Six Stories of Hope in the Middle East

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. It is hard listening to any news it seems coming from the Middle East, especially these days. Just when you think things couldn't get any worse and less certain, they do. But hang on, Max Fisher recently wrote a Washington Post blog about six pieces of good news from the Mideast and, Max, in fairness and balance, we should probably give you more than four minutes to talk about these stories, considering all the time we spend on bad news. You've got some news items from Iran, the UAE, Libya and the Palestinian and Kurdish territories. Give us the good news sweep of a few of these places if you would.

Max Fisher: Yeah, so it turns out the Middle East is not all suffering in death and pain. I actually found six pieces of pretty reasonably good news in the Middle East just in the last week. The really big one is Iran. A new president, Hassan Rouhani, was inaugurated earlier this month and he has been sending just one signal after another that he wants peace, he wants compromise with the US. I mean, of course, easier said than done, there are a lot of hurdles left, but just earlier today, UN diplomat Jeffrey Feltman, is formerly a US diplomat, went and met with the foreign minister…lots of smiling, lots of glad handing, so that was a great sign.

Werman: Yeah, smiling, glad handing, that's a good thing.

Fisher: Right, yeah, we're getting somewhere.

Werman: Can't be a bad thing.

Fisher: Right.

Werman: What else is good news for you coming from the Mideast?

Fisher: So Libya is slowly inching towards stability and a political transition towards democracy. They just approved a new election law, they're gradually moving towards holding an election in December. That's good news for a country that very badly needs it. And the Israel-Palestine talks, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just signaled that he would yield a little bit the right of return, which is a longstanding Palestinian demand. Not everybody in the Palestinian territories is thrilled about this, but is an important step toward a peace deal with Israel. You've also got Kurdish groups coming together and scheduling a summit for the first time ever. You also have United Arab Emirates hosting a big effort for environmental sustainability, which is something that the region really needs in the long term.

Werman: You know, if the trend of bad news could be summer up by the Arab Spring wasn't all it was cracked up to be and now countries are really struggling with revolution, and some of them in a really bloody way, what do you think these stories kind of represent as the corollary to that bad news, that really bad news right now?

Fisher: I think it tells you that there are still people in the middle east who see the difficult steps they need to take towards political reconciliation, towards finding a kind of long term solution to these really difficult entrenched problems. And that they're willing to take steps and risks to get there.

Werman: I mean as I look at the headline for Libya, I mean it seems to kind of encapsulate what some of the other headlines are, which is it's not as sucky as you think. I know it's all relative, but it's not necessarily good news. Did you find as you were kind of like constructing the survey of good news from the Mideast that it was like looking for a needle in a haystack and finding that the needle actually looks a lot like a piece of hay?

Fisher: Yeah, I mean it's definitely this is all good news because it's in the Middle East, you know, and it's all relative. And if these things were happening in any other regions we would think okay, maybe it's not that exciting, but I think that there is always this undercurrent of for all of the really negative trends and for all of the really horrible things that are happening in the region, there are constantly people who are making these steps towards progress.

Werman: I'm just wondering for you personally too, Max, I mean how do you wade through the daily muck of the Mideast and not get totally despondent? Was this survey of say pretty good news stories a pretty good anecdote for you personally?

Fisher: That was actually why I did it because I have failed at not becoming despondent at covering the Middle East. It's really hard to follow what's happening in Egypt, what's happening in Syria and to not really feel kind of affected by it. It can be really discouraging to see one, you know, report of chemical warfare or military crackdown in Egypt after another. And I think it is important to remember that it's not all bad…if only for our own emotional health and wellbeing.

Werman: Well, try and keep a sunny side up, Max. Max Fisher, The Washington Post foreign affairs blogger, thank you for joining us.

Fisher: Thank you.