The Association Agreement; Authoritarianism; and Arab winds of change

Khalid Oweis and Ibrahim Hamidi both take on the subject of Syria’s vicissitudes about signing the the Association Agreement. There is the indignity of the Dutch add-on language about human rights, but that is surely not the main cause of Syria’s anxiety. Syria is already facing a very tough environment for its industry with liberalization and free trade agreements with the Gulf and Turkey. A number of industries are under the gun. Also, Europe is the West. This makes opening up its doors to European banks, products, and investors much scarier for Syria; it has many political ramifications.

Syria has just come out of the Bush years and is still suffering from residual shell shock caused by Washington’s efforts to destabilize Damascus. Opening up its doors to increased economic dependency and vulnerability is not attractive.

There are other reasons for rejecting the Association Agreement, some internal. The Association Agreement is seen as Dardari’s baby by Syrian officialdom. Those who butter their bread with Finance Minister Mohammad Hussein (Dardari’s rival) are all for scuttling the Association Agreement simply to weaken him. They argue that the agreement sells Syrian independence down the drain. This may be nonsense — I don’t really know — but it sounds convincing if one is Syrian and plays on all the right nationalist strings.  The President is probably caught between his two ministers  and does not want to rush to judgement in order to manage the delicate domestic balancing act with perspicacity and tip-toeing equanimity.  (See further comment below.)

EU still important for Syria, Assad says
Reuters By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (L) talks to his Finnish counterpart Tarja Halonen after reviewing the honour guard at the al-Shaeb presidential palace in Damascus October 22, 2009.

DAMASCUS, Oct 22 (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sought to ease tension with the European Union on Thursday after an economic and political deal between the two sides faltered.

Diplomats in Damascus said the Syrian government has indefinitely postponed signing the deal, known as the association agreement, which was due to be signed in Brussels next week and took almost 7 years of protracted negotiations.

“As long as Europe is interested in peace, which is my priority, I have to have cooperation with Europe, whether it is the European Union or certain other (European) countries,” Assad said after a meeting with Finland’s President Tarja Halonen.

The deal has a political side, calling for respect for human rights and allowing the issue to be raised in bilateral talks as Syrian authorities intensify a campaign of arrests against dissidents and independent figures opposed to the Baath Party, which has ruled Syria since taking power in a 1963 coup.

Syrian officials have not publicly commented on the reasons for not signing the deal, beyond saying that they needed more time to study the agreement, although the draft text was finalised and initialled in a ceremony in Damascus last December.

Assad did not mention the association agreement directly. He said a drive by Syria to strengthen relations with its northern neighbour Turkey in the last several years would not come at the expense of Europe.

“It is self evident that you have to start with your region, but this does not mean that you substitute it with the rest of the world. Europe is our neighbour with more communication means that there is no longer a distant area.”

The agreement qualifies Syria for more aid from the EU, beyond the 500 million euros ($748.6 million) it has received since 1979, and opens its market further to European goods.

Syria’s trade deficit hit a record of $4 billion last year, partly due to more imports from Turkey, which mediated peace talks between Syria and Israel that were suspended last year.

HUMAN RIGHTS DIMENSION

The agreement encountered opposition from the Netherlands, which voiced concerns about Syria’s human rights record and its the rising number of political prisoners. Other European countries argued that it would strengthen the hand of what they termed as reformers within the Syrian government.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdallah al-Dardari, a proponent of economic reform close to Assad, had spearheaded Syria’s efforts to sign the agreement….

اتفاق الشراكة الأوروبية تحت مجهر خبراء سوريين
الثلاثاء, 20 أكتوبر 2009
إبراهيم حميدي *

عندما كان مسؤولون اوروبيون يسألون محاوريهم السوريين في الأشهر الاخيرة عن الموقف من توقيع اتفاق الشراكة، كان الجواب السوري موحداً، ومفاده: عندما تصل الدول الاوروبية الى إجماع في شأن توقيع الاتفاق، ستدرس دمشق الموقف وفق المعطيات، باعتبارها طرفاً مقابلاً لـ «الطرف» الاوروبي.لكن فهم الديبلوماسيين الأوروبيين لهذا الكلام كان مختلفاً. إذ فسر بعضهم التصريحات السورية على انها «موقف تفاوضي» للضغط، وأن دمشق «جاهزة للتوقيع بمجرد اتخاذ الأوروبيين قراراً في ذلك».

أظهرت الأيام ان هذا التفسير كان خاطئاً ويتضمن في بعض جوانبه تمنيات اكثر منه قراءة فعلية للموقف. إذ ان وزير الخارجية السويدي كارل بيلدت بعث في 14 الشهر الجاري برسالة الى نظيره السوري وليد المعلم يبلغه فيها قرار الاتحاد أثناء الاجتماع الذي عقد في بروكسيل في بداية الشهر الجاري بتوقيع الاتفاق في شكل رسمي في 26 الجاري. وتضمنت رسالة بيلدت دعوة للمعلم لحضور مراسم التوقيع في لوكسمبورغ مع وزراء 27 دولة اوروبية.

أول تعليق من المعلم جاء في المؤتمر الصحافي مع نظيره الاسباني ميخيل انخيل موراتينوس لدى تأكيده انه تلقى رسالة بيلدت، قائلاً ان بلاده تبلغت القرار الأوروبي وهي تريد دراسة الاتفاق في شكل مفصل قبل اتخاذ قرار في ذلك باعتبار ان الاتفاق جرى تأشيره في البداية في نهاية 2004 قبل ان يجمده الاوروبيون لأسباب سياسية.

