The Happy Arab News Service

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

Last updated: August 7, 2009

December 20, 2006

The Big Pharaoh was writing on December 9, 2006

The secular opposition in Egypt has received two massive blows in the last couple of months. First, several high profile members in Ayman Nour's party resigned from their posts. A friend who is also a member of Al Ghad party (Nour's party) told me that the resignations came after "they complained about the way the party is being run and the way Gamila Ismael, Nour's wife, wants to monopolize all decision making." My friend presented his resignation a month ago.

Yesterday 7 founders of Kifaya parted from the activist movement (Arabic link). They cited how the group turned into a prisoner inside conference and meeting rooms with no actual influence on the street. The 7 members also came against Kifaya's official statement on the Farouk Hosni hijab row. They said the statement, which defended Hosni's right to express his views, shocked the Egyptian public and they were not consulted before it was issued.

To make things worse, Kifaya's youth chapter also announced their breakaway from the mother organization.

Al Ghad and Kifaya, in spite of the media enthusiasm they received during the political upheaval of 95, are still with very limited influence on the Egyptian public. These blows will weaken them even further.


It goes without saying that when the so called secular liberals start playing in fundamentalists, one should have no illusions about the commitment of these people to their principles or about their desperate situation. It says a lot as well about the intellectual qualiity of this opposition, large chunks of which are apparently cherishing illusions that they can beat Muslim Brothers on their own ground. Neither it makes any sense for sheep to disguise themselves as wolves, since the main point about being a wolf is having teeth and knowing how to bite.

The West, and the US/Israel in particular, should get realistic about this opposition. To be realist does not mean negotiating with rogue regimes or running away from Iraq. It means cultivating not all sorts of wishful thinking, and when it comes to the so called secular liberals, it means to see them for what they are - a handful of dreamers disconnected from the rest of the population and who probably hardly represent anybody in Egypt except themselves and in the best case their families.

The Big Pharaoh's own blog is a good example of the situation of the secular liberals in Egypt. One may think that this is a progressive and popular Egyptian blog. Yet on a closer look it becomes suddenly very clear that this is a very progressive and popular Western blog run for some reason by an Egyptian from Cairo, since 90% or more of people who comment there are Westerners.

It should be also noticed that many so called secular liberals are liberal no more than was Salvador Allende, who during his presidency in Chile used leftist militias to carry out his nationalization and land redistribution projects. Many, if not most of the so called liberals, are actually Chomskists, or at least fans of Robert Fisk. These people share with the rest of their societies that paranoic anti Western mindset powered by wild conspiracy theories. These people may be secular, and maybe even liberal because they want democracy, but most of them are hardly what we understand by liberal in the West. Most of these people practice a bizarre mix of radical leftist/anti globalist ideology combined with verbal commitment to democracy. And it goes without saying that the fact, that somebody hates his dictator, does not make him automatically a democrat.

It's not hard to understand the reasons that push the desperate secular liberals into trying to play other people's games. They are trying to find a favor with that proverbial Arab street, but the end result will be that they scare away even those few secular supporters they still have. The Arab street is very important in Arab societies since in countries like Egypt and elsewhere there is not so much of the middle class because of the lack of economic development. And the importance of the Arab street grows in proportion to how restless it gets. And it got very restless recently.

The so called liberals may be more vocal because many intellectuals and men of arts tend to identify with this movement. Since these people also usually know to speak some English they are vastly overrepresented in the Western media, creating the impression that the Arab world is teeming with normal people.

But this is a wrong impression and, as the recent elections in Bahrain and Egypt show, the secular liberals are more like a virtual entity. From the 20% of seats in the Parliament that the opposition managed to wrestle away from Mubarak's candidates, all went to Muslim Brothers. In Bahrain a Shia religious party took 40% of seats, the rest went mostly to Sunni Salafists. In both cases secular liberals hardly won one single seat.

The West should know that these people are just a sheep skin on the shoulders of the wolves who manipulate the sheep into all sorts of bizarre coalitions of convenience (did I mention that the sheep are severely lacking in commitment to principles?). The primary purpose of this game is to trick the US into applying more pressure on the allied regimes to liberalize their political systems. But the US should have no illusions as to who is going to come on top here if free elections are held. It's not the sheep. The sheep are here only to provide a facade of normality. They can deliver nothing. But the wolves are all behind their backs.

Meanwhile the sheep appear to have got so dumb that they are now trying to play wolves in a vain attempt to win sympathies of the Arab street. Even in a highly improbable case they succeed, this will be an achievement of a very dubious value. It's not for nothing that the Pharaoh has decorated one of his last posts with this:

January 26, 2007

The Arab Reform

The opposition's coup d'etat in Lebanon was timed to coincide with the donors conference in Paris and with the plan of sweeping economic reforms announced by Sanyora. Apart from more of the old good taxes in an attempt to keep the budget intact and to service the debt, Sanyora's plan also includes privatization of indebted state utilities such as the ailing electricity company and selling off two mobile phone companies. Lebanon's phone bills are among the highest in the world. As to electricity most Lebanese are hooked up to a private generator and pay one more bill at the end of every month and this is of course not because the state electricity company excels at providing an uninterrupted supply of power. In fact, Nasrallah's timing was perfect. Not only the protests almost succeeded in derailing the Paris conference, they also allowed Nasrallah to put to good use the trade unions enraged by the proposed reforms.

