Sunday, November 06, 2005

Lamenting Our Missed Opportunities

There is nothing more bitter than missed opportunities. In the Arab world we had lots of that to mourn. And unlike the rest of the human race we can’t find a better time to do so than during our Eid celebrations. While others enjoy theirs, we tend to ruin our happy anniversaries remembering the worst moments in our history and keep asking what an Arab poet asked 1,000 years ago, “Eid, what kind of Eid did you bring with you?”
I hate to do the same and ruin what are supposed to be happy moments with similar remembrances. But since everyone else is doing it, why not me? Here is what I would mourn most: Our missed opportunities for freedom, democracy, progress and peace. I won’t go far in history, limiting my memory to the last hundred years.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Hussein ibn Ali, grand sharif of Makkah made a deal with the Allies. He was to lead a revolution against the Ottomans. In return he was promised to be declared the new caliph of the Muslim Ummah and the king of all Arabs. He did his part betraying the Muslim Caliphate that installed him but never received his ultimate reward. The English were kind enough to recognize him in 1916 as the king of Hijaz, install one son as the king of Iraq, a second as the emir of Jordan. But that was it. Not even the rest of Arabia and the Gulf area were to be under his control.
Still, there was a great opportunity for him and his sons to cooperate with the other Arab leaders, like sultans (later kings) Abdul Aziz in Riyadh and Fuad in Cairo to free and improve the rest of the Arab world. The colonizers were open to gradual progress starting with freeing slaves and giving women and minorities their due rights. Instead he insisted on pursuing his dream of being the king of kings. In the process, he antagonized the Saudis and ended up losing his fiefdom and destroying the dream of Arab unity. Later, the independent and semi-independent Arab governments decided in 1945 to start a process of unity under the Arab League banner. But even today, after more than half a century, we are still at square one.
When Nasser led the era of military revolutions in the Arab world, we were promised unity, freedom, reforms and progress. Instead, every colonel wanted to rule the rest. Even young Qaddafi of small Libya felt he deserved to lead the horde. Marriage projects like those between Egypt and Syria; Egypt, Sudan and Libya; and, in recent history, the cooperation councils of the Gulf states, the Western Arabs (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia) and the Eastern Arabs (Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Yemen), either failed to achieve their set goals or disintegrated disgracefully. We had peace opportunities with our main foe, Israel, and lost them. The best chance was the road Egyptian President Sadat opened for us. Instead of working with him to negotiate as a group, most leaders felt insulted that he didn’t consult with them first. For this mistake they were willing to forgo the golden opportunity and fragment the Arabs into two camps — the small peace group and the “countries that are standing up and challenging.” Later the war party members were warring among themselves. We lost. Israel won. The end of the first Gulf War between Iraq and Iran presented another golden opportunity. We were then more in agreement than not. With the eight-year costly war no longer a distraction, we could have concentrated on getting our act together and working on achieving our goals and dreams.
Not so fast! Saddam couldn’t have a break of more than a couple of years before he started another adventure. This time against his brotherly allies who supported him in the previous aggression. We deserved this because we missed our opportunity to forge good relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. We had more in common with the new Muslim regime than we did with the Baathists.
One war led to another. The Third Gulf War, like the second divided and distracted the Arabs once more. Again, Arab leaders found a good excuse to delay reforms. Even with democracy a priority in the Anglo-Saxon agenda for the Middle East, Arab governments managed to find ways not to reform. A few improvements here, a couple of basic or meaningless elections there, and we convinced the world we are moving in the right direction. The Americans and British found something to show for their costly war, and the Arab governments managed to avoid costlier confrontations with the neo-Crusaders.
After 1426 Eid anniversaries we are mourning once more, unable to positively answer the Shakespearian question (to be or not to be). What a waste!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Reforms? Why? Why Not?

My last article "Reformatting the Middle East" has generated many responses. Some were in agreement; others rationally disagreed.
Dr. Thuraya Arrayed is a prominent Saudi writer and women-rights activist. She writes: (I still hang on to my belief in true continuing reform. You do too. I hope to be there for it. How can we start our trip towards true reform in the Arab world?
What we need is a genuine sense of dedication as part and parcel of our value system. The norm now is "every one is for himself" and "get it any way you can". "Smear the others and even kill them to make sure you are the only one remaining on the scene.
Anyone who does not apply that norm finds himself with the short end of the stick. The grip of this destructive conception must be broken.
Reform has been either a dream or a nightmare because we continue to sleep and ignore our role in making our fate change direction.

Yet, it is a miracle that some of us still believe that reforms will become a reality. Our experience has been a past of continuous disappointments, a present that is reflecting the negative results of all the accumulation of wrong decisions and selfish actions by shortsighted individuals. No wonder it is also an experience of a dream future which never materializes as promised.

We have always been sold glittery lies, told what we would like to hear and believed it was honest promises only to find out it was the way to guarantee the "promiser" his self interests. So why are we still believing in reform??? Because nothing else is left to hang on to. The other options are worse: suicide, suicidal bombings or becoming suicidal bomber yourself. Who wants that? We all know that diffusing the power of these inciters of destruction and reestablishing the normal functioning of the brainwashed angry youth are the first step towards reform.

Rescue the educational system from the clutch of the perpetuators of ignorance and opponents of human rights, and you would have started a new generation that will demand reform as a right and as a continued driving force in their life style.
Egyptian political analyst Hatem Ezzeldin writes: (There was no revolution in Egypt and there were none in the Arab world throughout history. It is hard to compare what happened from army turnovers to true revolutions in Europe in nature, characteristics and outcomes.)
Saqib Bukhari (England) objects to the Western link to our reforms. He says : (It is wholly true that the Arab world and the wider Muslim world needs to be reformed and like you said, the push for reform has been at the loudspeaker for quite some time.

However, what I feel quite alarming is that you don't pay much attention to who are calling for these reforms and why. If one was to look at the political landscape of the Arab world and the aspiration of its populace, one finds that people can be categorized as "Nationalist", "Secularist", "Fundamentalist", "Socialist" and so on, calling for different types of reform. The reform debate currently at the forefront of global politics is extrinsically linked to the exportation of democracy and this odd notion of freedom and equality between the sexes.
For the West to be successful in such reforms, they can utilize the secularist (or sometimes called the modernists) coupled with military onslaughts as we are seeing in Iraq.

The cause for reform, then, is part and parcel of the war on terror, which in all intents and purposes, is a war on political Islam. Therefore, the current actions and policies of the West towards the Muslim world simply reinforce the rhetoric of the politicians in the early 20th Century. The "liberal" Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli held a copy of the Quran in the House of Commons and said, "Muslims can never be defeated until this (the Quran) is taken from them."

So, to conclude, the nature of these reforms is to counter the growing rise of the need for political Islam by millions of Muslims throughout the world. The Nationalist movements failed so if we want to call for reforms in the Muslim world, we need to realize that it's only through Islam we can rise and gain back our dignity.)

Virginia Johnston (Gainesville, FL) writes: (You must have heard about our special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. If the law cannot get to the truth of what has happen to the American people under the Bush administration, and as we hear the death rattles of our own democracy, we have no right reforming the Middle East.)