المرحلة الاولى من التجميد تولاها الرئيس الفرنسي السابق جاك شيراك مستخدماً الاتفاق «أداة ضغط سياسية». وعندما تحولت إدارة الرئيس نيكولا ساركوزي الى الدفع باتجاه التوقيع، على خلفية القناعة بضرورة الحوار مع سورية لما لها من دور أساسي في الشرق الأوسط، تولت هولندا التجميد، وأثار أموراً تعتبرها دمشق شؤوناً داخلية. وأوضحت مصادر ديبلوماسية أوروبية ان وزير الخارجية الهولندي مكسيم فيرهاغن استخدم موضوع حقوق الانسان لأسباب انتخابية باعتبار أنه يريد تسلم رئاسة الحكومة، إذ انه في الوقت الذي كان فيه يعارض توقيع الاتفاق ثم يصل الى الموافقة تحت ضغط دول اوروبية اخرى ثم يسرب ديبلوماسيوه بياناً يلوح باحتمال تجميد الاتفاق لاحقاً بعد توقيعه، كان ممثل وزارة الخارجية الهولندية في جنيف يصوت ضد تقرير القاضي ريتشارد غولدستون في مجلس حقوق الانسان الخاص بالجرائم الاسرائيلية في غزة، الأمر الذي أفقد الموقف الهولندي صدقيته. وقالت المصادر الديبلوماسية: «ان الموقف الانساني يجب أن يكون متكاملاً لايتجزأ، وألا يكون الاستخدام سياسياً». كما نقلت «الوكالة السورية للأنباء» (سانا) عن مصدر سوري قوله في اطار التعليق على التصويت على تقرير غولدستون ومعارضة بعض الدول من دون تسمية اي منها: «ان ازدواجية المواقف لدى هذه الدول تجاه مسائل عدة وفي مقدمها حقوق الإنسان أمر يفقدها الصدقية والموضوعية اللتين ينبغي توافرهما في التعامل مع ما تطرحه بخصوص قضايا حقوق الإنسان».

غير ان موضوع الاهتمام الأساسي للحكومة السورية في الشراكة، كان مدى انعكاسه على عملية الإصلاح. إذ بعث الوزير المعلم في 19 الجاري رسالة الى نظيره السويدي يبلغه ان دمشق في حاجة الى بعض الوقت لدرس بنود اتفاق الشراكة ومدى انعكاسها على عملية الاصلاح والتحديث الجارية في البلاد، كما اجتمع مع سفراء الترويكا الاوروبية لبحث هذا الأمر، بحسب قول مصادر ديبلوماسية اوروبية.

ولم تكن المرة الاولى التي يقرأ فيها الأوروبيون خطأ موقف دمشق. ذلك انه بعد قرار أوروبا تجميد الاتفاق الموقع عليه بالأحرف الأولى في نهاية 2004، كان موقف دمشق ان سورية لا تستعجل توقيع الاتفاق وهي مستمرة في عملية الاصلاح، بل ان بعض الاصلاحات تجاوز بنود اتفاق الشراكة، على اساس عملية الاصلاح الاقتصادية والتشريعية الواسعة التي انطلقت بعد انتخاب الرئيس بشار الأسد قبل تسع سنوات واستمرت على رغم قرار الاتحاد الاوروبي تجميد الشراكة.

وبين 2004 و2009 «مرت مياه كثيرة من تحت الجسر» بحسب التعبير الديبلوماسي، لذلك يعكف خبراء سوريون حالياً على درس نص اتفاق الشراكة ومدى انسجام بنوده مع المصلحة الوطنية، خصوصاً في ضوء التغيير الكبير في الواقع الاقتصادي السوري، ذلك ان الكثير من البنود التي كان منصوصاً عليها في الاتفاق أنجزت، أو ان بعضها تجاوز متطلبات الشراكة، خصوصاً ما يتعلق بإصلاح النظام الضريبي وبتحرير التجارة وتشريعات الاستثمار، مع وجود اعتقاد أن 90 في المئة من الاصلاحات قد أنجز سلفاً.

وتشير الأرقام الاقتصادية الى ان العام المقبل سيشهد قفزة في مؤشرات الموازنة التي تقدر بنحو 780 بليون ليرة سورية (الدولار الاميركي 46 ليرة) سواء لجهة زياردة الموازنة الاستثمارية بنسبة 20 في المئة او خفض عجز الموازنة الى ستة في المئة، اضافة الى ارتفاع الايرادات غير النفطية الى 70 في المئة والصادرات غير النفطية الى 55 في المئة.

كما ستتناول الدراسات التغييرات الحاصلة في الاقتصاد الاوروبي لجهة انضمام دول جديدة مثل بلغاريا ورومانيا أو آثار الازمة المالية العالمية على اقتصاد هذه الدول، في وقت حصلت تغييرات جذرية في الاقتصاد السوري من جهة ومع الدول المجاورة من جهة اخرى، مثل توقيع اتفاق تجارة حرة مع تركيا وتحرير التجارة مع الدول العربية وتعزيز علاقة سورية مع دول شرقية وآسيوية.

ويتوقع أن تتناول الدراسات المكثفة والمعمقة آثار كل ذلك على الوضع الاقتصادي السوري وموازنة الايجابيات والسلبيات في بنود الشراكة، الأمر الذي يتطلب اكثر من الفترة المحددة بنحو اسبوعين لتوقيع الشراكة لبحث الآثار الاجتماعية والاقتصادية على السوريين. ويشير خبراء الى ان التأشير الثاني على الاتفاق في نهاية العام الماضي تناول فقط مسألتين: الأولى، إضافة اسمي بلغاريا ورومانيا الى نص الاتفاق. الثاني، إقرار تعديل الدول الاوروبية القاضي بنقل قرار أمورالتجارة الخارجية من السيادة الوطنية الاوروبية الى المفوضية، من دون بحث البنود الأخرى، التي تخضع حالياً للدراسة.

وفيما تجرى الدراسات المعمقة والشاملة على الاتفاق، مع الإفادة من تجارب دول عربية اخرى مثل تونس والجزائر والمغرب، سواء لجهة نص الاتفاق المتشابه في معظمه بين جميع الدول في جنوب البحر الابيض المتوسط، او لجهة ادارة الشراكة مع الجانب الاوروبي، مع تنويه سوري بمواقف الدول التي كانت تدفع باتجاه إنجاز الشراكة، من غير المتوقع ان تتأثر العلاقات الفنية والسياسية والاستثمارية بين دمشق والدول الاوروبية (ثنائياً) غير المرتبطة مباشرة أو قانونياً مع الاتحاد الاوروبي. كما ان التعاون الفني مع المفوضية الاوروبية سيستمر ولن يتوقف خلال الفترة المقبلة، وهذه قناعة المحللين.

* صحافي من اسرة «الحياة»

This is why Syria protects Lebanese Resistance – Translated by Mideastwire.com
Al-Quds al-Arabi, On October 19
interview by Bassam al-Badarin with Lebanese MP Walid Soukkariyya, a Sunni elected on Hzzbullah’s list.

