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?


  1. Hi Ammar! Thanks for posting about this.

    I would say America, too.

  2. Hi Kinzi! true, America is probably one of the very few exceptions of a nation state with a multicultural composition, although the constitution is quite advanced in preserving the equality of all the citizens, society on the other hand is suffering from social and economic divisions, the political system has inflated and is more and more becoming a goal rather than a means to serve, with the emergence of a political elite in DC, out of touch with the real America, even if they portray themselves as the servants of the people.

  3. Sigh. State of the Union in a nutshell :(

    Who else?

  4. Israel is showing signs of schizophrenic behaviour through the manipulation of religion as the identity of a secular state, this will eventually cause the already existing divisions within the Israeli society to grow deeper into a collective state of depression, only controlled through the constant fear of attack, by the Arabs collectively in the 40s and 50s, Egypt in the 60s and 70s, Iraq in the 80s and 90s, Syria and Hizbullah in the 00s, and now Iran directly or through Hizbullah, feeding the fear internationally will eventually fade and the divisions within the society will rise to the surface.

  5. Thank you Ammar...I find this very interesting specially the last 2 paragraphs.

    I guess I can think of so many examples that are in consistence with "inflated bureaucracy, increasing taxation, and exaggerated expenditure on the ruler and his entourage, rather than the people", not the opposite!

    Thanks again.

  6. Hi Rana, me too, in fact all Arab states are relevant to this characterization.

  7. I totally agree, most Arab states are.

    I also find this very sad but true : "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"

    Ammar I If I may ask you a question please, Do you think that our country is ready for a different political system? I don't want to sound pessimistic here but I sometimes wonder, because I feel that there's a possibility to end up fighting each other instead of doing the best for us and our country. What makes me say this is the deadly fights we've been witnessing lately between families, university students....Even If we assume that it was provoked by a third party, they succeeded in doing this which put doubts on the level of awareness we are having.

    I'm not the expert here,so I'd rather give you the microphone!

  8. Out society is a multicultural one, and when I say multicultural I really mean multi-"sub cultural" since all of the elements share at least one element or the other, be it ethnic Arab origin with multiple sub-origins, or religious background like Circassian, Chechen or Armenian, a different political system as in regime change would cause the elements of the society to dismantle.

    The solution would probably be a complete overhaul of the political process, there were calls for the revert to the constitution and truly become a constitutional monarchy with all what that entails: a parliament based on political parties, based on an "intelligence-respecting, non condescending" electoral law, which in turn would guarantee true representation of the people's voice through the formation of governments like all constitutional monarchies are, the UK is the prime example.

    The society will always be the same society, tribal and regional backgrounds have always had prominence in the Jordanian political system, the options are 2, either use this to enrich the system and strengthen it, or weaken it, the latter is the result of the lack of respect of tribal and national authority, a developing sentiment in the last few years, which can only be erased through the building of a true civil society rather than a pastoral one in which the government is the "father figure". I've written a few times on the issue, one is this:

  9. Thanks Ammar for taking the time to answer my question. I read the post you mentioned above, along with your response to one of the commentators, which gave me a clear idea.

    I found Emile Durkheim's explanation about society interesting. Also, I liked what you said :
    "The problem though is that treating other members of the society as minors, like one would treat children in a family, is a condescending attempt to protect interests under the pretext of authority and the right "under the law" to decide what's best for everyone."

    Thanks again :)