It is not just the ruling regimes’ fault [Archives:2004/794/Opinion]

November 29 2004

Hassan Al-Haifi
Needless to say, the Arab World, and for that matter most of the Moslem World is passing through its most difficult of times. Amidst the political stagnation one is bound to notice in almost all the countries of the region, there is the pitiful economic picture, manifested by little or even negative economic growth, widespread poverty and deprivation of the most basic of social services. Even in those countries that have ample resources and substantial means, one cannot fail to detect the unfortunate malignant cultural abyss that characterize the seemingly plastic affluence that may be apparent in these states, despite the heavy investment in education and the easy access to the cultural developments outside their countries.
Undoubtedly the repressive nature of most of the states in the Arab and Islamic Worlds has been a major factor in the poor performance of these states in achieving meaningful economic and social development, as well as in the lack of cultural inertia that can be manifested in the vibrancy of the society. It is scientifically found that the human mind's ability to create and innovate will be severely hindered when confronted by so many rules and procedures that regulate the circulation of knowledge within the society or the ability to access knowledge quickly from overseas. Yet, most of the countries of the region have deliberately set in all these obstacles to a free exchange of ideas within the society and with the outside world, without regard to the obvious cultural degradation that such obstacles have created and without concern for the obvious effects such obstacles have on development. So, we find most of these states undergoing serious studies to determine the obstacles to growth and development, and more often than not, they will be funded by the international donor community or through bilateral cooperation arrangements. But these studies would never directly point to the impact that severe repression of a political nature stands behind most of the failures achieved by these states. If any political factors are shown, they normally point to opposition forces against the prevailing regime and the ongoing power struggles that plague most of these societies, and would clearly highlight the innocence of the prevailing regimes from any contribution to such economic, social and cultural retardation.
However political repression, emanating from the ruling regimes is not the only problem leading to such failures in development. Through a labyrinth of legislative and regulatory procedures and activities that may not necessarily be supported by political justifications, most of the regimes will tend to impose all the jurisdictional dictates and codes that simply keep their people bogged down in a bureaucratic quagmire, even for access to the most basic of services, or in order to undertake any meaningful enterprise or venture that will help raise standards of living or enhance cultural and social levels within the society. On the other hand, any collective efforts are almost discouraged by the imposition of severe guidelines on the formation of community groups or civil society organizations, not to mention political parties or organizations. Thus, it is not hard to see why one finds collective or community action at very insignificant levels in most of the Arab States and Moslem countries. The argument is that such collective action could ferment and develop into political desires and aspirations (So What?) and thus lead to challenges against the prevailing order. What eventually arises is a tight net establishment with strong links to the strong centers of power, or influence within the regime, monopolizing all access to economic enhancement and social services, not to mention the resources of the country that are availed to them alone, without being subjected to any jurisdictional or regulatory hindrances.
But, the regimes are capable of creating this block on the development of sustainable economic livelihoods and cultural expansion not just by their repressive tactics and measures, but thanks to those who are able to see the deliberate efforts by the existing regimes to maintain a lid on the enhancement of their people's welfare and social development. This comes about because these people “who know better” are not maximizing the potentials of their intellect towards challenging or doing away with any repressive measures that are imposed on their people. This is so, even with their entrance within the establishment. On the contrary, some of these intellectuals will tend to try to make up for the loss of their elitist status, by finding niches within the existing social and political establishment, which they can enter and which will compensate for their inability to let genius do its work to fulfill their livelihood needs and their desire for social status. Moreover the closed doors to mass collective action that repression has created tends to produce an attitude of “what can I do all by myself” except be an immediate victim of repression and no one will raise a finger in their defense. We have seen this in the exaggerated measures taken against those few in these countries, who have raised their voices too high above the red lines of limited democratic activities by those regimes that boast of some lip service to democracy. These red lines, by the way, have no legislative or nationalistic ordinances to substantiate them or justify them. More often than not, these red lines were the master work of educated lawyers and intellectuals, who have found their niches in the establishment and decided to render their intellectual prudence towards serving the regimes and thus ensure that they themselves avoid becoming victims of repression (economically and socially and not just politically). These intellectuals will go out of their way to exaggerate their praise for the rulers and go to the length of attributing saintly or godly qualities of the rulers at the expense of their own dignity and in total abeyance of their intellect. Efforts to rejuvenate communal spirits within these societies are non-existence, because the intellectuals who can inspire such spirits have either become slaves of the prevailing social order (with all its maladies) and void of any real patriotism or even concern for the overall welfare of their societies. The few that might display any semblance of such patriotism or concern will be found in the prisons maintained by the regime or struggling to eke out a half way decent living, with very little time for meaningful social and cultural enhancement of themselves or their society – a vicious cycle of endless despair.