“The importance of Lebanese MP is not restricted to the fact that he is the only Sunni to have won a seat in the parliament on Hizbollah list, but is also based on his long experience as a retired officer who served for many years in the Lebanese army, and mainly on the borders with Israel…

“Soukkariyya trusts that Israel can’t accept peace for objective reasons, mainly since peace would prevent it from organizing the pre-emptive strikes it has been famous for and that aimed to end the resistance and induce clashes. In addition to that, if Israel agrees on peace knowing its small dimensions with its current frontiers, it will become a toy in the hands of the US. Hence, the Israelis want peace but after they accomplish the Greater Israel [project] for the current size of the violating Israeli state can’t guarantee its security…

“[He] pointed out that the latest agreement between Syria and the KSA would help in preventing normalization with Israel, and said that Syria’s rush to support the resistance in Lebanon and manage its work at some points is still an inevitable defense strategy for the Syrians, while normalization, initiatives, negotiations and even peace remain tactical matters.

“In this sense and for understandable reasons, Syria can’t engage directly as a resistance, but opens its borders to whoever wants to adopt resistance. Here, it is noticeable how Syria opened its borders with Iraq for al-Qa’idah fighters with whom it clashes ideologically, and how it supports Hezbollah considered as the only resistance in Lebanon…

“Al-Quds al-Arabi asked why did the Israelis failed [in their war on Lebanon], Soukkariyya answered: “Iran is far from the war scene and the US is close to it and sent long-distance bombs. The Israelis were surprised with a fierce ideological fighter and underground missiles planted in scattered strongholds that can’t be discovered by the Israeli intelligence which completely failed in that [regard].”

“Second, this time, Hizbollah is emotionally ready for the fight, and the resistance prepared its forces and weapons for this kind of war, and gathered about 40,000 missiles ready to hit Israel. After the failure in the July war, a parallel plan was set to change the political equation, but the victory of the resistance sent the Americans to Annapolis, and it was important to get ready for the Gaza war. The givens show that the resistance is the right path [to follow], this is why the Sunni- Shiite sedition occurred springing out from Iraq and spreading to Lebanon where resistance is restricted to Shiites…

“Q. What would happen if Iran is no longer present on the scene?

“A. I think that by then, we would enter the Zionist era with a new geography of the region and the division of many states to guarantee the security of Israel. Concerning Iranian expansionist ambitions, 70 million Iranians can’t contain 300 million Arabs, and Iran only works for its own interests [, so it would not do so]. As for Sunnis in Iraq, they insist on Saddam’s return, so I think the situation of both Sunni and Shiites in Iraq is bad for each party which thinks of its own interests not of the national unity.

“When asked about the Syrian management of the resistance in Lebanon, Soukkariyya took a pen and paper and drew a military map expressing his point of view as a professional military man who served on the southern borders of his country. He said “Syria can’t leave Lebanon for reasons that are not related to politics but to the military front and the security. The Syrian military front extends from Al-Sheikh mountain to the Jordanian borders then to the Lebanese borders and the sea. Therefore, Damascus supports the resistance because it does not want to clash with the enemy directly and because supporting the resistance is the only way to protect Syria… Militarily speaking, Damascus has no choice but to secure the delay or the prevention of the Israeli army from entering Syrian grounds. After the Syrian military retreated from Lebanon, the Bekaa valley became open. Thus, the resistance would delay the entrance of the Israeli forces… -

Who are Syria’s real friends?
As its relations with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran blossom, is Syria still keen for a rapprochement with the west?
Ian Black in the Guardian

Bashar al-Assad has every reason to be pleased with himself: barely a week goes by without some western VIP dropping in to see him. The other day it was the Spanish prime minister José Luis Zapatero. Even better, Syria’s deputy foreign minister was in Washington earlier this month after several senior Americans came to Damascus – living proof that there is a thaw in relations with the Obama administration, even if it has not yet gone as far as the president would like.

But a couple of things suggest that the Syrian leader is not as keen as some had thought for a rapprochement with the west – or that he has already reached his own limits. Last week the security authorities arrested Haitham Maleh, a leading lawyer and human rights activist, underlining the ease with which opposition figures are thrown into prison. That brought instant condemnation from the British Foreign Office and international human rights organisations.

The other is that after years of negotiations, the Syrians have just asked to postpone a long-awaited association agreement with the EU, which was supposed to be signed in Luxembourg on 26 October. The EU delay may simply be about trying to obtain better terms: low-tariff or duty-free access to European markets should certainly help boost Syrian exports, though some manufacturers reportedly fear the higher standards it will require. The second thoughts could also be because, at the insistence of the Netherlands, the EU text also included an explicit reference to respect for human rights. Whatever the objections, the sudden postponement still strikes an ill-tempered note that jars with the current make-nice mood in Damascus.

It’s a sensitive subject as talks on the EU agreement were frozen in 2004 under pressure from the Bush White House, angry over Syria facilitating the transit of foreign fighters across the border into Iraq. Jacques Chirac, then French president, resented Assad’s hostility to his old friend Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister who was later murdered in Beirut (many assume by Syrian agents, despite denials from Damascus). The Hariri killing sent Syria straight back into the cold.

Maleh’s sudden arrest – apparently because of an interview deemed to contravene the country’s draconian emergency laws – is a depressingly familiar phenomenon: Syria’s securocrats seem to operate on auto-pilot, oblivious to any effect their moves may have on the wish to be part of the wider world. “Syria is busy welcoming foreign diplomats and talking about peace and development,” said Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch. “But to its internal critics, it only unfurls the prison mat.” In the past external pressure has been counter-productive: when George Bush made a statement demanding Syria respect human rights, more of the usual suspects were rounded up the next day. Obama should, in theory, be able to be more effective. It is not enough for the US to focus solely on securing Syrian co-operation over Iraq, where there has been real progress.

Officials in Damascus generally exude confidence about things going their way. Relations with Turkey are blossoming as Turkey snubs Israel over the Gaza war. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Assad’s chief Arab adversary, has been mending fences too. The UN’s Hariri tribunal is going nowhere slowly. Above all, Syria wants an end to the bilateral US sanctions imposed because of its support for Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon: Washington calls them terrorists; Syria legitimate resistance to Israel. That standoff does not look like ending any time soon. Nor is there any sign that Assad will, as the US would dearly like, drop his odd-man-out alliance with Iran. “Foreign relations are not a zero-sum game,” said Syria’s deputy prime minister, Abdullah Dardari. “Or at least they shouldn’t be.”…..

Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, Washington D.C.

In response to Secretary Clinton’s remarks today at the United States Institute of Peace, we would like to stress that first, Syria is a signatory to the NPT and has abided by all its obligations under this treaty, regardless of the false accusations leveled by some circles.  Second, while we verifiably have no nuclear weapons, Israel boasts the largest nuclear weapons arsenal per capita in the world and obstinately refuses to sign the NPT while the US turns a blind eye.

Still, we commend Secretary Clinton’s, and indeed the Obama administration’s, commitment to bolstering the NPT and working on achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.  In this spirit, and in accordance with the administration’s vision, we call on the US to adopt the tabled UN resolution introduced by Syria in 2003 that declares the Middle East, in its entirety, a region free of weapons of mass destruction.  As a region mired by tension, this step would set a great example for the world and would act as a building block for the administration’s broader vision of a world free of WMDs.  We also call on the administration to follow its own commitment and vision by exerting pressure on its ally Israel to join the ranks of the world and sign the NPT.  Pushing to bolster the NPT while allowing a major ally to avoid it, is a double standard that will undermine the US’s nonproliferation efforts in our region in particular, and the world as a whole.

US Vows to Oppose Goldstone Report
AFP

“…  On Tuesday, Rice met Peres and vowed that the US would “continue to stand by Israel as a loyal friend in the fight against the Goldstone report,” according to a statement from Peres’s office on Wednesday…… Israel called the endorsement by the UN Human Rights Council a “diplomatic farce” and said it harmed Middle East peace efforts, but the Palestinians welcomed the resolution which they said should result in follow-up action from the UN Security Council. Goldstone himself rejected the Israeli argument, saying there was currently no peace process to save…”

David Rohde on the “why do they hate us?” question
From Salon.com
A new poll shows substantial support for bombing and invading Iran.
Glenn Greenwald
Oct. 19, 2009 |

Yesterday I wrote about the first installment of the account by The New York Times’ David Rohde of his seven months as a hostage held by the Taliban, and specifically how — as he put it — some of “Washington’s antiterrorism policies had galvanized the Taliban.”  His second installment is now available, describing his first several weeks of captivity after being moved to Pakistan, and it includes this:

For the next several nights, a stream of Haqqani commanders overflowing with hatred for the United States and Israel visited us, unleashing blistering critiques that would continue throughout our captivity.

Some of their comments were factual. They said large numbers of civilians had been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories in aerial bombings. Muslim prisoners had been physically abused and sexually humiliated in Iraq. Scores of men had been detained in Cuba and Afghanistan for up to seven years without charges.

To Americans, these episodes were aberrations. To my captors, they were proof that the United States was a hypocritical and duplicitous power that flouted international law.

When I told them I was an innocent civilian who should be released, they responded that the United States had held and tortured Muslims in secret detention centers for years. Commanders said they themselves had been imprisoned, their families ignorant of their fate. Why, they asked, should they treat me differently?…

[Landis comment: The following article about Middle East security states becoming more institutionalized and modern seems very accurate. My only gripe is that the main source of legitimacy for authoritarianism in the region may be something this author does not discuss, but Brian Whitaker does, which is culture (article copied below). Patriarchal and authoritarian societies produce dynasties. Dynastic rule is familiar in societies with a high degree of tribal and clan heritage. Also, as half-cooked polities, Middle East nation states may not be ready for democracy. The Iraq experience has scared many Middle Easterners from wanting to risk democracy. Many are insecure about their ability to contain the destructive potential of constitutional freedoms in deeply divided societies. The Syrian opposition has had the wind taken out of its sails - not simply because most of its leaders have been arrested or intimidated, but because the Syrian people are not listening right now. They are not confident that they can get to democracy should the government be overthrown or founder.]

MIDDLE EAST: Presidential security states take shape
Wednesday, October 14 2009
Oxford Analytica
SUBJECT: The advent of the Arab presidential security state.
SIGNIFICANCE: Talk of a third wave of democratisation or of a global move towards greater political and economic openness obscures the fact that, in most of the Middle East, developments are moving in the opposite direction — towards the intensification of presidential power and its support by a growing security apparatus.
ANALYSIS: The majority of Arab regimes which used to be styled ‘authoritarian’ are now mutating into something much more durable and powerful and can no longer be seen as transiting towards liberal forms. Instead they are being reworked to concentrate ever more power in life-time presidencies even while paying lip service to electoral democracy
· This is the case in Yemen and Syria as well as all across Arab North Africa.
· Much the same analysis can be applied to the major Arab monarchies such as Jordan and Morocco.
· The Libyan system is similar, especially as regards the inheritance of family power, but is yet more authoritarian.
· Only Lebanon and, for the time being, Iraq, remain immune.

Presidential security state. The basic features of these emerging systems are:
· presidencies that mimic the monarchies in being hereditary and for life (‘republican monarchies’);
· support from a small elite with a vested interest in preserving the existing distribution of power;
· strong backing from the military and from a growing security system (police, intelligence and under-cover forces);
· legitimacy derived from presidential elections that are supposed to express the will of the people, with little respect for constitutions which, thanks to docile parliaments, can be changed more or less at will; and
· support from the United States, Europe and Russia for their role in combating terrorism and facilitating the flow of oil, which involves little criticism of their human rights records, treatment of local oppositions and manipulation of elections.
Presidential power. These systems concentrate power in the hands of the president, who rules by weakening civil society organisations and the legislative and judicial branches, while balancing the various instruments of coercion under his control. They are highly personal and so dependent on the individual relationships and political skills and resources of the president. They also depend on having a family member as a plausible successor whom powerful persons within the elite believe can manage the transition of power while preserving existing political and economic relationships.
Presidents have to be adept at balancing two unequal forces — the military and the internal security apparatus:
· Whereas the military is a unified institution with a clear view of its own political role, the security apparatus is larger, more diffuse, more closely involved with society, omnipresent inside and outside government, and with immediate power to identify and punish persons taken to be a threat to regime.
· Despite its ubiquitous presence, the security apparatus’s lack of broader legitimacy, fragmentation into numerous components and structural subordination to the military militate against it assuming ultimate and direct political power…..

