Iranian-Saudi relations for an extended period of time were OK, were not bad. And the Saudi leadership met the Iranian leadership several times over the last few decades. It is the behavior of the Iranian itself that triggered the anger and the hostility of the Saudis. The Iranians are—have been talking about they control four Arab capitals, that Iran will extend over land corridor from Iranian territory to the Mediterranean. So that, of course, angered major Arab players like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Whether there are really a demarche there or a reconciliation there or not, I don’t know. But I find it difficult to perceive a breakthrough soon in that relationship because of the situation in Yemen and Libya. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is creating anger with the Saudis and with Gulf all the time, and the Arab League resolutions name Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. So I have my doubts.

Q: So do I.

BOIES: The gentleman on—

GHEIT: I have to be careful.

BOIES: Pardon. The gentleman on the aisle, and then Ms. Maloney in the third row.

Q: Herbert Levin, a Council member.

Mr. Secretary-General, the United Nations Secretariat every year or so, they issue the Arab intellectuals report, which I read. It’s not an optimistic document. I wonder when you read it what you think of it.

GHEIT: I read it. I not only read it, I make comparisons. The 2003 report, when I was still the permanent representative here in New York, I took—I found that Egypt at the time was number 126 out of 190. OK, let us see number 60. Number 60 was, I think, Ecuador or Bolivia or Iran, some country, Brazil. I made comparisons. I found that Egypt was better than number 60 in every, every factor. And I hope you would return to make that comparison, meaning 100 percent of Egyptian babies are inoculated; 99 percent of Egyptian villagers are receiving pure water.

And the question for myself, then: Why? Why we are 126 and those guys are 60, or 59, or something? I cannot recall exactly. And I came to discover that it was illiteracy. Illiteracy. These countries manage to have 95 percent of their population literate, read and write, and the Egyptians in this field were not energetic enough to ensure that their population is fully—that illiteracy is eradicated. So that is my answer.

BOIES: We have time for two short questions, Ms. Maloney and the gentleman here—

GHEIT: Do you know how many—how many Egyptians are carrying—not carrying, but having internet and computers in their homes today? Sixty million Egyptians. That is a development, the ability to connect to the world.

BOIES: Ms. Maloney.

Q: Carolyn Maloney.

What is the Arab League doing to help reconcile the differences between five of your members and five very important allies to the United States? This agreement threatens stability in the region, it threatens bases—

GHEIT: Qatar and the four?

Q: —and it certainly threatens our focus on ISIS, and I would say the security of our allies such as Israel and many others. It’s a very dangerous development. And what is the Arab League doing or what can we do collectively, without taking sides, in trying to help resolve this disagreement?

GHEIT: Thank you very much. That is also, Ms. Maloney, a very good question.

I have to tell you that when the—when the differences were declared and people started taking positions, the Kuwaitis stepped in as a member of Gulf Cooperation Council, and the emir of Kuwait started shuttling between the different capitals. And many of us felt that he should be encouraged, supported, but we should not interfere or intervene in a manner to cut him short. So let him do what he is required to do, and we will endorse his activity and his action. And we conveyed this publicly, and we met him, and we told him we support you. And he is still attempting.

But I have to admit that the feelings are very still hot and people are angry against each other. It will take time. It will—it will take time and patience, time and patience.

BOIES: And our last question, from the gentleman.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, Mansoor Ijaz. I run a hedge fund here in New York.

At the core of the problem between the Palestinians and the Israelis is an economic divide, that the Palestinians don’t have nearly as much as they need. What can be done—we, as American taxpayers, are asked to help fund that gap, to try and raise the Palestinian boats up. Yet, we see in the Arab world such a profligate misuse of wealth from the princes and princesses that run all over the world and spend their money. What could be done to help make them aware and help them—get them to help the Palestinians themselves in a more significant way? What are your thoughts about that? I know as a diplomat you can’t say that yourself, but—

GHEIT: You answered yourself. (Laughter.)

Q: But what are your thoughts generally about that.

GHEIT: No, no, but I tell you. I tell you. If I may, I tell you. I tell you.

The Gulf contributes a lot to sustaining the Palestinian economy, and a lot is being paid to—not only to the Palestinian economy but also to UNRWA, the refugee agency that looks after the Palestinian refugees. And the—you know that the Palestinian—the Palestinian society has 100 percent literacy. They are the most-educated population in the Arab world. Fifty years ago—50 years ago, the Palestinians had 70,000 university graduates out of a million and a half population. The Palestinian doesn’t need economic help. The Palestinian needs a recognition of his identity, of his aspiration to feel free, to rule over himself, to have his own government, to have his own state. And they think it’s a matter of time and they will achieve that objective.

BOIES: Please join me in thanking the secretary-general—(applause)—and his fine colleagues. Have a good weekend. Thank you. (Applause.)

(END)

Up

Explore More on CFR

Lebanon

Saudi Arabia pressed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign to try to weaken Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. The path to resolving the crisis could run through Yemen.

Zimbabwe

Global

A growing number of countries are legalizing same-sex marriage amid a steady advance in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, but opposition remains strong in many countries.