Fear of change [Archives:2004/777/Viewpoint]

September 30 2004

Arab regimes still think that change is something to fear, or at least to be cautions about. This is what I have concluded from my 2-day meeting in New York with representatives from the Arab world as preparation for the upcoming inauguration of the Future for Future.
“What if” is the reaction you get from officials when trying to convince them that reform is needed in the Arab world.
“What if this is a conspiracy to introduce Western culture into our societies?”
“What if these reforms are intended to bring insecurity and rebellion in our countries?”
“What if our people don't want these reforms, especially economic reforms that result in higher prices?”
“What if this is a means to integrate Israel in the region and make us normalize relations?”
The above questions are among a few that are usually asked by Arab officials who are suspicious about the idea of reform in the Arab world, and are wary about the potential consequences.
But if we are to arrive at a real conclusion, we will indeed end up seeing that Arab regimes fear change and reform because they fear being ousted from power. They are able to analyze the situation and realize that allowing reform, especially political reform in the fields of human rights, freedom of the press, and enforcement of the law on all, will lead to a weakening of their authority and power.
The central rule now recognized in all the Arab world, (except perhaps in the United Arab Emirates), is that reform and power are inversely proportional, in other words, more reform equals less power for regimes. Hence, don't they have reason to panic?
But on the other hand, Arab regimes are also witnessing a decline in their economies, their security situations, and the levels of income and prosperity of their citizens. They realize that crime rates are rising as poverty rates soar. They see more unemployed people in the streets, and realize the failings of past strategies. This has also been confirmed in the Arab human development report 2004 issued by the UNDP. The fact is that if things continue as they are, people of the Arab world will continue to starve, be unproductive, and all of the Arab nations will continue to regress. This in tern will not be a source of pride for the regimes, which will have to struggle to maintain power by even more excessive use of power. But this form of ruling is doomed to failure and democracy has to prevail sooner or later, because it has been proven that it is the remedy for our social, economic, and political problems.
But can our regimes realize this before it is too late and before we slip further into poverty, illiteracy, poor productivity, and weaker enforcement of law? I believe that we have a golden opportunity to allow Arab regimes to change the way they think about reform and its implications.
The ability to accept the waves of change needs to be demonstrated by our leaders. Accepting reform is not at all an indication of weakness, but rather a sign of courage and a willingness to build a better future for the next generation.
But it remains to be seen whether the fear of change will persist or not, there is no doubt that this change is coming, whether regimes want it or not!