In a clever turn of phrase, The Economist recently wrote of an Arab Rip Abu Winkle awakening from a slumber into which he had fallen in the early 1980s to marvel at how little has changed. He would find Hosni Mubarak still at the helm in Cairo, the policeman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. He would miss Hafez Assad in Damascus, but he would be reassured that his son Bashar had inherited his father’s dominion. He would of course find the same dynasties in Jordan and in the Arab states of the Peninsula and the Gulf..
Wily rulers, the men at the helm may have failed their peoples. They may have denied them decent educational systems. They may not have figured out a way into the modern world economy. But they have mastered the art of political survival. “He who eats the sultan’s bread, fights with the sultan’s sword,” goes an Arabic maxim. The economic dominance of the rulers, the absence of the countervailing power of property and the private sector, has increased the awesome power of the governments and their security establishments
The state of the Arab peoples stretching from Morocco to Iraq & south to Sudan [Darfur?] and the Gulfies is truly preposterously pathetic:
They have invested their hopes in states, and the states have failed. According to the UNDP’s report, government revenues as percentage of GDP are 13% in Third World Countries, but they are 25% in the Middle East and North Africa. The oil states are a world apart in that regard: the comparable figures are 68% in Libya, 45% in Saudi Arabia, and 40% in Algeria, Kuwait and Qatar. Oil is no panacea for these lands. The unemployment rates for the Arab world as a whole are the highest in the world, and no prophecy could foresee these societies providing the 51 million jobs the UNDP report says are needed by 2020 to “absorb young entrants to the labor force who would otherwise face an empty future.”
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.
There is cruelty and plunder aplenty in the Arab world, but these writers are particularly exercised about Iraq. “This intervention polarized the country,” they say of Iraq. This is a myth of the Arabs who are yet to grant the Iraqis the right to their own history: There had been a secular culture under the Baath, they insist, but the American war begot the sectarianism. To go by this report, Iraq is a place of mayhem and plunder, a land where militias rule uncontested.
Of course, the Arabs have fallen into the advanced statist decadence that Dear Leader Brobambi is trying to bamboozle a sleeping American sheeple into the same ridiculous backwardness, with the help of thousands of meddlesome Nibelungen in Congress, Academicide, Hollyweird, and Oblogamaniacs worshipping the Won and all his parlor tricks.
In truth, as Fouad points out, the failed hero who actually took this fraudulent cultural/religious train wreck of Arab society seriously was George W. Bush:
For decades, it was the standard argument of the Arabs that America had cast its power in the region on the side of the autocrats. In Iraq in 2003, and then in Lebanon, an American president bet on the freedom of the Arabs. George W. Bush’s freedom agenda broke with a long history and insisted that the Arabs did not have tyranny in their DNA. A despotism in Baghdad was toppled, a Syrian regime that had all but erased its border with Lebanon was pushed out of its smaller neighbor, bringing an end to three decades of brutal occupation. The “Cedar Revolution” that erupted in the streets of Beirut was but a child of Bush’s diplomacy of freedom.
Arabs know this history even as they say otherwise, even as they tell the pollsters the obligatory things about America the pollsters expect them to say. True, Mr. Bush’s wager on elections in the Palestinian territories rebounded to the benefit of Hamas. But the ballot is not infallible, and the verdict of that election was a statement on the malignancies of Palestinian politics. It was no fault of American diplomacy that the Palestinians, who needed to break with a history of maximalist demands, gave in yet again to radical temptations.
The collection of inbred degenerates across the Arab world are too weak and despondent to fight for themselves. Now a new Paladin appears in Cairo, emoting rhetorical generalities of the sort the poetaster Arabs relish:
Now the Arabs are face to face with their own history. Instead of George W. Bush there is Barack Hussein Obama, an American leader pledged to a foreign policy of “realism.” The Arabs express fondness for the new American president. In his fashion (and in the fashion of their world and their leaders, it has to be said) President Obama gave the Arabs a speech in Cairo two months ago. It was a moment of theater and therapy. The speech delivered, the foreign visitor was gone. He had put another marker on the globe, another place to which he had taken his astounding belief in his biography and his conviction that another foreign population had been wooed by his oratory and weaned away from anti-Americanism.
The crowd could tell itself that the new standard-bearer of the Pax Americana was a man who understood its concerns, but the embattled modernists and the critics of autocracy knew better. There is no mistaking the animating drive of the new American policy in that Greater Middle East: realism and benign neglect, the safety of the status quo rather than the risks of liberty. [My emphasis] (If in doubt, the Arabs could check with their Iranian neighbors. The Persians would tell them of the new mood in Washington.)
At least the doughty Persians stand up for their own twisted vision of things. And Dear Leader Brobambi cringes and cowers when confronted with actual passion. The Teleprompter-Wiz's specialty is actually the support of extra-constitutional power-grabs in the Western Hemisphere with like-minded statists like Ortega, Raul Castro, Chavez, Morales and Correa [and Zelaya].
Not to mention the overthrow of free markets in his own adopted homeland.
Fouad finishes with a coda which translates into Arabic with the all-encompassing "Dunya!":
One day an Arab chronicle could yet be written, and like all Arab chronicles, it would tell of woes and missed opportunities. It would acknowledge that brief interlude when American power gave Arab autocracies a scare, and when a despotism in Baghdad and a brutal “brotherly” occupation in Beirut were laid to waste. The chroniclers would have to be an honest lot. They would speak the language of daily life, and the truths that Arabs have seen and endured in recent years. On that day, the “human development reports” would be discarded, their writers seen for the purveyors of double-speak and half-truths they were.
George W. Bush will never get credit from the region's craven cringing cowards who recreate endless fantasies of victimhood, fingerpointing and making excuses while never gathering up the courage to look within themselves.
That emptiness inside is where their real problem lies.
But in the meantime, they keep beating up their women and imprisoning advocates for true representative democracy.