Arab Reform: When, how, and why? (2/2) [Archives:2005/850/Opinion]

June 13 2005

By Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz al-Tarb
Mutual Arab work, inter-Arab relations, and the general scene in the region are too broad to be tackled in this article. However, duty calls us to counteract dangers and stop the policy of delay and self-deception and the misconduct of over 60 years of the Arab League's life.

Pervious Arab summits showed that general Arab system is absent and, if found, is corrupted, weak and decaying. It needs no intelligence to realize the principles of reform which are very basic most important of which is the fair settlement of the Palestinian Cause and, consequently, pacifying the Middle East based on the resolutions of international legitimacy. Other conditions include the preservation of the Arabic identity, openness to the otherness, solutions to the problems resulting from Iraq occupation, eradication of terrorism and extremism, establishing the system for inter-Arab cooperation in all fields especially economy, catching up with the world of integration and gigantic amalgamations and globalization.

Concerning internally directed reform in every Arab state, the principles and conditions are galore such as:

– Reform is a difficult complicated process that requires awareness on its concepts, importance and implementation mechanisms. The invitation for proper using of Arab media channels is renewed instead of using them to incite sedition and spreading havoc.

– This process should originate inside based on peoples' and leaders' convictions. It should not be imposed from outside as it is happening today. Its principles are not imported and are not imposed by force as it was the case in the past with some Arab states which had imported principles leading up to devastation and disasters claiming a heavy charge on the Arab economy, stability and security.

The positive side of this subject is that most of the recent stances and statements agreed on this principle and rejected the idea of imposing reform from outside. President Bush himself, who was promoting inevitable democracy and reform for his own ends, once said, “We do not intend to impose our democracy on the Arab states. We will cooperate with them to start the steps of reform amidst a belief that we should stop addressing the Arab people through leaders.”

Any radical reform should be carried out step by step. The medicine should be given at well-studied intervals. Gradualness is necessary so that the experience does not fail. Therefore, we should take into account the experiences of Lebanon, Algeria, and Jordan and study the implementation means in order to save the country a faked democracy or give the people democracy controlled by narrow religious, racist, political extremism.

– Such gradualness should take into consideration the specialty of every individual Arab state. What may work with Syria or Lebanon may not work with Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States and vice versa.

– We should learn from past experiences and the contemporary changes. We have to get rid of the idea that the majority has the right to control the minority. The majority should not dictate to the minority, oppress it by force and tyranny. This is necessary in order to avoid revolutions and uprisings which will bring us back to naught.

– Reform cannot come into existence only when it is based on the sovereignty of the law and respect for human rights and public liberties. This requires conviction, transparency and eradication of corruption.

– If it is not acceptable to impose reform from outside, it is so to impose reform by the higher tire of the hierarchy. All people should be involved in the process especially NGOs including syndicates, labor unions, women, human rights, and environment organizations. Women's participation is vital and necessary in this field because their role was marginalized for centuries.

Doha Fifth Forum for Democracy and Free Trade, which hosted hundreds of thinkers, politicians and pressmen, featured extensive discussion of these principles. Qatar Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani noted that moving towards democracy and free economy cannot be finalized unless it is based on a firm resolution that understands the importance of reform, and therefore we have to struggle for an integrated reform culture. Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr stated that two parties must be there: the first is the governmental approval for democracy to grow into shape systematically and gradually, the second is the public will towards this end. Kuwaiti Minister of Energy Sheikh Ahmed al-Fahd al-Ahmed al-Sabbah emphasized the importance of education, and ensuring justice, equality and freedom until we achieve the sought comprehensive development. He confirmed that the democratic community cannot come into existence without women's active role in determining society's fate.

On her part, Dr. Ahedah Tali, professor at the Lebanese University, affirmed the importance of such role. She said, “The major task is on the shoulder of women who face most of the time constraints.” She added that women should:

– Have confidence in their capabilities which are not different from men's.

– Critically examine surrounding customs and traditions.

– Realize its citizenship and participate in national public policy and join various NGOs.

– Contribute to pressure campaigns.

– Practice democracy at home by:

First: Raising children according to the principle of equality and non-discrimination between her sons and daughters maintaining dialogue to resolve problems instead of giving orders. She should give chance to free expression and respecting different opinions.

These are the most basic principles and conditions which can ensure the atmosphere necessary to answer the first questions regarding reform and democracy in the Arab World: How and Why? When and Where? However, I, once again, repeat that we should admit to our past bitter experiences through which the Arab states went and re-evaluate the current stage honestly and objectively far from sensitivities, obsessions and inferiority complex. We should stop the policy of black-out, silencing, mutual belying, and banning controversies, debates and self-criticism.

I conclude this article with the words of a former senior Iraqi official I met a few days ago in an Arab capital's hall. After exchanging compliments and formal talk, I asked him a serious candid question: “Now, after the disgraceful fall of Baghdad, Iraq occupation, and two years of destruction, poverty, homelessness, and displacement of millions of whom you are, don't you regret the conduct of the previous regime? Don't you feel the bitterness and hold yourself and Saddam's regime accountable for what you have done to noble Iraqi people. They do not deserve such a tribulation and you have escaped from the battlefield.”

I expected him to react angrily and aggressively and may be insult me as it was the norm with the pillars of the former regime at the times of tyranny and totalitarianism. However, he was frustrated. He lowered his head for a while and answered very quietly and with a hushed voice, “Indeed, I am reassessing, analyzing and sequencing the events that have happened attempting to record them for the coming generations and for history. However, I can assure you that, in principle, that mistakes were many. Not all our experiences were successful. I have a belief that even the royal reign overthrown by 1958 coup, was not bad. It had its own plus and minus points.”

Is it possible to generalize the act of regret over the Arab World as a first step towards desired reform? Can we claim the Arab leaders and kings to wisely peruse the internal conditions so as not to wake up when they are no longer in power. It is a hope we would like to achieve as we are seeking reform and change.