On the other side of the Arab world the Libyan government announced a plan to lay off more than a third of its workforce - 400,000 people, to drastically cut public spending and to give a boost to the private sector. This is by far one of the most radical economic programs ever enacted by an Arab state. There should be little surprise if Libya becomes the leading Arab reformer since whatever one may think about Gaddafi, nobody can deny that he is a man who does what he preaches. When Gaddafi was a socialist he organized the Libyans a full scale cultural revolution that could put to shame Mao himself. These days the eccentric Libyan leader assembled a new government from western educated technocrats and started pushing the country towards free market economy with the same enthusiasm with which he was once building communism in Libya.

In Egypt an able team of free market oriented technocrats is trying to dismantle the legacy of decades of the socialist economy and in general it appears that in many parts of the Arab world the political elites are finally bidding farewell to all sorts of outdated notions and ideologies and trying their hands at genuine economic reform. This contrasts sharply with the growing radicalism and extremism of the Arab street that views the reforms imposed from above with deep mistrust and apprehension.

The irony of the situation is that all this is happening at the time when the political elites in many Arab countries reached the state of a total disconnect from the masses. Too many Arab leaders have lost the last trace of credibility in the eyes of their populations and some of them are apparently living through their last decade, if not years. In Egypt for example the relationships between the ruling elite and the population have long ago degenerated into a combination of mutual distrust and brutal oppression from one side, to which the other side pays by muted hostility and deep resentment.

Actually there is very little irony in this situation and even if it's an irony then it's a tragic one. With the old guard in many countries belatedly trying to do the right thing, there is a positive danger that many of these elites are now approaching the end of their life span. What is lost in the usual stereotyped black and white picture of good ordinary people ruled by vicious and corrupt politicians, is that awakening of the Arab street and gradual spreading of political activism among the masses may put an abrupt end to the economic reform. This possibility seems to be even more real given how much many in the so called democratic opposition are committed to cheap populism which in case of reversal of political fortunes may reveal itself as a lack of fiscal and budget responsibility leading to quick economic meltdown.

One just cannot help noticing that after decades wasted in all sorts of blind alleys the Arab world, and to some degree the whole Muslim world, is now facing a situation in which either the economic reform or the political reform wins as they just don't seem to be capable of making friends with each other. And when it comes to the political reform it is not at all sure that, while failing the economy, it will at least bring some tangible social and political benefits such as true democracy, moderation and tolerance. What is quite sure though is that the Arabs just cannot get it both ways and it is either the economic reform or the political one, but one of them will have to wait.

August 7, 2009

You don't send a cat to deliver creme

Fuad Ajami about Arab Human Development Report 2009 compiled by a group of Arab intellectuals under sponsorship of the UNDP (United Nations Development Program).

The simple truth is that the Arab world has terrible rulers and worse oppositionists. There are autocrats on one side and theocrats on the other. A timid and fragile middle class is caught in the middle between regimes it abhors and Islamists it fears.

Indeed, the technocrats and intellectuals associated with these development reports are themselves no angels. On the whole, they are unreconstructed Arab nationalists. The patrons of these reports are the likes of the Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi and the Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi, intellectuals and public figures whose stock-in-trade is presumed Western (read American) guilt for the ills that afflict the Arabs. Anti-Americanism suffuses this report, as it did the earlier ones.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

The afore mentioned report enumerates various evils responsible for the presumed current crisis of the Arab world from global warming to the possession of oil. The chief villains of course are outside meddling and local autocrats who by understanding are also a kind of implants of or at least supported by foreign powers. Widely commented upon is the absence in the report of stuff like the role of Islamic fundamentalism. Never mind the Arab intellectuals themselves or the half century long uninterrupted population explosion that's only now coming to an end.

This cannot be any other way given that the so called Arab intellectuals (This is a misnomer as very often there is very little intellectual or intelligent about these people) are up to their necks in responsibility for the existence of the same despotic regimes or bloodshed in Iraq and Darfur. Many current Arab regimes came to power or maintained it while cheered upon by the Arab intellectual elites, who often shared their socialist and anti Western orientation. The latest mess in Iran was another demonstration of how ambivalent Arab intellectuals can get when it comes to trading resistance for democracy. Some seem to be utterly unable to kiss goodbye to this darling of the anti Western resistance, which is Ahmalala, even for the sake of supporting democracy and popular will.

In fact, the very structure of the report betrays the crooked logic of the people who compiled it. The report's central thesis is a kind of "We have a problem because we have problems". "Human security is a prerequisite for human development, and its widespread absence in Arab countries has held back their progress," the report says and then identifies various political, economical and environmental threats to human security. The logic of the report is a kind of "Give us the first world's education and social security standards, democracy and please take away this global warming plague, so we can start with our human development". Guys, you don't need any human development after this. This IS human development.

The report bundles together "A lack of representative government coupled with human rights violations and sweeping powers for security agencies..." with "Threats to life and peace for millions of people as a result of the Palestinian occupation, the U.S. military intervention in Iraq,...". Has the US military intervention in Iraq not brought to the country a representative government and removed, or at least tried to remove, sweeping powers for security agencies? That the country was later flooded with hundreds of suicide bombers who volunteered for their missions inside Shia mosques and markets from all corners of the Arab world is also a fault of the intervention? By far the thing that impressed most many observers was how little the Arab intellectuals had to say about tremendous suicide attacks unleashed by the Sunni insurgents while they were busy decrying occupation and lauding resistance. In many ways the US intervention in Iraq was the best chance ever given to the Arab world to skip over many hurdles enumerated in the report and there can be no denying that many Arab intellectuals did their best to derail this experiment in forced democratization.

In short, it may sound counter intuitive but Arab intellectuals are not the kind of people to be trusted with writing reports about the state of the Arab world for the very simple reason of "You don't send a cat to deliver creme".

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