Arab democratization and the future of ‘the only democracy’

Israel/Palestine
on 13 Comments

Such a pall of darkness had overtaken the Arab lands for so long that one thought Arabs existed in a permanent malaise, a condition of corruption and authoritarianism, their regimes maintaining a lock down on their subject populations and their mutual borders. It’s as if people slept, awoke, lived, and worked without hope, overtaken by the feeling that they could not even effect their own lives, much less something bigger. The Arab regimes’ lack of imagination in opening up to themselves and to other Arabs across the region, their inability to see that the future lies in economic, political, social cooperation and relations, is staggering, their parochialism, suspicion and fear for their power crippling their ability to respond meaningfully and effectively to the region’s multifaceted challenges.

The main issue was always the absence of citizen participation and representation in the affairs of state and society. In the past two decades, the monopoly of information in the public arena gradually stopped being in the exclusive hands of the state, leading to political culture’s democratization. This is why both the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings are inspiring. Hope rekindled was the driving energy and determination of the Egyptian protestors. They saw possibilities. And possibilities ignite the human imagination.

The West, particularly the US was content with the old state of affairs. The lamentation of missing Arab democracy, smugly attributed to Arab/Muslim culture, was a charade to obfuscate the fact that the US in fact required autocrats as lynchpins for its economic and political domination of the region. All the talk about freedom is vacuous, not comporting to actual behavior. The barely cloaked response is one of fear, resentment, and antagonism, for there was not and is not a natural comfort with peoples in weak states managing their own affairs. These, after all, may have their own preferences, interests and needs. But with Egypt, and an American president smart and nuanced enough to understand what he is witnessing, support for mass democratic revolution, for now in Egypt, is better than the alternative if America hopes to maintain influence. Perhaps Egypt may begin to acclimatize Washington to a more imaginative way of dealing with the region. One litmus test will be whether the US suddenly discovers, as they did of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, that, after all, Hamas and Hizballah, too, are sociopolitical movements rooted in their societies and not al-Qaida like terrorists. I doubt this, including that US strategic policy centered on Israel will end anytime soon.

The Israelis for their part exist in a universe of their own, so steeped are Israel’s elites and leaders in anachronistic racist stereotypes of Arab culture, which they openly utter, along with fulminating fundamentalist men of the cloth and neo-fascist nut jobs, unaware of how they look, of the degradation of their own humanity. Many if not most Israelis and Jewish-Americans see the Arabs (and Muslims) as a collection of anti-Semitic tribes, ethnicities, sects, and classes bound together only by their hatred of Israel. This crude, stupid thinking is a product of a state-socialized society nurtured on Arab inferiority, violence, backwardness, etc., unable to see the consequences of its own actions or the humanity of the Other.

It is not, of course, that Israelis do not and should not have legitimate security concerns. It is that they must decide what they want: colonization and war or relinquishing occupation, peace and coexistence. Israel cannot ultimately impose its will on the region. Feeling encircled is more a psychological function than a reality. Israel’s ideological foundations require fundamental reconsideration.

Practical considerations for Israeli opposition to peaceful Arab mass resistance and democratization are the fear of a similar Palestinian revolt, which may very well come, of highlighting Israel’s fierce denial of Palestinian human rights and freedom, and of the bankruptcy of the claim that Israel is the Western frontline against violent Arab and Islamic tyranny. The “only democracy in the Middle East” may begin to look not so democratic or innocent after all, undermining the mantra of American-Israeli shared values. A state, a people, convinced of its normality, its historical and moral rightness, cannot possibly fear others’ democratization unless it fears the consequences of its oppression and violence against them. On the other hand, screeching self-righteousness rationalizes all thought, perception, and behavior. Or, perhaps, Israel is concerned that it cannot maintain the status quo, that is, occupation, expansion, and military primacy, its control and coerced cooperation, when dealing with democratic will rather than autocrats. The Mubaraks of the Middle East, having been neutered by treaties and bought off with US aid, sustain Israeli intransigence and belligerence, such as in Gaza and Lebanon. If extremism and instability are not in anyone’s interest, is it wise to bet one’s security interests on repressive despots who give rise to these conditions?  Surely a state that genuinely desires peace on a legal and just basis has nothing to fear, especially from democratic nations, with whom peace is durable.

