One single alternative to reform [Archives:2005/834/Opinion]

April 18 2005

By Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz al-Tarb
After Egyptian President's decree to amend constitution so that it caters for appointing the president through secret and general election instead of a referendum on one single person, we don't know definitely the results of that initiative in the Egyptian life. Analyzed, ultimately they wouldn't be isolated from the discourse of change, development and reform overwhelming the area for two years, or the series of far-reaching developments after the September 11 events and then the war on Iraq in 2003. Some would reject such a conjecture.

The initiative came weeks after the Palestinian, Iraqi and Saudi elections and two days before the public upheaval that overthrew the Karami government in Lebanon and compelled Syrian President Bashar a-Asad to announce his readiness to pull out from Lebanon. Prior to all that, it came after the reform steps taken by some Gulf States, internal and external maneuvers by the Libyan Leader, and the signing of the peace pact between the Sudanese government and the Public Army for Sudan Liberation.

There are many questions now that revolve around whether our area, whose authoritarian leaders spent many decades resisting the winds of democracy and reform, has become lenient and given itself up to its fate or is it still invincible to change and reform, and that this swaying movement is just to absorb the winds' force?

To attempt a definite answer to these questions is risky. It is too early to announce the defeat of such totalitarian, authoritarian, and tyrannical regimes, groups and ideologies which are still controlling the Arab life and refuse to lower their flag before the democratic surge creeping up the streets of Arab cities.

In Iraq, regardless of the election results, enemies of democracy do not accept these results. In Palestine, the greatest challenge before the sun of freedom is the establishment of the Palestinian statehood which would give a meaningful and respectable life to Palestinians. In Lebanon, there is much for the public revolt before it turns into a real power of the people aside from foreign and political interference, influences and interests of war lords and militias who try to throw Lebanon back into the era of dominance and warring. In other Arab capitals, each step of doing reform is threatened with many steps of undoing reform, if for a while the impetus for reform abates.

It is important to understand and describe the current reform process for many reasons: a) to avoid being entrapped by the schemes of the regimes that propagate its minor steps as a democratic achievement they patronizingly bestow on their peoples as though they are not long delayed rights.

b) To stop indulging in rosy dreaming that an era of freedom and democracy has come in after a long period of subjugation.

What is happening in the Arab World is actually the prelude to a fascinating scene in which we see people long for, and seek liberation along with governments and regimes confessing their helplessness to ignore or suppress these claims. They are trying to contain them dexterously cunningly. This means that this road is rugged and requires something more than hopes, goodwill, and even importunate claims set forth by the public in the Arab community. It is important to find out the obstacles to the Arab World's democratic transformation, and treat them seriously and plausibly without prolongation, excuses, or uncertainty. The failure of postponement of achieving such transformation will automatically relapse the Arab world to the hands of the lurking forces of darkness.

The first of these problems is the relation between the outside and inside in terms of democracy. Regimes exploit it for purposes of incitement, blackmailing and terrorization. They have succeeded in spreading the illusion that democratizing and reforming the area is an external (particularly American) wish which serves foreign sides. Democracy with its symbols, values and institutions is a purely national need which was expressed by Arabs who participated in the liberation wars against colonization and by Arabs who are resisting dominance. It is necessary to expose the attempts at shaking and accusing reform calls on the ground that they are serving foreign targets and interests. Actual events indisputably indicate that most of these regimes could not have possibly remain in power throughout these years without foreign support as they were flouting all laws, constitutions, criteria of good governance, and human rights conventions. Therefore, those who had taken help from outsiders against their people have no right to claim that “reform melody is externally tuned” for the simple reason that the US realized that to immunize its national security against terrorism it should enhance and spread democracy in the area.

We should admit that the public in the Arab region are suffering from pathological apathy, distrust, and confusion, the results of consecutive disappointments at regimes' inaction and ill-intention regarding reform, the totalitarian impulses and monopoly. I myself have seen in Arab elections people who did not go to poll stations, though they were in the vicinity of their homes. They justified their lack of confidence in the impartiality of conducting the elections, and their results. They said they were preplanned by the regime.

To restore people's confidence in the feasibility of reform is essential but, this can't be done by regimes that don't like reform. Then, it is necessary to create and develop a public democratic culture to support and facilitate establishing, fostering, and reinforcing democracy. Indeed, people sometimes erupt in volcano-like motion at certain historical moments but democracy needs more than wrath. It requires democratic culture, conduct, and values which NGOs can instill in ambitious souls. The Arab community is inordinately in need to get out of the state of frustration and despair and be incorporated into the current process.

There is the issue of the absence of the people who can spearhead the reform and modernization claims which are the prerequisites of the success of this process. Such calls have to be broadly public-based outside the official circles and governmental authorities that do its best to mischievously evade them or make them devoid. The policy of totalitarianism, exclusion and monopoly practiced by the (sole party) regimes and their security apparatuses have weakened other parties and groups so much that they appear sometimes shaken, marginalized and infiltrated. This makes them unable to win the people's confidence that they can encounter the regime and lead the reform movement.

The sensitive and critical turn which the Arab area is taking, jeopardizes nations and countries as regimes have failed to meet decent life needs of their people, entering into a state of collapse and helplessness in front of local and foreign challenges.

It is evident that there is an alternative to reform that is, getting out of the vicious circle of totalitarianism, monopoly and custodianship as well as for the regimes to stop playing tricks and providing half solutions. It is the option of obeying the resolution of the Arabs and meeting their expectations to live like other people of the world, in freedom, dignity, welfare and peace. Can our leaders do that?