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Former President Clinton Addresses Mideast

Former President Clinton Addresses Mideast 'Prosperity' Conference Co-Sponsored by UCLA Burkle Center

Speaking before high-level international delegations in Doha, Qatar, Clinton urges economic diversification in Middle East, advancement of women in workforce.

Assembled from news reports.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton Jan. 30 in Doha, Qatar, urged Middle Eastern nations to use oil and gas revenues to pursue lasting economic growth and opportunity for all of their citizens. Clinton addressed the opening session of a conference on "The Power of Prosperity: An Opportunity for Growth, Development, and Reform in the Middle East," sponsored by the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UCLA Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations.

The Jan. 29–31 conference focused on key economic issues facing the Middle East. High petroleum prices, Iraq's post-war reconstruction, and the emergence of Asian nations as major consumers of energy set the backdrop for discussions by invited speakers and specialty panels meeting in the Doha Ritz-Carlton. Participants included high-level public and private sector delegations from the Middle East and other Arab states, China, India, Japan, Israel, Europe and the United States. The Burkle Center will publish a report on policy recommendations arrived at during the conference.

His Excellency Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani, Qatar's first deputy prime minister and foreign minister, spoke just before Clinton at the opening session chaired by U.S. Gen. Anthony Zinni (retired). Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim stressed the importance of economic and social stability for regional development. He called for "the powerful countries of the world" to undertake "serious work" to resolve regional crises, according to an official conference website. He also reportedly touted Qatar's progress in involving women in government ministries and promised that the next five years would see continued progress for women.

Clinton called for greater inclusion of women in the workforce, especially in skilled jobs, as part of a broad plan for advancing Middle Eastern economic development. He said that expanded educational opportunities for women and young people could improve productivity by making use of each nation's intellectual capital. Other recommendations in Clinton's six-point plan for the region's economy involved making new infrastructural and capital investment in diverse economic sectors; developing regulatory structures to promote small business, job creation, economic diversity, and the strengthening of the middle class; guaranteeing more consumer capacity through the creation of minimum wage policies and unemployment insurance; and expanding the capacity of countries to offer business education.

Clinton on Anti-Islamic Prejudice

In his speech, Clinton warned against rising anti-Islamic prejudice. "None of us are totally free of stereotypes about people of different races, different ethnic groups, and different religions," he said.

Clinton cited the "appalling" example of 12 editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were published on Sept. 30, 2005, in a Danish newspaper. In one cartoon, Muhammad wears a bomb-shaped turban. A furor erupted over the cartoons in parts of the Muslim world—any depiction of Muhammad being viewed as promoting idolatry—and led to official protests, boycotts of Danish goods, and a Jan. 30 statement from the European Union defending the Danish government and freedom of the press.

"So now what are we going to do? … Replace the anti-Semitic prejudice with anti-Islamic prejudice?" Clinton said.

Clinton denounced a tendency to apply media images of Islamic militancy to "a whole faith, a whole region, and a whole people."

Responding to the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections, Clinton said that the United States should "continue to be heavily involved" in efforts to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian crisis. However, he said that U.S. engagement "depends in part on what Hamas says and does."