Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates Visits Hockaday


On Friday, Oct. 21, Ambassador of the UAE, His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba, visited Hockaday to speak to students. These students included those from Hockaday, Ursuline Academy, Brighter Horizons Academy, North Hills Preparatory and Hurst-Euless-Bedford I.S.D, all schools that are affiliated with Junior World Affairs Council, an organization founded by the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth.

In this interview conducted by the President of the World Affairs Council Jim Falk, Ambassador Otaiba answered a wide variety of questions ranging from the UAE’s involvement in Yemen to President Obama’s lack of use of the phrase “Islamic terrorism.”

Read an excerpt of the dialogue below, and click here to listen to the interview in its entirety.

Jim Falk: All of us are looking forward to Nov. 9, just because it’ll be over. I suspect you’re a little fatigued about answering these questions on the election, but I want to take it a different way. How do you explain to you colleagues back in the UAE what is happening here?

Ambassador: It’s very difficult. It’s tough. It’s tough because I think people’s view of the United States from outside is that this country is very strong. This country is very powerful. Your economy, your military, your size and geography, and you mean to tell us that this is the best your country can produce? Or how is Donald Trump, someone who has no political experience, whatever the political view is, Donald Trump has not been in government, has not been a political, has not run a major government entity before. So they’re like, how is this guy who has no government experience, suddenly the party’s nominee? This is something that is hard to understand outside the U.S. There’s a lot of confusion, and people ask me to explain this, and I say what I just told you. It doesn’t mean that people understand it.

JF: Why is your country involved in Yemen and what are the strategic interests?

A: It’s very important to understand the why piece because I think we’ve not done a very good job explaining it. When you read articles in the press in the west about what we’re doing in Yemen, it’s often either misunderstood or mischaracterized. We went into Yemen because were asked by the legitimate government of Yemen when the Houthi rebels, who are a tribe of about fifteen thousand, basically overtook a vast, vast majority of the country. The government of Yemen fled to Saudi Arabia, they asked the Gulf Cooperation Council to intervene, we went to the national security council and we got resolution 2216, giving us authority to support the legitimate government of Yemen, so that was the context in which we entered into Yemen. Let me take a step back. In the UAE we have two threats. One is Iran and Iran’s behavior, and two is extremism and radicals like Al Qaeda and ISIS. In Yemen we’re fighting both. We’re fighting a group called the Houthis, who are supported by Iran, and we are fighting Al Qaeda and Isis. Both threats manifest themselves in this country called Yemen, which happens happens to be on the border of Saudi Arabia. Why is Saudi Arabia important? Because it hosts Mecca and Medina, and these are the two most important cities in Islam period. So that country remaining stable is imperative to the stability of the region. No matter what happens in Iraq, Tunisia or in Syria, it’s nothing compared to what could happen if Saudi Arabia is not stable. What could potentially happen in Yemen, having extremist going through the border to saudi, having an Iranian bad group infiltrate into saudi, could be a catastrophe. So Yemen to us was a red line, and we had to entire Yemen to protect another Arab state falling further under Iranian influence.

JF: You mention extremism, and yesterday I was reading one of your op-ed pieces in the Wall-Street Journal called “The Moderate Middle East Must Act.” President obama has been criticized for not using the term “Islamic extremist,” but you did in that piece, and I was wondering if you might elaborate a bit more on that.

A: I do understand the president’s argument where we don’t want to called them “Islamic” because we might offend millions of Muslims who don’t see these groups as a part of their religion, and that’s fair. But I think that it’s also a very political issue. We don’t have a problem with what we call them in the Middle East. We can call them “Islamic terrorists,” or “terrorists,” or “extremists,” because we know who we’re talking about, and having a difference in the label doesn’t really matter much when you’re in Abu Dhabi or in Cairo. I think here it has more a political context and I understand why the presidents do it, but it’s only an issue in America.

JF: We’re at a situation right now where you’re beginning to see a real campaign to take over Mosul. Is this the beginning of the end of ISIS? Can we feel comfortable about that?

A: I am confident we are going to defeat ISIS. Mosle now, Raqqa will come later, other places will come later, but I have full confidence that ISIS will be destroyed. I’m not worried about that. What I am worried about is, what happens after we defeat ISIS? Do we pack our bags and go home and we declare victory and we have a parade? We say our job is done? Because if we do that, I promise you in two or three years we’re going to have another ISIS. We can’t just focus on the group and say we’re going to eliminate one group and then walk away. This is about extremism. This is about an ideology of hate. This is about people who grow up to believe that if you don’t think like them, then you are wrong, and then I have to kill you. So we have to deal with that ideology. And that ideology comes across in many different groups and forms. It’s not just ISIS. ISIS I think is the latest reiteration and arguably the most dangerous, but groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, people who believe that they want to project power based on a religious platform, is very dangerous to us and our interests and values because those are not the values that we were brought up with. We were brought up that religion is a personal issue, that it’s between you and your god.

JF: Why do you think so many youth from say, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, have gone to ISIS?

A: I think generally people go to ISIS or go to groups when they have nowhere else to go. If people have hope in their own future, if people can imagine and dream that in a year or two I’m going to be here, or I’m going to be there, the chances of them going to ISIS are very small. If you can educate, if you can create a path where there’s a positive future, you’re fine. I think the people who go to ISIS are those who cannot imagine their future. They see the doors are closed or they can’t get a job or they can’t go to school or they can’t get married and can’t raise a family, that’s when things start to look more interesting them.

Cheryl Hao – Asst. Web