Leader speaks at U about internal reform for Arabs

Mohamad Elmasry

ew topics are higher on the world agenda than reform in the Arab world, said Ismail Serageldin, who is director of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. Serageldin spoke on Thursday to a group of approximately 130 people at the Cowles Auditorium in the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Arabs reject the idea of an Arab reform movement led by the United States, Serageldin said. He said that reform must come from within the Arab world. When the United States declared its intent to bring regime changes to the Arab world, the simmering in that area went to a boil, he said. Serageldin’s aide, Shady Arafa, said Arabs want to be leaders of their own reform movement, “not just obliged followers.” Serageldin called upon the United States to help the Arab world engage with the rest of the world. But he said the United States should “not try to impose on (Arabs) a new form of tutelage.” Serageldin said that as part of the Arab reform movement, science must be elevated. Arab and Muslim history have rich scientific traditions and have helped spawn the renaissance in Europe, he said. “We will create (the new) Arab renaissance,” Serageldin said. Arab citizens must play a key role in the reform process, he said. Currently everything is left to governments in the Arab world, and the public acts as a spectator, he said. “It’s time for the spectators to become engaged citizens,” Serageldin said. The litmus test for reform in the Arab world is the issue of the status of women, he said. No arguments regarding customs can be made to discriminate against women, Serageldin said. Educating women and putting them on equal footing with men is important, he said. Reforms are already underway in Egypt, Serageldin said. “There is a civil society in the making,” he said. One obstacle to reform in the Arab world is radical Islamist groups that want theocratic governance, he said. There is fanatical ranting condemning “the new” in the Arab world, he said. But Adeel Ahmed, a graduate student in the Humphrey Institute, said he thought Serageldin was somewhat harsh toward Islamists. “(He) was much too often broad, brushing Islamists in a very negative light, portraying them as if they are like the Taliban and want to go back to the seventh century,” Ahmed said. Humphrey Institute student Andrea Swanson said she liked the breadth of Serageldin’s topics. “There are so many misconceptions about relationships between America and other countries, specifically the Middle East,” Swanson said. “A lot of that has to do with poor understanding on our part of other cultures.” Humphrey Institute Dean Brian Atwood said Serageldin’s speech confounded every stereotype that exists about Arabs. In March 2004, Serageldin and the Library of Alexandria organized a conference to discuss the reforms needed to develop Arab societies. The conference produced the Alexandria Statement, a document about the vision and implementation of Arab reform.