Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Fall Of False Pragmatism

By Walid Choucair
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 16/04/2011
The transformations and popular uprisings in the Arab world are leading to the end of the era of ideology, as some Arab thinkers are saying. However, they are also leading to the collapse of methods of political behavior and events that have become enduring aspects of Arab political life, after having held sway for decades over public opinion; these protests have done away with many notions and led to their re-evaluation.

With the retreat of the era of ideology that has dominated Arab political thought, other enduring notions have begun to replace what was planted by the tools of ideological analysis that dominated during the 20th century. In fact, there was an attempt by previous ideologies, which suffered defeats because of their failure at state-building, achieving development, distributing wealth and protecting national interests in the face of foreign threats, to adapt to the path of adopting pragmatism. But even this attempt has been unmasked, and is no longer able to protect the regimes that resorted to this policy of accommodation while retaining outdated ideologies. It appears that the pragmatism that was employed by rulers, which generated uprisings against them, was a false pragmatism. This is because it was a means to maintain their control over their countries after they moved away from the principles of these ideologies, which have come to constitute a wooden political discourse.

It became obvious that the pragmatism of some rulers was an attempt to meet the need for covering the transformation in their method of rule; they moved from being dictatorships that derived their continuity from a totalitarian theory of society, to dictatorships that engaged in a bit of economic openness whose benefits were restricted to a corrupt few. The pragmatism here was aimed at covering up for the deals and benefits, and the exercise of influence; it was a type of cover characterized by flexibility, an ability to negotiate, and an adaptation to modern concepts.

For oppressive regimes, pragmatism was a means to join lofty national and humanitarian principles with horrific means of oppression, whether through inducements, or the bloodiest possible intimidation.

In addition to the fall of false pragmatism, we have witnessed a collapse of the propaganda, used by rulers throughout their presence at the top. This rhetoric holds that their continuity is not only a domestic requirement to achieve broad ideological goals, but also an external need, or the stability of their countries’ relations with this outside world. The events of recent months have proven this external world is unable to protect these rulers. In fact, the outside world has been forced to adapt, despite itself, and contrary to its earlier calculations, to the will of people who are rising up against a situation created by the great powers. This situation came along with bargains that preserved the interests of these great powers, in exchange for guaranteeing the extension of legitimacy and the ability to survive to these regimes. Even if it wanted to, the outside world is no longer able to guarantee this continuity. In fact, the changes that are taking place in various countries over recent months have proven that the popular uprisings are not taking place because of the outside world; instead, they represent the accumulation of a domestic awareness, and the breaking of the barrier of fear of oppression, going so far as to see people face bullets with their chests. There has been a growing, radical awareness of the need for change.

The terror-causing religious fanaticism has also collapsed, without this meaning that this phenomenon has disappeared. There are extremist religious currents and currents that seek to merge religion and politics. However, the popular uprisings have demonstrated the failure of the model of extremism that leads to terror in treating society’s problems, and this has allowed the growth of an Islamist current that raises slogans bringing it closer to the principle of the separation of religion and the state. This has required a re-evaluation by even traditional Islamist currents, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, of their tactics and policies, in comparison with the Turkish model. The Turks have begun to accommodate themselves to streamlined economic liberalism, and this leads to their harmony with a bit of political liberalism. The “fuel” of the youth revolutions in all of the countries that have experienced popular action, has not come from these religious currents. Instead, it has appeared thanks to the situation of poverty, marginalization, ignorance, oppression and injustice, in all their forms. The notion that “religious extremism is an alternative to the existing regimes” no longer dominates Arab thinking, which is fearful of change. If this indicates anything, it is that democratic change is not coming from the Western experience, and is thus not the monopoly of hard-line groups, or of religious fanaticism.

The fall of many notions should convince many rulers that they should not use outdated methods and intellectual tools that justify oppression, because they are no longer viable, except to raise the level of popular mobilization to confront them.

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