Middle East exceptionalism. The reasons why the Middle East seems to be bucking a world trend towards greater political pluralism include:
· the comparatively large size of the military and its dominant role in post-colonial Arab republics;
· the role of oil and strategic rents in providing patronage to incumbent elites and, in the case of the former, incentives for external actors to accommodate those elites; and
· the legacy of Western interference and confrontation with Arab nationalism and Islamism, which discredit Western systems and preferences.

Given the spread of republican monarchies across North Africa and into the Levant and the south-western corner of the Arabian Peninsula, it seems less likely that either Islam or direct confrontation with Israel have played a decisive role in creating or sustaining the system.
Another explanation of the system’s origins and persistence is the modelling effect in the region. Republican monarchies have learned not only from one another, but from the actual monarchies, the resilience of which has confounded predictions of some 30-40 years ago. In both republics and monarchies the frailty of political infrastructure requires simplification of leadership succession and family inheritance to become the standard type.
Another factor is the support provided to these governments by Western powers in order to combat terrorism or other threats to Western interests, including illegal migration, sometimes reinforced by well-meaning attempts to promote democracy. These typically end up strengthening executive branch institutions or encouraging a quasi-capitalism in political economies monopolised by a small number of business families allied to the regime, thereby reinforcing the regime itself rather than forces seeking to reform or replace it.
CONCLUSION: The trend in the Arab republican states is towards a new form of presidential hereditary system in which security considerations dominate, dissent is fiercely controlled, economic monopolies flourish and electoral results are determined in advance.
Hezbollah versus Israel, UPI

“Hezbollah declared a major victory for its resistance movement against Israel following the discovery of Israeli spy devices in south Lebanon. Hezbollah said it “managed to uncover a spy device” in south Lebanon that it claimed Israel planted following the 34-day conflict with militants in the Shiite resistance movement in 2006.

“The spying gear was planted on a telecommunication cable that was placed after the 2006 July war,” Hezbollah  said in statements on its al-Manar news network. “Right after the device was discovered, the Israeli enemy remotely destroyed the gear.”

Hezbollah said it was upset with language issued by the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon saying the devices were “apparently” placed by Israeli forces. Hezbollah lawmakers said that suggested UNIFIL was taking sides on the issue….”

Arab winds of change
Who is driving real change in the Arab countries? Not politicians, but feminists, gay people and bloggers
* Brian Whitaker

“Women, bloggers and gays lead change in the Arab world.” That is the headline of an article by Octavia Nasr for CNN’s blog AC360°. “Several new lines are being drawn in the Middle East’s desert sand simultaneously,” she writes. “If they continue to be drawn at this rate longer and thicker, it’s hard to foresee any governments, censors or jails being able to stop them.”

Though Nasr sounds a bit overexcited about the existence of a feminist mag in Arabic in which “no one dares to advertise” and a few other developments which are interesting straws in the wind but scarcely signs of an imminent revolution, I think she has a point. If asked where change is likely to come from in the Arab countries, I would not put much faith in “reformist” politicians and opposition parties – they’re mostly no-hopers – but I would definitely put feminists, gay men, lesbians and bloggers very high on my list.

It’s important not to exaggerate what they are actually achieving at the moment, but let’s consider their potential as challengers of the status quo and drivers of change. The “Arab problem” is mostly perceived in terms of the regimes: the lack of democracy, authoritarian rulers who trample over people’s rights, and so on. That was the perception of the Bush administration in particular and it led to the simplistic idea that regime change was the solution.

It’s now very clear (as I explain in my new book, What’s Really Wrong With the Middle East) that this was a mistake. You can overthrow dictators, you can force countries to have elections and you can even insist on voting procedures that are reasonably fair, but that doesn’t bring freedom unless it forms part of a much bigger social transformation.

What has emerged in Iraq, for example, is not so much a model for the rest of the Middle East (as originally intended by Bush and the neocons) but a model of it. As the smoke drifts away, Iraq is emerging as a fairly typical Arab state with most of their usual negative characteristics – a government with authoritarian aspirations, institutionalised corruption and nepotism, pervasive social discrimination and a rentier economy that produces little besides oil – plus, for good measure, resurgent tribalism and sectarianism.

Arab regimes, by and large, are products of the societies they govern and it is often the society, as much as the government itself, that stands in the way of progress. In Kuwait, for instance, it was not the hereditary emir who resisted granting votes to women, but reactionary elements in the elected parliament – and there are plenty of similar examples.

Khaled Diab, an Egyptian who contributes regularly to Cif, summed it up pithily when he told me: “Egypt has a million Mubaraks.” In other words, the Mubarak way of doing things is not confined to the country’s president; it is found throughout Egyptian society, in business and in families too. The Arab family as traditionally conceived – patriarchal and authoritarian, suppressing individuality and imposing conformity, protecting its members so long as they comply with its wishes – is a microcosm of the Arab state.

Changing the power structures within families (and in many parts of the Arab world this is already happening) will also gradually change the way people view other power structures that replicate those of the traditional family, whether in schools and universities, the workplace, or in government. This is where women come in. In an Arab context, demanding the same rights as men is a first step towards change. Asserting their rights doesn’t mean that all women have to be activists for feminism. Even something as simple as going out to work – if enough people do it – can start to make a difference.

Contrary to popular opinion, most human rights abuses in the Arab countries are perpetrated by society rather than regimes. Yes, ordinary people are oppressed by their rulers, but they are also participants themselves in a system of oppression that includes systematic denial of rights on a grand scale.

In these highly stratified societies, people are discriminated for and against largely according to accidents of birth: by gender, by family, by tribe, by sect. Women, as the largest disadvantaged group, can play a major role in overcoming this and helping smaller disadvantaged groups to do the same. Once the equality principle is accepted for women it becomes easier to apply it to others.

Discrimination against gay people has only begun to be challenged in the Arab countries during the last few years. In a patriarchal system, where masculinity is highly prized, any deviation from the sexual “norms” and expected gender roles is not only subversive but is regarded as extremely threatening. The vigilante killings in Iraq are the nastiest example – not just of men who are thought to be gay, but others who simply don’t dress and behave “as men should”.

