Conflict Resolution|Human Rights|International

Mohamed ElBaradei Addresses Opening Session of IBA Conference in Dubai

 The Annual Conference of the International Bar Association opened on Sunday night October 30, 2011, with an address by Mohamed ElBaradei, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency and, with the IAEA, 2005 Nobel laureate.  He focused on the dynamic state of the Middle East and addressed both the rule of law as an incentivizing influence on the creation of the society in which we want to live, and the role of the lawyer as social engineer.

ElBaradei posited that, in many states but particularly in the Middle East, governmental mechanisms are unable to cope with the great challenges that confront us as citizens: the collapse of global financial interdependencies; the persistence of poverty so dire as to induce starvation on a regional scale; the provision of energy in a form that does not despoil the planet; the beneficial application of scientific and technological advances to the broad populace rather than to the wealthy alone; and the persistent respect towards concepts of fairness, equity and justice. 

He noted that, in the Arab world, twelve times the expenditures of the United Nations are directed to armament and “peace-keeping” as to developmental aid.  One million people have been killed during the last eight years in an “illegal, illegitimate war” in Iraq.  (Here he was interrupted by general applause.)  A lack of good government that pervades the Arab world has recently provoked widespread civil unrest in several nations.  Some of this revolt has yielded new authority and others – at least thus far — has provoked renewed violence and repression. 

Globally in even the most developed societies, citizens may be observed voicing impatience with a lack of basic needs and social opportunities; an “obscene gap” between the rich and the poor; and governmental corruption and oppression.  He noted a particularly high degree of distrust and lack of regional cooperation in the Arab world, and shockingly little economic development (except with respect to the production and sale of oil). 

The non-Arab the world seems willing to tolerate the most blatant governmental and social failures in the Middle East, as if they were immune from the consequences of these injustices. The Arab/Israeli conflict, said ElBaradei, has been going on since 1945, and continues into the fourth generation as a continuing source of Arab sense of injustice and humiliation. Western governments support occupiers, ruthless dictatorial regimes, and clearly undemocratic governments for reasons of transparently economic self-interest.  Conflicts are allowed to fester and grow among Arab sects and ideologies, as in Iran, without constraining forces from the region or elsewhere. 

In such a context, the creation of a new government in Egypt is crucial to ElBaradei.  There needs to arise in the region a country that offers a model for ideological moderation, democratic governmental processes, and social and economic justice.  If Egypt is successful in these efforts, it could serve as an engine for welcome regional change.  The role of the international community in supporting this delicate process is crucial; the role of lawyers and the provision of appropriate legal services is impossible to understate.

Once genuine stability is attained in the Arab world, investment opportunities will abound, says ElBaradei.  But were this effort to fail, and regional change were to take place in what he called an “unmanaged” way, the scale of the set-back could be enormous for all countries, not just those in the region. 

So ElBaradei listed certain absolute requirements for regional stability.  The injustices inflicted upon the Palestinian people are intolerable and must end.  Syria and Yemen must come to terms with their people and make the fundamental governmental changes that will permit those countries to move forward as partners in the dawning new age of the Middle East.  The famine in Somalia – as to which the lack of international intervention amounts to an unthinkable crime, in this stage of human development — must be halted.  Afghanistan must form a cohesive, self-governed state, free of imperialistic influences.  Iran must reconcile with the West.  The entire region must encourage mutual cooperation, particularly in respect of economic development.

ElBaradei considers that a Middle East that is at peace with itself and with an interconnected world is not just a vision – it is a necessity.  And in an age in which interconnectivity is becoming ever more fundamental an attribute, he pleaded for a new “mind-set” in which we acknowledge, both as individuals and as nation-states, that we are indeed all connected to each other, all responsible for the consequences of our actions to others — all, indeed, brothers and sisters.

This plea was all the more impressive because it was offered as a pragmatic solution rather than a visionary goal.  The “interconnectivity” that prompts ElBaradei’s urgings is as rapidly advancing as sales of iPhones and as inevitable as the spontaneous text messages that convened the demonstrations of the populous in Cairo.   In reminding his audience of the “gap” between what is happening and how governmental mechanisms lag behind what is happening, ElBaradei is describing, not wishfully hoping.  He suggests that there is no real choice than to alter our “mind sets.”  One is reminded of the words of W.H. Auden in his poem “September 1, 1939”:

There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

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