Khouri talks relations between United States, Middle East
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
Internationally syndicated political columnist and editor-at-large of Beirut’s “Daily Star” newspaper Rami Khouri discussed relations between the United States and the Middle East, women’s roles in the region and the effects of U.S. foreign policy there at a Wednesday night lecture in Mitchell Hall.
Communication professor Ralph Begleiter moderated the event and said the relationship between the United States and the Middle East has been eventful over the past several years.
“There are lots of places in the world where the influence of the United States is felt, but I think it’s fair to say there is no other place where the U.S. role is more pervasive, more controversial or more in demand than the Middle East,” Begleiter said.
Khouri, who is also the director of the Issam Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, said this is a time of change in the Middle East and the United States has been a significant part of it. He said it is important to consider different viewpoints in order to understand the relationship between the Middle East and the United States.
The role of the United States in the Middle East and the mutual perceptions of people in the two regions are extremely important, Khouri said.
“But it’s also incredibly complicated, and it gets more complicated every year,” Khouri said.
American citizens have mixed views of women’s roles in the Middle East, Khouri said, in which there is a perception that Middle Eastern women are “oppressed” and forced to wear modest clothes, such as a burqas or hijabs.
While some women in the region must wear conservative clothes, most women actively choose what to wear and might voluntarily wear modest clothing, Khouri said. The majority of women have the same rights as men in Middle Eastern countries, though in some cases, countries may restrict what women can do, such as the women’s driving ban in Saudi Arabia, he said.
Saudi Arabia is the only country that currently forbids women from driving. Though there is no law stopping women from driving, the ban is enforced through religious fatwa. Recently, 3,000 Saudi citizens signed a petition to end the women’s driving ban. The Shoura Council, the formal advisory board to the Saudi monarchy, has accepted the petition and plans to discuss the issue, according to Arab News Daily.
Senior International Relations major Lindsay Romano said while she did not agree with everything Khouri said, she appreciated his viewpoint and was glad to hear him speak. She said hearing the point of view from someone from the Middle East gave her hope for what is possible in the future for mutual understanding.
While Romano said she was not surprised by the content of the talk but was surprised Khouri downplayed some issues women face living in Arab countries. She was not expecting the topic of women’s role in the Middle East to overshadow other issues, such as the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
“I expected him to talk more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Romano said. “I thought it would be discussed a lot more, but it didn’t come up as much in comparison to other topics.”
Khouri said approval rates for the United States are very low in places like Pakistan and Palestine. He said the United States has always been pro-Israel—a fact that has damaged its relationship with Palestine.
Although Khouri said the United States often has flaws in its relations with some Middle Eastern countries, he said he is impressed by its progress. Few countries have begun with limited rights for less privileged citizens and evolved into a democracy like the system in the United States.
Khouri said the United States seriously impacts the way the Middle Eastern countries govern themselves. Policies over the past 50 years have caused tension and conflict within the Middle East, whether the United States was indirectly or directly involved, he said.
“We don’t send our armies to the U.S., the U.S. sends their armies to us,” Khouri said. “The U.S. is a dynamic, active power in the Arab world the way the Arab world is not in the United States.”