Monday, 31 January 2011

Welcome to the Arab World: "Under New Management"

On June 9th 1967; and in the aftermath of the six day war, President Nasser of Egypt went on television and announced his resignation from the presidency to the Egyptian people, holding full responsibility of the Arab defeat in the war; even before he had finished his speech, thousands of Egyptians invaded the streets across the country expressing their rejection of that resignation and their collective trust in Nasser, even after his leadership caused The worst and most humiliating defeat in history.

On the personal level, I'm not a great fan of Nasser's school of politics, but historical credibility has to give the man the justice in noting his personal integrity. The reason I'm mentioning this piece of history is its contrast with what is currently taking place in Egypt; Thousands have been protesting across the country for the 7th straight day calling for the resignation of Hosni Mubarak from office, and yet; he's refusing, despite the increasing number of protesters, and the joining of multiple representatives of the Egyptian social mosaic in the calls to his resignation: from representatives of the judiciary, to academics, to artists, to religious leaders, which gives a greater momentum to the movement with every passing day. There's a popular consensus on the rejection of Mubarak's remain in office, and this consensus is a declaration of popular divorce with the political system, The Egyptian regime lost the popular respect long before the events began last Tuesday, but it has sealed its fate -inadvertently- when the social contract between the people and the government was broken with the abandonment of the police and public security personnel of their responsibilities as soon as they felt their own security was at risk, rather than the people's.

The marvel of this revolt is that it is a totally spontaneous outburst of over-bottled feelings of injustice, fed across generations of political destitution, it was impossible to predict, nor does it have a limit to its aspirations; it is not the revolt of the political elite in which political bargain is laid on the table for the parties to discuss, but rather a revolt of the inexperienced youth on the status quo, with the full intent to change everything and everyone within their definition of the "status quo" which includes whole regimes, a historical precedence in Arab history. In 1968, the student revolt in France caused an infection similar to the Tunisian revolt across the world, despite France's historic pride in being the cradle of popular revolutions; that revolt managed to rock the stable boat of De Gaulle's 5th Republic, to the extent of forcing De Gaulle himself to briefly flee the country -which I think was what Bin Ali had in mind for a the first 5 minutes- and the dissolve of parliament and the call for new elections.

They say that History is the cruelest of all judges, Mubarak's days as president are numbered, and he's certainly not helping his own historical biography with his mulish behaviour. But the bottom line remains that 11 years into the 21st century, it's about time for Arab change to begin, from the least expected sector, in the least expected manner, taking the least expected amount of time, answering yet redefining Condi Rice's prediction of the emergence of a New Middle East, with the Lebanon war of 2006 as its Birth Pangs, but the new born seems to have surprised even the best doctors in the world, with its belonging to its biological parents, rather than its prospective adopters.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Winter of Discontent

The opening line of William Shakespeare's Richard III reads "Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this sun of York", and if one is allowed to borrow the phrase, I would replace York with Tunis, Cairo and any coming cities where the Sun of glorious change is yet to shine.

There's a concept of political thought called Popular Sovereignty, it's simply an exercise of popular will, and although it's a pillar of western democracy explained through the writings of the fathers of the Political philosophy; Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, it's a universal act of human behaviour against dictatorship and oppression of human dignity; it was used during both the American and French revolutions 200 years ago and has gained its practical meaning through those two examples. But the most important reason for the exercise of this popular power is the belief in the failure of other more conventional forms of sovereignty; nations usually legitimize their political system through parliaments, which -theoretically- are chosen by the people to represent their interests through the various channels of the political process through what is called parliamentary sovereignty, which -in most Arab states- is a puppet in the hand of the top ruler and an extension to his sole power, giving false legitimacy to the regime. but when the people decide to deny that trust and break the fortified barrier of authority, popular sovereignty becomes the delegitimizing force to any political system and the engine that powers the collective will of the people, and through it, people express the long forgotten cliché printed in most constitutions "The people is the source of all powers" and it actually comes into play, with calls like "الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام" The people wants to overthrow the regime, used in Egypt as we speak, a reuse of Tunisia's original call to overthrow the post Bin Ali government.

The Egyptians are the barometer of the Arab conscience; for the better part of the 20th century, Egypt was the center of Arab nationalism until the Camp David accords of 1979, and the public movement of the Egyptian people has always been the trigger for other movements across the Arab world, but this time; Tunisia took the world by surprise and heralded the era of popular sovereignty conquering rusty regimes that have been in power for decades; powered by youth with ages averaging the age of the regimes themselves and powered by their sheer enthusiasm to change using the Internet and social networks to organize their movement.

