I returned Wednesday from Orlando where I attended a meeting known as the Fidelity Executive Forum. Each year, Fidelity invites a group of successful advisors from around the country, along with the Fidelity executive team, to hear from an impressive array of speakers. This year was no exception and there were many noteworthy speakers. However, three speakers really stood out and were in a terrific position to present their views on recent developments in the Middle East. In fact, our meeting began on Monday morning, which you may recall was the day after Osama Bin Laden was killed.
Fareed Zakaria, CNN host and columnist for the Washington Post was first up. He talked about, naturally, the death of Osama Bin Laden, suggesting that his death was a big deal for the United States but that his time and that of Al Qaeda in general has passed. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda were initially founded with the intent to overthrow the Saudi Government. Their animosity to the U.S. arose because of our support of the Saudis. With the revolutionary changes that seem to be sweeping the middle east, this surge of independence by the citizens in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and others is pushing aside the need for groups like Al Qaeda to be involved as local citizens are taking matters into their own hands. He also opined that, in general, the protestors had no interest in any sort of theocracy or Islamic state rule.
Zakaria also suggested that these uprisings and governmental changes would move these Middle Eastern countries toward more democratic political systems, which would eventually result in their economies joining the modern world. Because of their oppressive political systems and heavy handed governments, these countries and their economies have lagged other developing markets in economic growth. While he did not suggest that it will be easy or predictable, he feels that, over time, these protests will lead to new governments and eventually, to greater economic growth to support the development and modernization of their economies.
Following Zakaria, former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright talked about this same theme, cautioning patience with the uncertainty and saying, “Democracy is always a process, not an event.”
Finally, former President Bill Clinton spoke about the continuing conflict between the Palestinians and Israel. He found it instructive that through the entire period of what is being called the “Arab Spring,” that there had been no mention of Israel in any of the protests in the Arab countries involved. He feels that the Israeli situation is a local issue mostly between Israel and the Palestinians. This helps to limit the number of interested parties; perhaps making a settlement more likely (although he does not necessarily expect a speedy solution).
These interesting and timely observations might lead us to a more optimistic appraisal of the ongoing civil disruptions and their eventual resolutions.