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US forum focuses on ways trade can produce political effects in Mideast

KUNA, Kuwait

U.S. forum focuses on ways trade can produce political effects in Mideast

By Ronald Baygents

5 May 2006

WASHINGTON, May 5 (KUNA) — The importance of trade as a vehicle that can also produce significant political effects was the focus of a Cato Institute briefing on Capitol Hill entitled "Building Foundations for Freedom, Commerce and Peace in the Middle East." During the briefing, the libertarian Cato Institute unveiled its Arabic-language edition of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, copies of which are to be provided to Mideast libraries as well as posted on the Internet, said Tom Palmer, senior fellow at Cato and director of the Jack Byrne Project on Middle East Liberty.

Palmer, who said the challenge of the project is to make liberty a Middle Eastern idea that ultimately leads to everyone being equal before the law, was joined in the briefing by Congressman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who co-chairs the two-month-old Congressional Middle East Economic Partnership Caucus.

Also on the panel was Zainab al-Suwaij, an Iraqi who is executive director of the American Islamic Congress, a non-profit organization founded in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that describes itself as "dedicated to building inter-faith and inter-ethnic understanding." Al-Suwaij said she was honored to be part of the unveiling of the Arabic-language editions of the U.S. Declaration and Constitution, documents she said need to be read in the Arab world so Arabs will know about the rights of U.S. citizens and be able to "see the U.S. in a different way." Palmer, who has made three recent visits to Iraq, said trade offers an avenue to have an impact on the Middle East by offering an alternative to the "ideologies of intolerance and statism." "The Arab world is going to benefit from a greater understanding of liberty, and so will the rest of the world," Palmer said. He noted that the word "liberty" is actually derived from an Iraqi word, "amaji." The idea behind Cato’s Byrne project — which is a private, non-governmental effort — is to give the Arab world "the intellectual tools to begin to reform their own societies," Palmer said. "We cannot do it. They have to." The project involves donating books to Mideast libraries, providing syndicated opinion-editorial pieces to Mideast newspapers, as well as working with Arab bloggers "to get this buzz through the Internet of free ideas," he said.

Many Arabs incorrectly believe it is illegal in the United States to criticize Israel, he said, because many Arabs do not understand a free press.

The Internet can be used to overcome misconceptions, Palmer said, and the Lamp of Liberty web site ( is a place where numerous articles are being posted in Arabic on the topics of liberty, free markets, democratization, individual rights, Middle Eastern affairs, and more — including pieces by Shafeeq Ghabra of American University of Kuwait.

Ryan, who noted that the Congressional Middle East Economic Partnership Caucus is tasked with shepherding through Mideast Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), said the Middle East is a region that Americans must understand better, especially Mideast cultures and Islam. Such understanding can be facilitated through trade, since a "necessary component of trade is trust," Ryan said.

FTAs help facilitate free-market systems, the rule of law, enforceable contracts and transparency, all of which are "pre-conditions" to FTAs, Ryan said. The United States has FTAs with Bahrain, Israel, Jordan and Morocco, and is very close to completing one with Oman, Ryan said.

"We need to get one with Egypt," he said, "which I hope we will get one day.

" U.S. officials do not experience an anti-U.S. backlash when dealing with government officials in countries involved in negotiating FTAs with the United States, Ryan said. Those experiences are felt on the street and on television, he said.

The pace of reform in the Middle East is accelerating rapidly because of FTAs, Ryan said.

"The most peaceful policy in our foreign policy is trade," Ryan said.

Asked by KUNA if the decision by Congress to kill the Dubai Ports World deal was mishandled, Ryan said there was a congressional "overreaction" because of some intelligence that came out that raised security concerns.

"It did not go the right way," he said. "It was handled poorly. But we have got to get it behind us. We need better understandings between our countries." Al-Suwaij, who said she left Iraq for Kuwait two weeks before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, then escaped through Jordan before ending up in the United States, praised Cato for working to provide the Arab world with information to help Arabs understand "equality, freedom, liberty and a free market." This information can help Arabs "develop their lives and their experience," she said.