The most notable hallmark of these movements is their lack of defined leadership, despite the existence of the multiple colors of the political spectrum in their midst, the youth movement is reminiscent to the movements witnessed in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s which resulted in the collapse of the Eastern block, the other notable hallmark is that they're not by any means the movements of the less advantaged, but rather of those belonging to internet savvy, educated middle class backgrounds; the backbone of the economic and social movement in any given nation. On the other hand, the main players in the political system are known for their old age and long-term chronic physical illnesses; experience can never match enthusiasm, it is physically incapable of matching the speed with which the will of change sweeps across the streets, they can oppress it with force, but this will only cause it to explode with greater vigor. The strength and power of despotism consists wholly in the fear of resistance.

The lesson always overlooked by authoritarians is that sovereignty does not belong to the greater or stronger, it belongs to the people; to the daring small and the fearless few, and those who dare challenge their reality, are destined to control their future.

It is especially entertaining to read the clueless reactions of the US and Israel.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

On The Demise of Nations

There's a certain inevitability in the cycle of life of all living things, and since man is a living thing, everything he creates is affected by a Medusa kind of curse, one which condemns its fate, and seals it with a predetermined life span; it is us humans, who have the power to prolong or shorten the life span of our creations, whether these creation are materially tangible, like buildings or railways, or intangible in essence but existent in reality, like companies, banks, or nations.

I've come across an interesting article by an Indian Doctor named Gaurang Bhatt titled "Idiot Leaders Cause Demise of Nations" a straight forward title that needs no introduction or interpretation; The article tackles the political history of India from the rise of the moguls to the partition of 1949, but since human nature is one and the same, it can be used to draw lessons and/or find similarities across the globe. He argues that there are clear tell-tales of any given nation's ominous fall, and these include The lust for power, delusions of grandeur, lack of foresight and indifference to national cohesion, among other factors.

Some nations are to an extent immune from the follies of their leaders, and those are old world nations which have existed for millennia, and passed through the hands of dozens of leaders, decent and decedent, and yet rose from under the proverbial ashes, because their anthropological and geopolitical circumstances have willed them to be constant nations, rather than temporary states, but the game of ethnic or religious tension is always a tool of creating a schism through any society; it happened in Europe throughout the 19th century, and in the Middle East in the early 20th century, and today it's happening in Iraq, and is taking shape in Egypt as we speak, and I'm afraid of it spreading further.

Debt, corruption and collective lack of respect and/or fear of national authority and its symbols are certainly signs of national dementia; economic security is the glue that keeps any society together, it is the single most important component in social cohesion, and any tremors that hit the base of economic security of the average street man, would cause even greater social tremors, crime rates would rise, and collective disenchantment with any symbols of authority would increase, resulting in a chronic state of lawlessness, one which would appear and disappear more often, and become more malignant as they grow. The recent events in Tunisia are the freshest, most striking example of this; a young man who's been jobless and trying to make a living through selling vegetables on a cart was denied from even that, and he became the trigger to a national uprising that overthrew a dictator in 3 weeks.

Nations are constant if their social cohesion is stabilized through a long history of the existence of a civil society; and the existence of a civil society void from the interference of national authority is almost exclusive to "old world" cosmopolitans like Damascus, Baghdad or Cairo in the Mashreq; and Casablanca and Qairawan in the Maghreb. The Tunisian historical precedence of popular regime change is actually an example of the supremacy of society over the political system, it is a clear indication of the social hierarchy -despite the former existence of parallel hierarchies made by the overthrown regime- which puts The People on top of the pyramid of identity, followed by any temporary characterization like political affiliation or regional background, which caused the -also temporary- economic and social supremacy of the selected few, in the example of the ex-president's wife's family and co.

The Arab world is riddled with similar examples of the rise -and not yet fall- of the corrupt few political and economic hierarchies over the rest of society, Egypt is probably the closest and the one with the most similarities to the Tunisian example in terms of the social structure of both the nation and the regime, but that doesn't mean that other examples do not exist, the difference is the composition of the societies; some are more homogeneous than others, and some are more prone to the ancient wisdom of "divide and conquer" especially if the components of division are right there waiting to be used or misused to the favour of the junta be it in the form of a government, or a whole political system. Ibn Khaldun -a Tunisian born- comes to his greatest relevance in the increasingly multicultural societies of today: What is social solidarity, and how does a society achieve it and maintain it? He argues that no society can achieve anything—conquer an empire or even survive—unless there is internal consensus about its aims.

Speaking of Ibn Khaldun; an interesting footnote to all the above would be the reminder of his theory of the Rise and Fall of nations, which ends with the collapse of the nation, and is only preceded by a stage of inflated bureaucracy, increasing taxation, and exaggerated expenditure on the ruler and his entourage, rather than the people.

How many contemporary example of the above can you think of?

Monday, 3 January 2011

Avé Maria

Almost three years ago, I wrote two articles "here and here", on the effect of Identity and Faith on the collective mindset of people, and among what I wrote was that All aspects of human interaction contribute to the creation of culture, and before settling; the storm of culture-building acquires and sheds many aspects of the life of people as it takes the shape of Identity; language, Faith and even tolerance or ethnocentrism.

