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Exclusive Interview

Fareed Zakaria

GPS tracking of the Middle East, China and Indonesia

es one of the hottest names and faces on global television. But followers of world affairs dont tune in to CNNs Fareed Zakaria GPS just to admire his suave demeanor and captivating smile. Zakaria, who is also an editor at large at TIME magazine, is a leading geopolitical analyst and columnist, who can talk in detail about the Middle East, China, the Obama Administrations domestic battles, or Islamic radicalism at the flick of a switch. More importantly, he puts his analysis into a context that the average person can understand, and explains to them why it is important. Since leaving Newsweek magazine in 2010, where he was a columnist and editor of its international edition, Zakarias world has been a non-stop whirlwind of hosting his

show, writing analysis pieces for TIME and The Washington Post, and traveling to hotspots around the world to get the facts on the ground. Rushing to his next appointment at his home base in New York City, Zakaria took time out to speak by telephone with Strategic Reviews Joe Cochrane in Jakarta: What is your latest assessment of the situations in Egypt and Libya and the status of the Arab Spring as a whole? Is it still alive and well or getting bogged down? Theres no question that its now into the second phase, which is a phase of implementation and consolidation, which is much more difficult. But I remain optimistic. If you look at the revolutions of 1848 in Europe - which are the closest comparisons

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GPS tracking of the Middle East, China and Indonesia

one can make - by 1850 it looked like they had all been defeated. The kings had asserted themselves, the militaries had sided with the regimes. But then what you saw was the process that it unleashed of expectations of reform, of new standards for legitimacy which had to be met in various ways. And over the next decades all these European countries started having to reform. I suspect something similar is going to happen in the Arab world. The hope that youre going to get a kind of instant democracy everywhere of course is not going to be fulfilled. But if you look under the surface, what you see is very important constitutional reforms taking place in Morocco; potentially Egypt will be settled because it will have elections, it will have a new constitution. Tunisia similarly. Then you have the very complicated cases of Eritrea, Yemen and Syria, which are all transitional stories. There are clearly places where there has simply been a consolidation of power, mainly in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. But if you think about it in those terms, in terms of the numbers of people forget the states - youre getting close to the point where you can say the majority of the Arab population is going to have some kind of significant shift in their political structure. Because while Saudi Arabia is very rich, the people of the Arab world are in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, and those places are all moving or have moved. And if you compare this to, say, 10 years ago, youre going to see a Middle East in which the majority of the people are living in some form of democracy. Does Former US President George W Bush deserve any credit for the changes taking place in the Middle East, given that

his administration wanted to shake up the entrenched regimes there through its invasion of Iraq? I do think he deserves credit. I think that Iraq will remain a very complicated question because the manner in which it was done, and the implementation of lies surrounding the invasion turned it into a much more controversial issue. But lets take the broader point, which is that Bush recognized that Americas support for these dictatorships was at the heart of the rise of Al Qaeda, because these extremely repressive dictatorships had spawned anti-American, jihadi, violent opposition movements. He highlighted the problem and he began setting about trying to push these regimes Mubarak (in Egypt) to the Jordanians to open up, then of course trying to do the game-changing move with the invasion of Iraq and the thing with Saddam Hussein. Broadly speaking, that effort had the effect of making the Arab dictatorships realize that they could no longer count on unqualified American support. And I think it made the democratic opposition movements realize the same thing, so when people went out on the streets in Egypt and Tunisia, they knew that these regimes were not going to get the complete and unqualified backing of the United States. So I think Bush deserves a lot of credit for beginning that process. I think the UN with its Arab Human Development Report deserves a lot of credit. I think (US President Barack) Obama deserves a lot of credit for the Cairo speech and similar kinds of outreach. So I do think it is basically a shift in US policy and a withdrawal of that unconditional support for the Arab dictatorships that played a significant role.

