Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Middle mess


We are reviewing the Arab world.  The former overview of  states , seen as one homogeneous prayer mat, has been shaken by the current events.  This  reductive presentation was shattered by the desperate gesture of one single Tunisian man.  In setting himself on fire, he destroyed all the clichés that were the dubious  achievements  both of the Arabs themselves  and of the  public opinion outside the Arab world.
Since then, many theories have attempted to come to terms with the unrest which is spreading from Morocco to the Emirats.  Actually, the pundits were more concerned with finding a coherent narrative than with  political  understanding. The Domino farce was supposed to lead to a logical sequence of similar causes and effects.  It was proven as wrong during the Vietnam war as it is a fallacy today.
The Middle East is a mess.  The Arab League a sham (what is new ?) and the “other” world finds itself divided between opportunism,  realpolitik  and  a murky  messianism , under the umbrella of a UN resolution, which is open to interpretation.
The various tremors that are shaking the region obey to a variety of reasons which have few inter-connections, other than a single geographical spread.  Most countries  react to their own specific  realities , which  differ rather than unite.  Besides, the situations are all in flux.  Egypt is not a “case closed” . The appreciation of the events and of the players is still too sketchy to be sustainable.  It is easier to herald democracy than to realize it. The uprisings in other Arab countries require  restraint rather than engagement.  The actors, the goals, the risks outweigh the desirable probabilities. Libya is a perfect example wherein  the moral legitimacty of an intervention  gets  lost in a quagmire of colliding intentions and non existing interlocutors.
 Given the undisputed fact that a military intervention became unavoidable, the cherry-picking collateral might become embarrassing. The West finds itself in an asymmetric moral model wherein the decision to intervene “a la carte” undermines laudable intentions. Furthermore,  it is unavoidable that a fragile consensus never holds in the absence of a clear timetable , rules of engagement and  an agreed outcome.
The USA is making the same mistake as in Afghanistan by linking success to the elimination of one person.  If regime change in Libya or the capture of Bin Laden are essential , it would  have been  smarter not to mention it. The advertisement of possible failure is bad politics.
We are confronted by a series of events connected in time but disconnected in reality. Most of the countries involved have only one thing in common, an authoritarian regime.  Otherwise they are sociologically, religiously (Islam is not homogeneous), and tribally divided , inside and outside of their borders.  Hasty judgements,  applause  for an untested and unproven  democracy are premature and out of touch  with a mentality set in stone for centuries. The belief that pluralism and human rights will suddenly prevail is absurd.  Some of the  same men who  manifested for democratic reforms went home to beat their wives.   Islam still has not passed the test of  enlightenment.

 Other similar, but not identical situations in Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, do not remain unnoticed. They are too often left to their own devices in part because the “usual  suspects “  (China, Russia and other BRICS) prefer to watch rather than to act.
 Is there anything that can be done?   In the short term it is unlikely  that  the chaos will generate improvement.  The Arab worl d must deal with its own demons, just as anybody else.  Equilibrium has to come from the inside.  If some continue to refute good governance, so be it.  There always remains a way to be in touch with the civil society , as the West has done previously  with the Soviet Union.  The “evil empire” did not collapse under pressure of a foreign military intervention. It imploded from within . The West provided the democratic- recognized forces with a lifeline.  Besides, there is no Gorbachev in the Arab world, neither is there a recognized intellectual movement for comprehensive change.  Was Iraq, as it is today ,worth the thousands of American and Iraqi fatalities?  Is Afghanistan worth this endless, extenuating effort, which seems to lead to even more poppies, abuse and corruption?
Other parts of the world have had to come to terms with their own  problems . When it was done with outside help (American) in Europe and Japan, it worked because there was room for a compatibility of civilizations, notwithstanding former enmity.  In the Arab world those elements are still missing and premature over-involvement can only lead to aggravation. Trade, exchange of ideas, dialogue, cooperation in solving the Palestinian drama will be more helpful  than any other alternative.  Demonizing has  to  be stopped here and there.  Immigration in Europe should  follow the American model and avoid the Ghetto syndrome .  Otherwise Europe risks becoming  a mal-adjusted, non-integrated suburb of Arabia  with all the socio-economical consequences that come with it.
The situation in the Arab countries requires time.  Any hasty military “emergency room “ type of intervention from the outside might hasten the negative and delay structural adjustment .  It might be time to let the Arab countries face their own responsibilities, to let checks and balances regain lost terrain and to concentrate on the positive:  a two-state solution for the Palestinians and Israel. Only after a final accord will this conflict end and can we foresee both a less dysfunctional future for the Arab world and enhanced security globally.  Al-Quaeda might then become a 

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