Ahmed Abdallah

The Middle East – Despair as a Spectacle

Images of death and despair dominate the media's reports about the Middle East. The only way out are reforms of the three most influential forces. Ahmed Abdallah tells us who must act, and how.

photo: AP
Demonstration in Cairo

​​Not only are we surrounded by the smell of death, but the television and PC screens around us assure that the pictures of death remain constantly in front of our eyes: Whether a picture of the coffins of American soldiers killed by the Iraqi fighters, or the pictures of tortured Iraqis.

In this nightmare death is the winner, in Riyadh, Madrid, Damascus, and of course in the land where nightmares are omnipresent: Iraq and Palestine.

Enforcing change or changing political forces?

The scene as it is now is the ideal condition for an even more violent scenario of change supported by those who see change through more bloodshed the only way out.

But the three forces claiming to support reform are far from providing its basic requirements. Firstly, the regimes of the regions want a reform that would not change their corrupt authority over their people.

Secondly, the North-Atlantic policy makers want a controlled reform that would guarantee stability and assure their strategic and economic interests are preserved.

And thirdly, the different Arab political forces, whether Islamic or Nationalist, are far from having a consistent reform vision that would address not only domestic affairs but also regional and international ones.

These very three forces need reform themselves, or any talk about peace and stability would only add power to the Israeli-American machinery of hegemony.

Rulers in the Arab world

One can confirm that the first force, the Arab polity, would not go for a real power sharing that would lead to a restriction of their unlimited power and access to national wealth. The rulers of the Arab world continue to be a major obstacle to change and progress.

According to the theory of those Arabic regimes it would even give them more support against their own opponents if they can assure the super power they can back its fight against "terrorism".

The pressures exercised to give the Islamists more space in the political domain only resulted in the green light the Egyptian Wasat party was given to re-apply for a political party.

Being a small unrepresentative fraction of the Muslim Brotherhood that declared dissent it hardly would represent the mainstream Islamic opposition. Such trivial concessions are only meant to deceive the masses, calm down external pressures, and fragment the national opposition even further.

The United States

On the other hand the super power is in real need of reforming its own policy in the region. Revising its own historic mistakes and failing policies is the only way to regain its credibility that it completely lost in the Arab-Israeli conflict and in Iraq.

Unless the EU steps in more strongly it would soon lose the limited remaining ability to be a trusted partner in the eyes of the Arab peoples.

The different forces that demand power sharing need to become more democratic, more innovative and less antagonist toward each other. The call for accountability should include their own elites and leaderships, and self critique is very much needed.

The Islamists

The Islamists are urged to reformulate their vision of the relation between the public and the private, the political and the civil.

Their notions of morality and overstress on virtues should be translated into a clear perspective of civic virtues and civil liberties, or else they would end up following the same authoritarian track of the dominant polity in case they ever get to power.

Caught in the middle – a public in despair

Not only do people in Palestine commit martyrdom – or what is called suicide bombing – in despair, but average citizens do the same in many countries, yet in a more implicit manner.

They escape reality by embracing apathy, denial and retreat from the civil space.

Accused by the authorities of being unprepared for democracy and the cause of the failure of the development plans, they feel estranged in their own country.

They are accused by foreign powers of holding a culture that is backwards, a religious devotion that encourages terrorism and a spirit of hatred and intolerance against the "other".

On the other hand they are accused by the Islamists of being far behind the "ideal" model of an Islamic society, affected by westernization. They seem to be losers either way.

Escaping reality

Circulated by death images, death threats and death promises, they turn their back to the future. Pain is deep, and the easiest way to escape is rising consumerism and emerging centrality of the individualism and a materialist world view.

No democracy without democrats, and no future without reform, and no reform without change in the current checks and balances. This is the dilemma of the Arab World.

The way ahead can only bring promising signs if we see the birth of new ideas and a new radical democracy.

Muslims and Westerners should join forces

If the Muslims were able to build bridges with the leftists in the anti-war coalitions in the West as well as in the region, why should this option be excluded from the reformative actions?

A more radically democratic Islam would require the leftists to be more sensitive to Islam. A liberal democracy might not be the right option for the region, but rather a social democracy.

If the masses hear a voice of social justice and a discourse of progressive Islam they would put their faith and trust in it.

Ahmed Abdallah, Cairo

© Qantara.de 2004

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