I'm mentioning this in the aftermath of the heinous crimes against Christian citizens of the East, namely Iraq a couple of months ago, and with the passing first few minutes of the year in Egypt.

Whomever is the perpetrator of these crimes is very much aware of the idea of National Identity, and as I have explained in the previous post, Nation states are extremely hard to fragment, with their solid backbone of historical -and in many cases genetic- composition, they're almost impossible to destroy, both Egypt and Iraq are in more ways than one considered to be Nation states; both are the cradles of the oldest civilizations in humanity, which has guaranteed continuous existence of a "nation/أمّة" with a distinct identity on both lands for thousands of years, and both have the sociological potential to survive as independent nations in the present and the future. I've chosen the term sociological, and not political or economic; since society is the heart of any human endeavour; it's the most consistent element that keeps people together through time, social contracts are the basis of constitutions; a collection of unwritten agreements to build -together, regardless of primary differences- an organism called a society, which in turn is the seed of collective identity, as it evolves into a melting pot of cultures and traditions, and eventually, distinguishes people with their unique texture, by it -the society- being One, among many.

The targeting of Christians in the East is a direct premeditated blow to an integral component of the Near Eastern societies of the Levant, Egypt and Iraq; the Christians of these lands are the descendants of the disciples of Jesus Christ and represent the longest continuous existence of Christianity in the world. It's an aware attempt to stir never before seen -or long forgotten- feelings of animosity and disengagement between people in the Holy Land; which can extend to include both Iraq and Egypt in both the Islamic and Christian narratives. It's been brewing in Lebanon for 30 years with a hit and miss approach, but has never seized to be instigated. Lebanon too, despite its size and limited resources, has the historical and human potential of survival as a singular nation state, at least in theory, and the survival of Lebanon despite all odds in the past 50 years is an indication of the above mentioned long-term potential.

In his book "طبائع الإستبداد" The Nature of Despotism, Al Kawakibi argues that the only way to achieve political reform is to achieve religious reform; this came from a man who was a religious teacher by virtue of his education, and a nationalist philosopher by trade.

In the 100 years since Kawakibi, nationalism has mutated into sub-genres of identities which in the eyes of their advocates are called national identities; the 22 nations of the Arab League each have their own version of that mutated national identity, but the fact remained that multi-denominational societies like Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and one can include Jordan, Syria and Palestine for the sake of scientific accuracy, have seldom had religious identity used as the primary means of self identification, -except for Lebanon due to its complex political composition- this diversity always complimented the pride of national affiliation to the land they're from, an Iraqi was always an Iraqi, so was an Egyptian, and certainly the Palestinian, even when he's faced with a counter identity called the Jewish state which has made a sudden but not surprising come-back in the Israeli political literature. When that national identity began to rattle under the feet of Iraqis, Egyptians or even the Sudanese with their imminent referendum of the cessation of the predominantly Christian south, Religion became the more concrete first line of defence -being part of a religious group- aka society, took over, and has become the means of finding distinction.

I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel here but this is merely an attempt to comprehend; Why is it, that Christians are the target of whomever is targeting them, and why now? I would answer the first question with the following analysis:

Some disillusioned ignorant Muslims see Christians as an extension to foreign invasion, many of these suicide bombers come from societies that do not have Christians to begin with, like the gulf states for example, so to them Christians are alien infidels by default, or they're an extension to the Western Crusade against Islam, and if the recruits come from multi religious societies, they're brain-washed into believing that redemption begins with the cleansing -both ethnic and physical- of the land of Islam from "The Other" with an eerie reminder to the Jewish term Goyim, using misinterpreted Muslim narratives to prove their point, including the expulsion the Jewish tribes from Arabia when Islam conquered Mecca in 630 AD, for example.

We're facing a sociological crisis, which can only be resolved with democracy, and that is the key to economic progression, even with the involvement of the public sector, social justice is the key for economic justice, and political justice in the shape of equal opportunity is the key to civic peace; for as long as there's a group of people that feels that it is discriminated against with the power of the law, or another group that believes that those who are of a different faith are destroying the Islamic identity of any given nation; any loop hole of this kind which allows the passage of bad elements, or as they're known in our genius media "The Few Rotten Apples"- to invade and feed hatred between compatriots, will have us fall and never rise from our own self burned aches; The Nature of Despotism -the human behaviour, not the book in this instance- so predicts.

In Jordan, the religious card isn't really viable, but rather the one based on the cardinal directions of Earth, a compass is all you need to stir tensions in Jordan, with the likes of the paper doll leaders of the Faisali-Wihdat incident who would ride any wave to achieve their 15 minutes of fame, which is another story for another day.

The enduring rule of thumb remains, that the Illusion of knowledge is far more dangerous than Ignorance itself.