Mai Yamani: 'Palestine is no excuse for a failure to reform'

From a speech by the Chatham House researcher to an Oxfam conference at Loughborough University
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For years Arab governments have trumpeted their standard line about reform. We want reform - but until the Palestinian issue is settled, we can't have any. Why not? This particular fig leaf has now worn pathetically thin. Reform in the Arab world has nothing to do with the state of the Palestinians - about whom most of the governments care precious little. It has far more to do with their desperate attempts to cling to power - and the paralysis in the system they created.

For years Arab governments have trumpeted their standard line about reform. We want reform - but until the Palestinian issue is settled, we can't have any. Why not? This particular fig leaf has now worn pathetically thin. Reform in the Arab world has nothing to do with the state of the Palestinians - about whom most of the governments care precious little. It has far more to do with their desperate attempts to cling to power - and the paralysis in the system they created.

Don't accept western armchair apologists who justify discrimination and repression by saying it was once like that everywhere. I can't tell you how many times I have heard apparently well-meaning commentators saying, the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia is no worse than Victorian England. These women want jobs and rights and they're screaming for change. Now.

Don't accept the view that Islam is incompatible with democracy. Nor with basic human rights. People everywhere want dignity, equality and respect for their rights. Don't forget these governments have signed the same international agreements as we have in this country. Insist they keep them. The more you can pursue and investigate the truth in these countries, the more pressure you will bring to bear for genuine change.

Support the efforts of groups - like the Arab Business Council - calling for reform and an end to the culture of victimology. Reach out to those few rulers - like the Emir of Qatar - who are prepared to address the painful realities of the Arab world.

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