The third group driving change are the bloggers. A recent survey found 35,000 people blogging in Arabic, plus countless others who use Facebook, Twitter, etc, to communicate over the internet. There has been much debate about the extent to which this is reshaping public discourse and undermining censorship, but that is not really the main significance of blogging and the internet in the Middle East. The traditional “ideal” of an Arab society is one that is strictly ordered, where everyone knows their place and nobody speaks out of turn. Basically, you do what is required of you and no more. You keep your head down, don’t make waves and let those who supposedly know better get on with running things.

The point about bloggers is that they want none of that. They are engaged, they are alive, and they’ll speak out of turn as much as they like. Put all these elements together and you can see how, sooner or later, the edifice could start to crumble.

Hard sell for Arab films
By Raja Abdulrahim
Filmmakers find that in their communities it’s tough to get support for the stories they want to tell.

Iran bought submarines from N. Korea, helped Syria
Yonhap News:, 2009-10-22
By Hwang Doo-hyong WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (Yonhap) — Iran has purchased several midget submarines from North Korea and has helped Syria get missiles and other forms of weapons of mass destruction from the North, a report has said.

“Iran purportedly has acted as an intermediary with North Korea to supply Syria with various forms of WMD and missile technology,” said a Congressional Research Service report, “Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses.” The report, issued Oct. 5, described the Obama administration’s recent engagement with Syria as “means to wean Syria away from its alliance with Iran.”

However, the report predicted that such an effort will not likely succeed, saying, “Iran is a major investor in the Syrian economy, which attracts very little Western investment, and some believe the Iran-Syria alliance is not easily severed.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday singled out North Korea and Iran as nonproliferation policy failures, describing “the range and intensity of current nuclear proliferation challenges” as “alarming.”

“The international community failed to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. We are now engaged in diplomatic efforts to roll back this development,” she said. “Iran continues to ignore resolutions from the United Nations Security Council demanding that it suspend its enrichment activities and live up to those international obligations. Thwarting the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran is critical to shoring up the nonproliferation regime.”

The CRS report also said that Iran “is said to possess several midget submarines, possibly purchased assembled or in kit form from North Korea.”

It noted, “Iran claimed on Nov. 29, 2007, to have produced a new small sub equipped with sonar-evading technology.”

Iran is believed to be one of the biggest buyers of North Korean arms, with annual purchases of up to US$2 billion.

Comments (16)


1. Alex said:

I can’t believe the level of stupidity that one encounters when Analysts speak about Syria:

However, the report predicted that such an effort will not likely succeed, saying, “Iran is a major investor in the Syrian economy, which attracts very little Western investment, and some believe the Iran-Syria alliance is not easily severed.”

Iran might be investing a billion or two in Syria … is this impossible to compensate really? … the failed Iraq war is costing the US a trillion dollars… Qatar, Dubai, Kuwait, and Bahrain invested ten times more than Iran did in Syria…

What they don’t want to say is that Syria’s relations with Iran are not about money .. they are about establishing a counterweight to the increasingly hard line Israel and to the hopelessly impotent US policy in the Middle East which is limited by what Likud might or might not tolerate.

That is why they can’t convince Syria to move sufficiently away from Iran.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 23rd, 2009, 9:59 pm

 

2. majedkhaldoun said:

I am disappointed that Syria is not going to sign the europian agreement

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 23rd, 2009, 11:40 pm

 

3. norman said:

Hey Ehsani ,

What do you think about the Association agreement ?.

Alex ,

When Israel was established , Israel was surrounded by Arab countries which were at war with it , they elected to make friends of the countries that surround the Arabs , IE Turkey and Iran , Syria started dismantling these relationships in the Eighties after the Iranian revolution , so President Bashar Assad should get credit for following his father footsteps and doing with Turkey what his father did with Iran , chipping away Israel from it’s friends .

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 24th, 2009, 2:19 am

 

4. hassan said:

It’s great to see that Obama, along with Britain and France, is speaking out against the repression in Syria. Hopefully Haitham Maleh will be freed.
———–

U.S. says Syria should release 78-year-old dissident
Sat Oct 24, 2009 2:05pm EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s administration called on Syria on Saturday to release a 78-year-old former judge who was arrested last week and placed under official arrest despite international condemnation.

“We join the United Kingdom, France, and other concerned international parties in expressing our deep concern regarding the detention of human rights lawyer Haitham Maleh by Syrian security services since Wednesday, October 14,” the White House said in a statement.

Maleh’s arrest is “the latest Syrian action in a two-year crackdown on lawyers and civil society activists,” the statement said.

Maleh was interrogated by a Syrian military prosecutor and placed under arrest.

Britain, France and international human rights organizations have called for the release of Maleh, who has for decades opposed Syria’s ruling Baath Party and the state of emergency it imposed after taking power in a 1963 coup. In the past he spent seven years as a political prisoner.

“Syria should demonstrate its commitment to international legal norms by releasing Maleh and other Syrian citizens who have been imprisoned solely for seeking to exercise their internationally recognized political freedoms,” the White House statement said.

Syria partly emerged from isolation by Western states last year. The government is still under U.S. sanctions, but it has opened trade contacts with several countries, including France, which hopes to sell the national airline billions of dollars’ worth of Airbus aircraft.

Lawyers said Maleh’s interrogation centered on statements he had made criticizing what he described as repression and rampant corruption in Syria. He was also asked about a phone interview he gave this month to an opposition television station based abroad, in which he called for more government efforts to curb corruption, and a letter he had written to President Bashar al-Assad.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 24th, 2009, 7:37 pm

 

5. Alex said:

Norman, I agree. But Israel does not seem to care about what Syria can do or what Syria succeeds in doing.

Check out what Mr. Peres (the peace maker) said today to the Washington Post:

Do you think it is a realistic dream to separate Syria from Iran?

