Even though the event was primarily concerned with the growing business between the US and the Middle East, the rampant Islamist terrorism in the region dominated talks and discussions.
The American Middle East Institute (AMEI) held its 7th annual conference on 28 October in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, featuring a high-level gathering American and Middle East decision makers from leading global companies and influential organisations focused on growing business opportunities between the United States and the countries of the Middle East. The themes discussed included oil and gas, renewables, smart cities and infrastructure, and innovations in the health sector including the latest in pharmaceutical research and development. But the highlight of the event was VIP Sponsors reception dinner held at Pittsburgh’s historic Carnegie Music Hall, which hosted General H. David Petraeus as guest speaker.
Terrorism: an enemy to humanity
The AMEI defines itself as an independent, non-profit organisation headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and focused on building business, educational and cultural ties between the US and the countries of the Middle East. “We believe these kinds of connections represent a powerful form of diplomacy,” the AMEI posts on its website.
The 7th annual conference started with a welcome address by Simin Yazdgerdi Curtis, President and CEO of AMEI, who gave a warm thank you to everyone present. On mention of the former Egyptian Health Minister who now acts as Chair of the AMEI Advisory Council Ismail Salam, Ms Curtis interrupted her welcome address to say that she specially appreciated Dr Salam as a teacher and mentor of whom she learnt more than she did of anybody else. “He is a great addition to the AMEI,” she said, “and has given the institute a huge advantage owing to his pioneering policymaking and strategies.”
Dr Salam then gave the opening talk. He focused on terrorism as a major enemy to humanity. “Terrorism has no home,” he said, “no nationality, and no goal but to spread ruin. It violates all basic human rights and reduces humanity to the lowest in brutality and killing.” He insisted it is the responsibility of all people to fight terrorism.
Dr Salam made special mention of the AMEI conference held in Cairo last June under the sponsorship of Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and presided over by Minister of Industry, Trade, and Investment Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour. “The conference explored opportunities in Egyptian education, industry, and health,” he said. “Visits, direct contact, and cooperation between the Egyptian and American people are the best weapon to battle terrorism. Then everyone can live in peace.”
The evening saw US Retired Army General David H. Petraeus address the VIP Sponsors reception dinner at the Carnegie Music Hall.
General Petraeus is the Chairman of the KKR Global Institute, a Visiting Professor of Public Policy at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College, a Judge Widney Professor at the University of Southern California, a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a member of the advisory boards of several veterans’ organizations. He previously served 37 years in the US military, including as commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and as commander of the US Central Command. Following retirement from the military in August 2011, he served for 14 months as the Director of the CIA. General Petraeus has received numerous US military, State Department, NATO and United Nations awards and decorations; and was also decorated by 13 foreign countries.
Addressing an audience of some 850 attendees at Carnegie Music Hall, General Petraeus said that despite the threat of ISIL and governmental instability in the region, opportunity is strong for American entrepreneurs and companies.
“I think it’s an open door, but there are clearly many, many challenges,” he said citing the mixed results of the Arab Spring. “There are numerous opportunities in those countries, far beyond the obvious ones in the energy sector.”
He continued, “These are vibrant, growing populations. They are economies that are diversifying in various sectors.”
The general’s talk was titled, “A Way Forward: Hope and Opportunity in the Middle East.” Ms Curtis said the General’s talk was “a practical and sophisticated outline for a stronger, deeper relationship with friends in the Middle East.”
Predictably, the discussion turned to ISIL. General Petraeus said that ISIL was an extension to al-Qaeda, and that the civil war in Syria had given them an opportunity for unprecedented experience and growth. They were able to gather a lot of money and they captured huge amounts of arms so that they now own extraordinary resources.
In Iraq, the General said, the years of exclusion of Sunni Iraqis drove them to initially welcome ISIL. It was a huge error on the part of the Iraqi political leadership, he said, to remove qualified military ranks on account of their being Sunni, and replace them with lesser qualified Shia. The leadership hierarchy was effectively broken, he said.
To the recurrent question of how to defeat ISIL, General Petraeus said several factors should come into play, major among them is the pivotal role to be taken by the important countries in the region as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Sectarian conflict should be ended, he said, especially in Iraq, through politically balanced policies.
Americans should understand, he said, that the Middle East cannot be reduced to merely a source of oil but is a region that holds economic and political strategic importance for the entire world.
Perhaps most impressive, however, was the General’s vocal desire to see an end to the suffering of wars, the injured and the dead. Coming from a man of war, it was a strong indication of how bitter the harvest has been to humanity.
9 November 2014