2004 Speech

Saudi official urges social interaction and exchange of youth
Address by Dr Nizar Madani, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, at ‘The Forum of the Future’ held by foreign ministers from G-8 and Middle East ountries on the margins of the 59th UN General Assembly, New York

Thank you for this opportunity.

Social and economic reform in the Middle East is not an ideological imperative for democracy; it is rather a process for improving the human condition and providing people with the best government.

We in Saudi Arabia hold the firm belief that change and reform are sorely needed in the Arab World. It is also our belief, equally as firm, that any successful change and reform in our region must come from within. Whereas the entire global community shares the first of these beliefs, it is the second that lacks solidarity, and at times even credibility, especially when mixed with insidious concepts of ideology.

The awareness of the need for reform, although a novel discovery in the industrialized countries, has been a driving force that gained momentum after the end of the colonial era in the forties and sixties and was checked only by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Therefore, let us end recriminations and accusations, or the pursuit of imposing incompatible ideology on each other. Let us be practical.

There is absolutely no argument between us as to what needs to be done with regard to reform. And, considering our myriad differences, this unity of vision is quite exceptional and certainly a positive sign. Disagreements between us arise only with regard to the methods of implementing reform. As a global community, we find ourselves unified in our objective but divided over its attainment.

We alone know best what can be done in our country, because we are products of its culture and society. While some may claim that this obscures our vision, I believe it bestows us with the scope of vision necessary to accurately judge the distances we must travel.

We in the Middle East know what we must do to help ourselves; and with due expression of gratitude we must tell you that it is our business. However, if a stable and modernized Middle East is deemed by you necessary for your self-interest, then there are a myriad of things that you can do to help accomplish these objectives. Taking over the process yourself would only suffocate it and turn the people against it. I am not going to talk about the over-riding problems of the Middle East, such as the Palestinian issue, and Iraq: because it seems to us self-evident that real stability cannot be attained without settling these issues.

There is a very real need for a collective effort to solve the serious economic problems in the Middle East. The industrialized countries can play an effective and leading role in this regard by allocation of direct foreign investment, liberalizing trade practices, opening new markets, and transfer of technology. You can be of great and essential assistance to our efforts.

The West can encourage social interaction and exchange between the youth of our nations and the youth of yours. Notwithstanding the legitimate requirements of security, the impediments against the free movement of persons between us must be removed. Ethnic classification and institutionalized discrimination does not contribute to the future that this global community is trying to build. You must send us your young people and we must send you our own – their social interactions facilitate the lasting exchange of values that we all desire.

The West must look seriously at the issue of sheltering under the guise of dissidence, those who are aiding and abetting terrorists in pursuing their objective of dividing us. Their extreme positions advocate a process that leads to chaos and, in the final analysis, the negation of our efforts to reform.

As representatives of the global community, we must stop talking in abstract terms about what we should or should not do. Let us concentrate instead on the implementation of reform rather than on the obscure intellectual concepts and ideology of it. In short, let us be pragmatic. There are great challenges ahead, and strong forces pulling in opposite directions, but properly managing the dynamic tension between change and preservation is a distinguishing feature of enlightened leadership.