Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Don't Fear The Middle East's New Wave

Arab governments must embrace a generation of men and women who are making their own history

By El-Hassan Bin Talal
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 16/02/2011

The entire Arab world is witnessing a tectonic shift. There is a fragile, if for many sublime, expectation that democracy may now spread in our region. At the same time, the prospect of Arab self-determination has left some uneasy. One of the defining characteristics over the last 18 days of protest in Cairo is that no one has been able to predict what would happen next. But today some things can be said with certainty.

The first is that there is no going back. A new generation has come of age. Creativity, new communication technologies and the use of rational peaceful protest have restored Arab self-esteem. Cairo concluded what Tunisia had hinted at: that decades of realpolitik had failed. It seems to have united east and west in the understanding that true security begins with the dignity of the human being, and is based upon what we often refer to as hurriya, or "freedom".

While in Jordan the youth element may not be as evident, protesters still call for inclusivity, and seek participation in a body politic and within a wider national platform. With the government change here objectives are being discussed regarding what I call the "social contract", and a politics which needs to become more normalised than radicalised. Such voices are being heeded, because almost everyone here understands that the credibility and security of the country depends upon it.

Recent events have shown that men and women make their own history, and are capable of controlling their own destinies. Unfortunately in our region this has not always been self-evident. It is now. Rather than fearing this "new wave", Arab governments should embrace it.

It's time to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The Mumbai-based Strategic Foresight Group has calculated that, between 1991 and 2010, constant war and conflict has cost the region $12 trillion in lost opportunity. A new architecture of relations is urgently required to replace the ad-hoc structures of the past.

Co-operation can be achieved in three ways. The first is what I refer to as a zakat or "responsibility" fund, collected and distributed regionally, in order to create more integrated economic development – just as the Marshall plan did for postwar Europe. The giving of alms is an Islamic pillar of faith. It is an obligation. So too should be its distribution – on an equitable, institutional and trans-border basis.

Second, we need a supranational Community for Water and Energy for the Human Environment – an Arab equivalent of the European Coal and Steel Community established by Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet in 1950. Our water resources and woes are shared – water has no respect for national boundaries. The Jordan river, one of the most complex and contested waterways in the world, has four riparian parties – Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Palestine.

At the same time a global energy and water belt extends from the central Asian republics down the Volga through Turkey to the Strait of Hormuz. It can no longer be protected solely by military forces guarding the ports of the Persian Gulf. Our security is constantly undermined by our energy interdependence and dependence, and time is running out.

Finally, it is time to convene a Semi-Permanent Conference for Peace based in the region and modelled on the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the three baskets of the Helsinki Process – co-operation in security, economy and humanitarian issues.

These are my thoughts in parenthesis, as we consider an Arabia no less complex but far more pregnant with possibility … a new psychological landscape. To paraphrase George Marshall, a place "that hangs in the balance as to what it is to be". The scales of justice have been tipped. The arc of history no longer bends towards reform. It insists on it.

No comments:

Post a Comment