It’s their decision. They cannot have both. They cannot make peace with the country that calls to destroy us and make peace with us. They have to make up their minds. Look, governing is choosing.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/23/AR2009102302419_pf.html

Mr. Peres still believes he can dictate on Syria his conditions. If one is to use his same argument, then in 2005 Syria should have asked Israel to cut relations with the US before Syria can talk peace with Israel .. the Bush administration was indeed preparing to invade Syria next … much more of a real threat to Syria than Iran’s hypothetical threat to Israel today.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 24th, 2009, 9:45 pm

 

6. norman said:

Hi Alex,

As you know i always said that is the only way to have peace is to force Israel in to peace , by military action economic sanctions or legal path for their crimes , the question that we should ask ourselves is what we can do to Israel so it’s leaders can justify moving toward peace to their people , they have to be either afraid from something , like nuclear Iran or Syria , or getting something like significant economic support , From the US or KSA ,

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 24th, 2009, 10:10 pm

 

7. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

The notion that “Middle East nation states may not be ready for democracy”, Is patronizing and is orientalistic.

First, ‘democracy’ is not something rigid and/or in unified shape, that has to be excepted ‘as is’. Democracy is a formula that is molded in accordance with the needs and with the political culture of the local players.
American democracy differs from the French which differs from the Turkish which differs from the Israeli… and so on.
I’m sure that it’s possible to create the kind and the shape that will serve the Syrians / Arabs as well.

Second, A democracy could be introduced gradually. Unlike it was done in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, start with local democracy; election to mayors and city councils; and wait to the local leadership to grow.
Erdogan, Ahmadinejad and Olmert started as mayors.

In children psychology, an overprotective parent feels that she / he’s doing something good. More then this, he / she think that they protect their child from hurting themselves, bleeding and even dying.
When in fact, the overprotective parent creates phobic and incapable child, with plenty of behavioral and functional issues. This is exactly what is happening with the Arabs.

The therapeutic mean in this case, is to convince and educate the parent to allow the child, limited and controlled exposure to (what they consider as) risks. This is exactly what should be done in Arabia.

Continuation of the regime of autocracy and dictatorship only keeps the fire burning under the pressure cooker, that one day will explode in our faces.
.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 25th, 2009, 11:37 am

 

8. norman said:

Amir in tel Abib ,

i can not believe how much sense you are making , notes like these are good , i actually agree with you , syria wants to move in the direction you are talking about with local democracy first but worry about foreign interference with money ,

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 25th, 2009, 5:30 pm

 

9. Alex said:

Amir,

I agree with Norman that your last comment was excellent. There is this mentality in the Arab world that only the experienced rulers understand what is safe enough for their people… and that people are not ready to be exposed to boundless risks.

I have been calling for the same thing you suggested above … starting with multi-party municipal elections. Few years later lessons learned from that experience can be applied towards free parliamentary elections … and eventually the election of an independent strong prime minister.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 25th, 2009, 5:56 pm

 

10. Off the Wall said:

Out of Topic
Folks, check this Syrian Artist out

http://www.fusedmagazine.com/2009/10/22/damascus/#more-2626

More of his photography on flicker, it is breathtaking

http://www.flickr.com/photos/khaledakil/

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 25th, 2009, 6:00 pm

 

11. Hassan said:

The latest poll question and answers are pure Orwell. The only way a person can state that they believe that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be harmful is if s/he also said that they are harmful because they would threaten the Saudis or Israel. There are many reasons one could come up with to oppose Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, but there are few in the region who are particularly supportive of Israel’s security. Only a Baath party apparatchik could have come up with that question and those answers.

Of course, some are opposed to proliferation generally and the increased risk of the use of nuclear weapons that accompanies proliferation. More importantly, though is the reality that the answers of this poll ignore: Arab states, with Syria being the exception, are very worried about the threat that comes with Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 25th, 2009, 6:06 pm

 

12. Off the wall said:

Amir
congratulation. That was an outstanding comment. This is consistent with the recognition that there is a need for fundamental social reforms in the Arab world, but said without a hint of condescention. well done. Thanks for giving me hope.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 25th, 2009, 8:23 pm

 

13. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Thank you guys for your warm and kind responses.
I was really moved.!
.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 25th, 2009, 9:00 pm

 

14. trustquest said:

Syria mulls and rethink the EU agreement provision for its suspension in the event of the violation of human rights by Syria:
This letter sent from Ben William, council member of the Democrat Liberal in Essex, England, to EU Association Agreement with Syria, in defining of his friend Kamal Labwani, one of the opinion prisoners in Syria, sentenced 12 years for his opinion and 3 years more for choosing to represents himself. In reminder of the recent arrest of Haitham Elmaleh, only because he is a lawyer defending those people who spoke their opinion he has to go to prison. What a wonderful country Syria is? Anyone still think their is a bright future for this country after putting led on mouths and brains of its people?

From: Ben Williams
Subject: URGENT: EU Association Agreement with Syria, the release of political prisoners and the unlawful detention of Dr Kamal Labwani
To:
Date: Friday, October 16, 2009, 9:37 PM
Dear Sir/Madam,

EU Association Agreement with Syria

I am writing to you as a concerned citizen of the United Kingdom and as someone whose friend is currently serving time in Adra Prison as a political prisoner – in fundamental violation of his human rights.

As you will be aware, Syria is shortly to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. The expected date for signing is 26th October 2009:

http://www.english.globalarabnetwork.com/200910113103/Syria-Politics/syria-eu-partnership-agreement-to-be-signed-in-2-weeks.html

This agreement contains a very important section:

“CONSIDERING the importance which the Parties attach to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the observance of human rights, democratic principles and political and economic freedoms, which form the very basis of the Association”

The full text can be found here:
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:52008PC0853(02):EN:HTML

I am writing to request assistance in drawing attention to the fact that Syria continues to systematically violate human rights, in direct contravention of the paragraph above. Syria denies it has political prisoners. However, it has routinely locked up proponents of peaceful democratic reform. It has detained them as criminals, but subjected them to a very different prison regime, segregated in the manner of political prisoners.

The latest high profile arrest, of elderly human rights lawyer Haytham al-Maleh, occurred just two days ago (14th October).

Details can be found here:

http://www.fidh.org/Enforced-disappearance-of-Mr-Haitham-Al-Maleh

I have been moved to write by the plight of one particular individual who I am proud to call my friend: Dr Kamal al-Labwani, who spent time in the UK, US and Europe, attempting to draw attention to Syria’s abysmal record on human rights, prior to his most recent arrest and detention.

Kamal is a doctor, an artist and also an advocate of peaceful democratic reform in Syria.

