The forthcoming Arab SummitBe ready to make sacrifices or else stay home [Archives:2004/721/Opinion]

March 18 2004

Much has been said about the importance of the forthcoming Arab Summit Conference in Tunis later this month. Yet it is difficult to find any real specific information on the agenda of the Conference and the issues to be discussed. While there are some who believe that Arab Summit meetings are important in order to deal with the common issues confronting the Arab Nation (the latter now conveys far less political significance than it did any time in the past, not to mention its weaker regional weight in a global setting), most observers are inclined to believe that very little outcome of significance is expected. In the almost sixty years' history of the Arab League, these Arab Summit conferences have become less momentous as time rolls on. They certainly have become less effective as a forum for collective action by the member states or the Arab League on the major issues confronting the Arab World or in coming even close to meeting the common aspirations and goals shared by the citizens of all the different Arab States. In fact, as time progresses, Arab leaders have taken the latter less and less seriously, although Summit resolutions abound with lip service mention of such goals and aspirations in cliches, which really have minimal policy implications and insignificant strategic impact.
On the other hand, the Arab World has actually never been further from the achievement of a unified Arab State or from any real semblance of political, economic and social cohesion than it is at the present time and nothing appears in the horizon to reduce the distance. Mind you, the idea has never dwindled in the minds and the hearts of every Arab citizen at the grass roots level and within the almost negligible permitted elements of civil society. Except for a few Arab states, even civil society is generally lacking in any real empowerment, functionally or politically, and is for all practical purposes incapable of being free from the awesome overpowering influence of most of the respective governments in the Arab World.
The obvious to most of the grass roots Arabs is inescapable: the present leadership throughout the Arab World is not really keen on truly working towards coming out with any concrete long range steps that will lead to the achievement of effective integration in any field, let alone political integration, nor in devising solutions to the major issues of common interest or feelings confronting the Arab World. Observers will often allude this static nature of the Arab World as a nation to the absence of serious intent on the part of the Arab leaders to find effective solutions and manifesting them on the ground. Many will also cite that even the autocratic regimes of the Arab World going back until the end of the 1973 War with Israel did attempt to arrive to sound decisions for collective coordinated actions, in order to at least diminish any previous setbacks or failures. Furthermore, they were not hesitant in sharing in with the required resources (including manpower, money and economic influence), each according to their available means.
What happened since then? There is no one single answer to define the causes for the greater fragmentation of the Arab World, but it is clear that even the embarrassing setbacks, faced by the Arabs, are no more a stimulus for meaningful collective efforts, than they are for giving rise to greater differences among the Arab leaders prompted by ego rather than any sense of nationalistic Arab consciousness.
What is more distressing is that the Arab masses in the street are no longer able to freely come out and voice their disapproval of the way their leaders are managing, even the most serious issues, locally or regionally, that lurk in the minds of the general populations, while these issues have not at all taken a back seat in the minds of these people. Only if the respective Arab governments seek to come forth with some spectacle of public action, of course wholly arranged and notoriously scaled down to ceremonial marches, embedded with heavy security implantments, will one notice any public expression of disappointments or even approvals of the developments in the regional or local scene. Of course, one seldom hears of public opinion polls or demonstrations of protest against Arab governments. This is not because all is fine and dandy in the way these governments are managing public affairs or allocating national resources, but because Arab governments, in general, have made repression and fierce reaction a rule in dealing with any form of collective public action of protest, which they simply translate as acts of treason. Having said that, Arab governments are under the false illusion that they are well in control of their populations and therefore are not accountable to their constituencies, who are unable to harness any form of collective action to show their displeasure with government performance. Arab governments have mastered the art of confining their populations to people forced to live under difficult conditions struggling to maintain sustenance levels of livelihood, thus eliminating any scope for political or social action by the masses. Opposition to government is highly risky, even if expressed in the most harmless of ways and all avenues for airing any discontent are all closed. Even those Arab states that claim to have adopted democratic rule are simply making a mockery of genuine democratic practice with staged surface renditions of democratic activities that just provide substantial sources of illicit wealth for those entrusted with managing these activities.
Thus for any summit conference to be meaningful, Arab leaders must declare themselves ready to sacrifice much of the power they have endowed themselves with over the various machineries and resources of the state, that are fully at their disposal, and start to realize that unless their citizens are truly free, there is absolutely no way they can gauge the extent they have become failures in truly living up to the expectations of their constituencies. In that context, save the money and stay home and carry on as usual. Either way there is no great loss.