The Happy Arab News Service

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kings, Dictators and the Arab political reform

It's a sure sign of a massive degradation of political culture in the West itself that so much of the analysis of the Arab revolution has degenerated into demonization of personalities and recycling of Arab home grown conspiracy theories. The most astonishing of these pseudo analyses was the theory of organized looting. Weeks after Ben Ali was locked in a remote Saudi palace, arson attacks on a synagogue and schools in Tunisia are still being routinely blamed on Ben Ali loyalists. Western media was more than happy to join the party with many analysts suggesting that the regimes staged everything from disintegration of police and other security structures to mass escapes from prisons and looting. Large chunks of Western media read these days as a typical Arab blog where Arabs are letting their conspiratorial paranoia run amok.

The euphoria surrounding the revolution in the West is in part itself a result of the demonization, since its fundamental assumption is that people in positions of power are demons in flesh who are primarily busy with plundering their countries and torturing dissenters. This assumption leads to another misguided conclusion that the revolution is going to unleash democracy and liberalism in the Middle East and elsewhere. This is despite Iran and the currently unfolding disaster in Pakistan.

To cut the story short, the reality is, as always, more complex. The Arab World has all kinds of autocrats including the second generation kings and dictators. The kings of Jordan and Morroco, and probably Mubarak's son Gamal, are part of this second generation trend. Some of these people are Western educated, spent years living in the West and they are often very reform minded. Gamal Mubarak was the driving force behind a largely successful economic reform in Egypt. The king of Jordan from the beginning stated his vision as a constitutional monarchy in Jordan and embarked upon a series of political reforms. The new king in Morocco is a serial reformer too. In short, the Arab World knew several attempts at political reform initiated from the top in a very recent past.

That these reforms failed to deepen did not happen because of the lack of motivation at the upper echelons, however much the media and analysts would like to indulge in vilification of individual agents of power. The reform stalled because the reformers quickly found themselves under siege by Islamist, sectarian and populist forces they unleashed with their reforms. In Jordan for example Islamists and rejectionists largely took control of major institutions of civil society. In Bahrain Sunni and Shia fundamentalists dominated elections with secular liberals failing to win even one single seat. During a brief experiment by Mubarak in Egypt, Ikhwan basically took all 20% of seats that went to the opposition.

What the reformers discovered was that their economic and liberal agendas simply could not make friends with democracy and political reforms. The most spectacular example of this trend was the attempt by the king of Jordan to crack down on honor killings, sabotaged by the opposition in the parliament and judges who routinely refused to issue harsh penalties for offenders. The bottom line: It's not for the failure of revolutions to happen that liberal democracy failed to triumph until now in the Middle East. The pseudo analysts and arm chair revolutionaries in the West would do well to spend a while pondering this sorry fact.

Source: Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah

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