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But lets always remember that the lions share of the credit, or the causation, has to go the people of the Middle East. By the end of the Egyptian revolution, you had eight million people on the streets in Egypt. That is 10 percent of the population. With non-violent pro-democracy protests, you had eight million people out by the end. How should Muslims outside the Middle East, such as in Indonesia and Malaysia, view whats happening there. Should they be concerned, or should they be happy about it? Oh I think Indonesia and Southeast Asia should be happy because in a way, Southeast Asia was the back-breaker, because Southeast Asia showed that you could be Islamic and you could be democratic, and there was no contradiction between the two. And that you could be Islamic and be modern, and be reform-minded and hooked into the global economy, and there was no contradiction with that. For a long time there was a sense that there was something about Islam that was incompatible with modernity itself. And what the Southeast Asian experience showed the world, but also showed Muslims, was that it was possible to be a good Muslim and to be modern. And I think that the Indonesian example is perhaps the most important one, because Indonesia is large, diverse, its complex, it had Islamic fundamentalist movements within it. So it contained within it all the complications, all the contradictions that you might imagine. So the Arabs are left thinking to themselves, If the Indonesians can do it, why cant we? I think Indonesia has an incredibly powerful, positive role in this whole process.

Are there any potential negative consequences for Southeast Asia based on what is happening in the Middle East? Could local radical groups be emboldened to rise up in Southeast Asia? It seems that theyve actually be cowed somewhat by the democracy movements. I think you are right, but I also think we should not be scared if we see some flare-ups. And there again, the Indonesian example is very useful. Right after Soeharto was toppled, there was so much pessimism about Indonesia. People said this is not even a country; the Dutch colonized it, its hundreds of islands. People talked about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of Jemaah Islamiyah and things like that. And there were some flare-ups. When you uncork a bottle that has been bottled up for so long, you sometimes see some of these tensions that have always been simmering. But it doesnt mean that theyre going to dominate society. So you will see some Islamist movements that were illegal or banned, flourishing. But then they have to compete for the attention of the people, and they have to have answers and they have to have solutions to the states problems. And most of these Islamic parties dont all they peddle is fear and anger and hatred. At the end of the day, people dont want that. They want their kids to have a better life than they do. So I think the Indonesian example tells you that over time, the virtue of a democracy is that there are balancing and counter-balancing movements in large societies; that, yes, there will be strains of Islamism and radicalism, but there will be more powerful strains of moderation that will overwhelm in the long run.

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Do you think the United States and Europe are focusing too much of their time and energy on the Middle East at the neglect of Asia, given that in the 21st century economic power has and will continue to shift to Asia? Or is the balance still OK? A very, very good question. I think that the Obama Administration clearly came into power determined to rebalance American foreign policy toward Asia. Then the Arab Spring hit. The way I would describe it is they are trying to deal with a kind of world historical event that has taken place and to push it in the right direction, and to take advantage of the opportunity for creating reform. But they are still focused in the long run on Asia, and if you look at the resources being devoted and the diplomatic attention being devoted, what you see is Asia is getting a big upgrade and that continues to happen. The media headlines will tend to actually be about the Arab Spring there are three civil wars going on in the Arab world right now in Yemen, Syria and Libya and you know as well as I do that that is going to drive media coverage and media headlines. But I think the diplomatic attention of the United States remains focused the 21st century is going to be a Pacific century and the United States needs to maintain and enhance its standing. Whats your view on Indonesias emerging economy and democratic consolidation? The country seems to be the flavor of the month internationally. Indonesia is the flavor of the month, but sometimes the flavor of the month is the flavor of the month for a good reason. I think Indonesia has managed to achieve some impressive accomplishments over the last decade: a consolidation of democracy,

political stability, the management of problems like Aceh in a productive and constructive way, and an impressive macroeconomic performance. Indonesias debt as a percentage of GDP has gone from 100 percent to 30 percent at a time when Western countries are making the opposite journey. So I think theres a lot to be proud of. Naturally, I think, looking at it from the outside, and looking at it objectively, the reform process is going slower than it should, some very powerful pro-reform forces have been sidelined, and thats unfortunate. But Im not one of these people who feels that everything has to move at hyper-speed always. Societies take time to digest change, and with the context of a democracy, as long as the arrow is pointing in the right direction and there is movement, you dont have to be traveling at 100 miles per hour. I think that what Indonesia has been able to achieve is impressive. I think there seems to be continuing commitment to move forward. I wish that there were more, particularly on the issue of corruption and breaking up that kind of oligarchic capitalism. Breaking that up, I think it would both unleash a new wave of growth in Indonesia but also make the Indonesian people feel they were in a country where the playing field was fair and level. Thats the big challenge Indonesia faces. Theres still the feeling the system is rigged: if you have connections you are going to become a billionaire. If you dont, there arent too many ladders up for you. I think if that could be addressed, more than anything else it would help the economics of the country, and it would also help the politics. Does that make me overall pessimistic about the country? No, Im still bullish on Indonesia.

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