Friday, July 1, 2011

Managing The Arab Situation

By Ahmad Y. Majdoubeh
Is the Arab world, with its so-called Arab Spring and other developments, going through a transition that would lead to something categorically better?
Is it witnessing increasing internal divisions that will maintain and prolong the status quo or divide it and tear it even further apart?
Facts on the ground point in both directions. Time will only tell which way things will ultimately go, and it all depends on how the present situation is managed.
Obviously, one cannot lump all Arab countries together. The situation differs from one Arab country to another, at times quite radically and significantly. Egypt is not Libya, Morocco is not Yemen, Jordan is not Syria, etc. Nevertheless, there are common core issues. Essentially, it is all about democracy, about leaderships having popular legitimacy and about governments “of the people, by the people, for the people”.
In all Arab countries the people call themselves “Arab” - and they are so in their heart of hearts. Their dreams and aspirations are the same, despite their different national situations.
The overall situation in the Arab world will improve only when there is a large degree of harmony, of integration between those governing and the governed. This will happen only when clearcut mechanisms are developed to ensure that those who govern do so with the aim of attempting to fulfil the peoples’ dreams, aspirations and needs - and in accordance with the rule of the law, not the rule of the person or the rule of the regime.
At present, there is neither harmony nor integration. Until now, the situation is built on a dichotomy. Not only do those who govern have the upper hand, but the governed have little or no say in who governs them and for how long. Such unhealthy dichotomy deepens both mistrust and animosity. This is why the relation between the governing and the governed is largely one of tension, friction or direct conflict, depending on where you are in the Arab world.
It is true, of course, that due to the Arab Spring people have become more influential than at any other time before, and that Arab leaders are no longer ruling supreme, as they have done for the most part since independence. Already if not calling the shots entirely, the people are at least influencing events dramatically.
But this is not what one ultimately wants. Continued confrontation between peoples and regimes is not in the interest of the Arab countries. Furthermore, and unlike what it may seem to some, changing Arab leaders will not solve the problem. Nor will the problem be solved by handing the power to the people.
What is required at this point in time is to introduce laws, bylaws, structures and mechanisms that allow people to effectively have a say through able, representatives and viable, sustainable channels and institutions.
Tahrir Square, or any other square or corner in any Arab country, could be an initial necessity, but only an initial one. It is a phase that has to come to an end and the phase of democracy building has to begin.
Democracy is not about people doing what they wish to do. It is about the rule of the majority, through carefully elected representatives and through clearcut institutional and legal channels.
This can only happen through a sincere partnership between the governing and the governed. Those who govern in the Arab world have, at this phase, to make sincere, concrete efforts to meet the people half way, listen to them and then rationally, openly and maturely proceed in the direction of building the required structures and mechanisms.
Some Arab regimes are already doing this. Those who do not will not prevail; in fact, they lose. At the same time, the people have to be patient; not to lessen the pressure, but to exercise the wisdom and patience necessary for something material and constructive to begin to happen.
Change cannot happen overnight and the change that we need is one that comes as a result of a thorough understanding of how the future should be mapped, not a hasty change that either collapses soon or backfires.
There is a golden opportunity now in the Arab world for something positive to unfold. If the situation is managed wisely both by the regimes and the people, it will yield something that will make a real, constructive difference in our lives. If it is mismanaged, by either the regime or the people (or both), what unfolds will, God forbid, be worse than what we have already seen.
And no one, I believe, wants that to happen.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 01/07/2011

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