In September 2005, Kamal came to England to exhibit his paintings and to draw attention to the human rights situation in Syria. His intelligence, creativity, wit and wisdom inspired me, as did his love of Syria, and I was privileged to share many hours with him, including introducing him to the practise of democratic politics in the United Kingdom.

On returning to Syria, Kamal was arrested. He was charged with “communicating with a foreign country and inciting it to initiate aggression against Syria”. Anyone who spent any time at all with Kamal will know that he was one of the staunchest opponents of military intervention. He believed that change has to come from within a country, from its people. His mission was to draw the world’s attention to Syria so that its government would be forced to take decisions in the full glare of international scrutiny..

Kamal was sentenced to 12 years hard labour. A further three years were added because he chose to represent himself. Kamal suffers from inflammation of the prostate for which he is receiving inadequate treatment. He remains in Adra prison, with the signing of the Syria/EU Association Agreement only days away.

The United Nations has stated that his detention is unlawful. Below is a link to the opinion adopted by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention:

http://www.shril-sy.info/enshril/modules/tinycontent/content/labwani-d.pdf

It cannot be right that the EU signs an Association Agreement with Syria – which includes provision for its suspension in the event of the violation of human rights by Syria – when Syria is already violating human rights. The European Parliament has already expressed its concern, calling for Kamal’s release (alongside other political prisoners) in its resolution of 17th September 2009 [P7_TA-PROV(2009)0024]:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2009-0024+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN

Article 7 of that resolution “calls on the Swedish Presidency, the Council and the Commission to adopt a roadmap, prior to the signing of the Association Agreement, which clearly articulates the specific human rights improvements it expects from the Syrian authorities”.

That roadmap has not been forthcoming.

Below are some links which hopefully will provide some better context for the human context of this email.

This is a link to a collection of photographs of Kamal in the UK and in prison in Syria, together with reproductions of his paintings:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bpwilliams/collections/72157622412548243/

This is a link to the local Amnesty Group’s page for Kamal on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2387354014

If you feel moved to raise questions by any of this, I would ask you to query whether this agreement can be signed in good faith before those detained as political prisoners are released.

Should you feel so inclined, I would be grateful if you could forward this email to others who may be able to assist.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Ben Williams
Liberal Democrat, Basildon, Essex, UK

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 25th, 2009, 9:14 pm

 

15. Yossi said:

I’ll reply to this thread and to Alex’s comment from the previous thread

http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=4252&cp=all#comment-231590

Which is also related. The democracies of the West perhaps are engaged in propaganda wars and do not really *represent* their constituencies in the most basic manner, in the sense that you never really know what the presidential candidate you voted for will end up doing, and they all come from the same self-preserving elites, there are still two very basic aspects of this system that make people so proud of it.

The first one, is the constitutional liberties that are typical of a democracy, but not all democracies have them, and to some extent you can have them even without an elected regime. This is basically what *freedom* is about. It’s hardly about the luxury of casting a random vote every four years, so that you can vote for Bush senior and then Bush junior, or for Clinton and then for his wife. Much more than that it’s the freedom to express oneself, travel and associate. This is freedom from the arbitrariness of the regime, be it democratic or not.

The second principle is “democracy in depths”, i.e., that there are municipal and regional governments that give the citizen a better chance to actually call the shots on things that are closer to home.

Amir was talking about the second aspect in relation to Syria and I agree that this might be a good step forward in the sense that it will familiarize people with the concept of true elections and a political culture where they have a place, too.

However, the personal freedom parts is the crucial part, it is a proxy for the general question of whether there exists a rule of law. Without that, you can’t have any creativity in the society and especially no business is possible. Although Amir was dissing King Husein of Jordan for him being a monarch, I think that he might be on the right path to reforms. Why is that? Because when do you need to shut up people? When there is a truth to be suppressed. The truth in the case of Assad is that he is a dynastic king. But because of all the Baath ideological package, he can’t come to the people and say, hey we’re now actually a kingdom, I’ll be your ruler for life, but you can have the personal liberties that you want, and probably over time my rule will be less and less pronounced and more ceremonial (as happened in many monarchies in Europe—the UK, Belgium, Sweden, etc.). This is something that Husein can do, and I think in fact he does do it. He doesn’t have to disguise the fact that he’s a king, so he can move his country forward, within this framework.

On the other hand when you set up a kangaroo style of election and get 97% of the votes… where can you go from there? You’re already deep in a web of lies.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 26th, 2009, 4:40 pm

 

16. why-discuss said:

Yossi

What you write is very interesting. Let me point out the peculiarities of the arab world in that respect that i have observed.
A real democracy cannot be realized when people do not trust the central government and have allegeances to clan leaders or religious leaders. In Israel you are lucky that the religious people who listen to their rabbis more than to their governement is a small minority. In addition because Israel is a new country even though the Askhenaze are the elite rulers of the country, there are no real tribal allegeance to a charismatic leader of a certain community. Also, because of the history of the jewish people and the ordeal they went through during centuries, there is a very strong national identity, common to all jews in Israel.
Arabs come with a long history of tribalism. In addition the variety of religious sects is very large and there is a history of antagonism among them. National identity is lost under the other identities.
Most countries in Europe with such history have had a hard time moving to a smooth democracy. It is only when religion was put aside and economical growth moved the people away from the influence of the ‘leaders’ of their rural area, that a form of democracy and national identity emerged. It took centuries to achieve this and still in some part of the ‘democratic’ europe, some form of tribalism exists, especially in poor areas.

Authoritarian royalty was and is a way to control the leaders who are abusing their community and to create a national identity that would take precedence to other identities.
In that sense the Al Assad dynasty has succeeded in creating a strong national identity in Syria.
Yet in the arab world we are very far from dissociating religion from the law and the countries are not industrialized enough to break the strings that tie the people to their tribal leaders.
Lebanon is a laboratory of such attempts and we see how messy it is. Lebanese are first of all loyal to their religious and their tribal leaders, despite the high level of education and a non-authoritarian regime.
One wonders if an authoritarian regime is not a prerequisite to the gradual emergence of a democracy for the people once the national identity has become part of their DNA.
in any case, we are talking of at least 2 generations to start to see real democracy emerging. In the mean time, we just have to prevent these authoritarian regimes from becoming dictatorships.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

October 26th, 2009, 8:02 pm

 

Post a comment


nine − 5 =