Academic journal article Insight Turkey

A New Deal for Arab People

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

A New Deal for Arab People

Article excerpt

The anger of the damned is with us once more: the fall and subsequent disappearance of Muammar Gaddafi caps a tumultuous twelve months during which a series of Arab revolts has recast the map of the Middle East. Regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have been ejected by their own people--and the same goes for Libya with massive economic and military help from Qatar and a NATO backed-military operation. Other tyrannies in Syria and Yemen are fighting for survival but the intervention of the Arab League, for decades a monument to immobility and irrelevance, in Damascus suggests that we may be witnessing "the first tangible impact of the Arab uprisings, citizens revolts and revolutions on those Arab elites that still control most governments in the region. Arab regimes may be starting to pay attention to the sentiments and values of their own people, who reject the killings of civilians that has taken place in Syria since March." (1) In Bahrain the minority Sunni rule against a Shia majority has been maintained with Saudi support at the cost of much blood; Morocco, Algeria and Jordan have so far emerged more or less unscathed but predicting what the future holds in store for them is hazardous. In Tunisia a revolution is in the making, in Egypt it looks unlikely the army will surrender its dominant role in security and economic affairs.

When the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt started at the New Year, many commentators in the West failed to understand how young Arabs managed, fairly peacefully and in a matter of weeks to overthrow apparently well entrenched dictators such a Zein el Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. It was not Islam or poverty itself that provoked the uprisings--it was the crushing humiliation that had deprived the majority of Tunisians and Egyptians who are under the age of thirty of the right to assert control over their own lives. "Hiya thawrat karama" (this is a revolution of honour, dignity) shouted the demonstrators in the streets of Sidi Bouzid in the poor uplands of Tunisia. They were fighting the state, its police but also it's Qawadda (the Pimps who build instant fortunes by pillaging state assets), which in both cases included the presidential families and their close allies.

Europe and America's initial failure to show much empathy for Arab people can be explained by the obsessive priority given to security in the aftermath of 9/11, what Shibley Telhami has aptly called "the prism of pain." This reaction fitted into a broader collective spirit of Orientalism in the West which long gave up hope on Arab societies ever joining contemporary trends towards democratization. It is worth recalling the context of the "they hate us for our freedom" crowd who started braying in America a decade ago. They were the heirs of two centuries of western imperial interference in the affairs of the Middle East. In 1995 there were around 1000 English-language books with 'terrorism' in the title but a decade later the number had been multiplied by eleven, opening the door to many fraudsters, fantasists and ideologues. Few of these 'experts' appreciated that Osama Ben Laden's masterstroke was born of serial jihadist failure in the previous decade: the veterans of Afghanistan who returned to launched insurgencies in Algeria (with the connivance of elements in the country's Securite Militaire only too happy to play with fire to retain political control), Egypt and Libya all failed. Algeria paid the heaviest price for defeating the jihadists: enormous material destruction, an estimated 150,000 dead and the loss of 600,000 people, often well educated, who fled the country. Their religious zeal failed to bring down autocrats at home, underestimated the strengths and failed to identify the weaknesses of the Arab security state.

As events keep unfolding, particularity and context must not be cast aside. Too often in recent years the Arab lands have been reduced to a uniform discourse and analysis which well suited those in America such as Bernard Lewis who were trying to convince their political masters that a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam was inevitable. …

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