By Tariq Alhomayed
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 30/01/2011
We see what is happening in Egypt, and all we can do is pray to God, to clear this gloom from the country. However, as I said yesterday, now is the time to learn our lessons, and try to evaluate rationally, because chaos and a lack of foresight are the hot issues in Egypt, and in our Arab media.
The harsh lesson to draw from Egypt, both for the Egyptians and the Arabs, is that the state is an institution based on prestige. If the state loses its prestige, then the outcome is what we see currently, regarding the looting and chaos across Egypt. The prestige of the state is not synonymous with repression or a sense of superiority over the people, but rather, it is based on a principle as highlighted by Muawiya Ibn Sufyan: “Even if there be one hair binding me to my fellow men, I do not let it break. When they pull, I loosen, and if they loosen, I pull”. Prestige does not mean fictional promises, or an iron-fist rule, but instead it is achieved by building lasting state institutions that are based on efficiency. The state governs, rather than the party.
Whoever observes what is happening in Egypt, with its chaos and horror, only has to ponder a few simple questions: Is it conceivable that all Egyptian institutions lack the means to measure public opinion, to gauge the mood on the street, and the outcomes of all possible scenarios? Is it conceivable that security is fading in such a rapid and amazing fashion? Is it conceivable that in Egypt, groups are now capable of burning police riot vans by throwing a single explosive charge, smaller than the palm of a hand, in a [state of protest] that the security forces have never witnessed before?
The day before yesterday, President Mubarak said that the economy was too serious to be left to economists alone, and this is true. However, even the most serious political matters are left to the politicians, and the most serious wars are left to the military. The issue here is that there must be a comprehensive social contract, based on institutions, and competence. It must be motivated by taking the interests of the state into account, rather than those of the party, or individuals. This also applies across the entire Arab world, which must realize certain points – and this is the best time to tell the truth. The Arab world has a young population, economies which are among the least developed, low levels of transparency, a despairing education system, and a multitude of false promises. This is a perfect recipe for any uprising.
Therefore, the state does not achieve prestige by avoiding this social stagnation, for this deadlock can be lethal. The state must fight against corruption, and recognize the importance of the media, especially new media, and how to deal with it, rather than suppress it. The state must create job opportunities, and broaden the national outlook to prevent social and political suffocation. It must provide the means and channels for dialogue and ideas, so that the country is not an arena of polarization and exclusion. We should not be provoked or attracted by extremist ideas, and external forces should not be allowed to come and go as they please in our homelands. Here I am talking specifically about the evil Iranian influence that penetrates our countries, and allies with our forces.
The Egyptian crisis is a dangerous one, but it is also full of lessons, the most important of which is to maintain the prestige of the state. If the state loses its prestige, then the nation and the citizen are also lost. The Egyptian protestors’ demands were legitimate at the start, but matters turned to chaos, and now pose a threat to all that has been achieved in Egypt. Unfortunately, the potential losses would exceed all the gains that the protesters were hoping for. The jolt of terror that resounded in the hearts of Egyptians is the most powerful outcome [of the protests] that can not be measure today. Thus, the most important lesson is to maintain the prestige of the state, rather than mere slogans.