Case For Arab Dignity
By Ramzy Baroud
04 November, 2007
ongoing socio-economic and political ills that mar potential progress
in Middle Eastern countries can largely be attributed to the ill-defined
foreign policy of the United States. Utterly desperate situations have
arisen whereby US clients rule with an iron fist, making prospects for
a meaningful democracy sit at an all-time low. However it would be nothing
less than self-deception to elucidate Arab social, economic and political
ailments exclusively on US-Israeli military and political belligerency;
there needs to be an element of self-reflection and responsibility to
make viable any pragmatic steps towards improvement and justice.
The Arab Human Development
Reports list political and economic regressions, rampant corruption,
utter inequality, oppression of women, and indeed men, lack of cohesion,
planning, and forward thinking as significant problems in Arab countries.
The 2005 report laboured to put a positive spin on negative situations,
choosing to focus on the empowerment of Arab women, who, in some Arab
societies are denied access to schools, economic independence and political
The oil boom of the 1970’s,
and the wave of neo-liberalism in the 1990’s has turned most Arab
countries into class societies, either creating new disparities or deepening
already existing ones. But there is little class ‘conflict’
to speak of today; the poor are , in many cases, literally struggling
to survive on day-to-day basis, while the rich have surpassed, in arrogance
and attitude, the positions assumed by the elites of Central America.
Their access to political power, economic wealth, and total control
over most media channels has significantly deepened the divide. Many
of Morocco’s poor are braving the tumultuous Mediterranean waters
to make it to Europe, to secure meagre jobs with meagre pay, and an
uncountable number of Egyptians are in constant hunt for opportunities
elsewhere. The situation everywhere is getting more dire, opening the
doors for even greater corruption and nepotism to permeate.
The media cannot be counted
on to represent the reality on the ground. Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya
remain the exception, but they too are receptive to political and economic
pulls. And even without these, it takes more than couple of TV stations
to cater to the local and national needs of hundreds of millions of
people whose cultures, immediate realities and economic and political
challenges are too varied to be encapsulated in a few news bulletins,
erratic TV debates and passing slogans.
Saddest of all is the fact
that Arab masses lack the ability to even vent their frustrations, having
lived under a tight grip for decades and crushed mercilessly whenever
they dared to march for their rights.
While the ruling elites lavishly
spend to set themselves apart from those at the bottom, the latter are
forced to learn the language of power, to cater to the elites’
every whim. No wonder many turn to the most immediate ways of escaping
such reality. The Internet is thriving in major Arab cities, not so
much as a tool of meaningful communication, but mostly for purposes
of chatting and pornography. Both of these create alternate realities.
Chatting could also represent the start of new opportunities, that of
premeditated ‘love’, or, just maybe, a green card or its
equivalent in some European country.
The situation is particularly
dismal for Palestinians caught between a brutal Israeli occupation and
their own corrupt elites. While many live under various regimes with
an almost impossible legal status as stateless people, rich Palestinians
in the Gulf (and elsewhere) seem blissfully far-removed; the immense
Palestinian wealth abroad is yet to benefit the 1.4 Palestinians in
the Gaza Strip, 80% of whom are dependent on international aid for their
The US and various European
countries are contributing to the chaos, compounding neoliberalism with
neo-imperialism, controlling the former colonial outposts via economic
dependency in the form of aid, political and military posturing, and
NGOs. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and USAID are two prominent
examples. NED, funded mostly by a Congressional annual allocation, was
founded in 1983 to serve US foreign policy. It claims to be “guided
by the belief that freedom is a universal human aspiration that can
be realized through the development of democratic institutions, procedures,
and values.” Considering NED’s role in the coup against
Venezuelan democracy in April 2002 and other instances of soft intervention,
one cannot help but question the organization’s democratic values.
The Arab peoples are in a
situation that warrants little envy. In countries like Iraq, a functioning
socioeconomic and political structure – despite its shortcomings
– was simply written off in May 2003, with the signature of L.
Paul Bremer, the first US ruler of Iraq. The disbanding of the army
was followed by the country’s de-Baathification (undermining Sunnis
for merely being the favored sect of Saddam), showing utter disregard
for the welfare of the Iraqi people.
The Iraq scenario has set
a dreadful precedent. Those not content by their current rulers were
forced to rethink their priorities when they saw the US-induced chaos
in Iraq in action. Those who giddily capitalized on the democracy window
were mercilessly crushed. Palestinians were subdued and democracy was
snatched away from its proper owners, the majority of the people, and
was handed back to the corrupt few. In Egypt, coercion and corruption
during elections has managed to maintain the status quo.
There are no easy answers
here, no snappy recommendations or full-proof solutions. The task is
truly overwhelming. But it is clear that the true interests of the Arab
peoples can only be served by Arabs themselves; reforms can not be imposed,
true, but that is impossible to achieve under the current power relations
- rulers setting themselves up as unquestionably superior to their people,
TV channels promoting rampant consumerism and providing endless distraction,
and uncountable multitudes seeking deliverance, escapism and, often,
falling prey to extremism. For Arab countries to have some hope of a
meaningful future (and indeed present), grassroots work must replace
intellectual detachment, wealth must be invested in building self-sustained
societies, and, most importantly, the dignity of Arab women and men
must be preserved above all else.
(www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com.
His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide.
His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a
People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London).
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