None of the old ways of perceiving and doing make sense anymore. They are fantasies. A democratic Middle East, unlike the pretend vision of the neoconservatives whose main concern is Israel, is a stable, legitimate region. Do we want transient regimes or permanent political institutions? Do we want friendship of dictators or independent cooperation based on shared interests and values predicated on people’s decisions? Is it really good for US national interest to advocate and support the needs and whims of Israel, which falsely thinks it requires friendly autocrats, keeping their cutthroat rabble under heel, to maintain its security? Arab democracy will be neither a tectonic nor volcanic occurrence for the US or Israel, but a more complex, fluid relationship. Arab liberal democratic sensibility is an antidote to extremism, a tamer of political Islamists who in any case are themselves fragmented, have evolved towards a more pluralistic power sharing orientation. It is the avenue to open borders, enhanced contact between peoples, Israelis and Arabs, the path to familiarity and humanization.

Democracy is the best permanent guarantor of Israel’s peace and security, but only if Zionism understands that ideologically driven expansion, oppression, and regional depredations must end, and an urgent end to occupation without condition take place. Israelis could have had a two state solution over two decades ago, Palestinians and Israelis peacefully coexisting, the Palestinians the gateway to Israeli-Jewish entry into the Middle East, in trade, social and cultural contact, political cooperation, joint efforts to solve ecological problems and security challenges, perhaps increasing integration, over a decade or two, towards a larger regional entity. Muslims can be most forgiving, and even assume the banner of fighting anti-Semitism. I say this with the certainty of a non-Muslim. Yes, this was, is, all possible, realistic for anyone who knows the Middle East and its historical, psychological, and cultural make-up well. Instead, Israel’s elites choose isolation and domination, deliberately creating enemies and staging provocations for war, emphatically rejecting a goal Israelis say they desire to realize, acceptance into the Middle East. The Israeli poet and novelist Yitzhak Laor argues that Israelis vehemently insist on their identity as Westerners and Europeans, juxtaposed to the Arab barbarians. Israel has long been on the path of suicide, its future in jeopardy, so myopic are Israeli elites, so paralyzed by a mixture of trauma, victimhood, and superiority and enabled by Diaspora Jews politically organized on Israel’s behalf.

The intermediate to long-term future does not bode well. Zionism is ideologically and institutionally incapable of a liberal, pluralistic state. Israel has failed to create a tolerant, moral society. It has not brought peace to its people, despite essentially Arab pleading. It has become increasingly isolated. America, relatively or otherwise, is declining—exhausted by the folly of its elites and, partly, by Israeli scheming to have the US fight wars on its behalf—and it will globally retrench. Some scholars argue in 10 years at most. Signs of a collapsing US-imposed order are everywhere in the region. Middle Easterners will always be there, as witness the history of all previous imperial powers. The Palestinians in historic Palestine are growing, perhaps substantially exceeding Israeli Jews in the next 25 years. If the current trajectory persists, the victims, because of potential widespread destruction in the Middle East, will be both Israeli Jews and Palestinians, for this will not end well nor come to a peaceful conclusion. In this historical moment, it’s in the hands of the US and Western powers, but not for much longer.

Picture the following alternative reality yet again: an Israel coexisting with Palestine, working energetically with Arab democratic states and movements to construct the various facets of confederal arrangements, from Egypt to the eastern Mediterranean to Iraq. Supranational institutions to enhance economic cooperation and integration and accommodate the region’s diversity. A popular US, unequivocally in support of Arab democracy, dignity, human rights. The disappearance of global al-Qaida terrorism virtually overnight. This is not only possible, but also eminently realistic. It must first be imagined.

(12 February 2011)

 

13 Responses

  1. Richard Witty
    February 15, 2011, 3:28 am

    Beware can mean “be aware” or it can mean “be paranoid”.

    Israelis saying “beware” is not the same as them oppressing.

    The future of the middle east is unknown at this point. It is unknown if the Arab world in its freedom will accept and seek to interact with Israel (as a thriving economy and culture and democratic polity) or isolate and/or antagonize.

    If the answer is that a free Arab world similarly regards Israel as “other”, rather than as neighbor, then the reality will be that Israel is surrounded and “beware” will be interpreted conservatively.

    If the answer is that a free Arab world regards Israel as accepted different neighbor, then the reality will be that Israel is invited and “beware” will be interpreted celebratorily.

    • Shingo
      February 15, 2011, 6:07 am

      Israelis saying “beware” is not the same as them oppressing.

      They’ve managed to perfect pulling both off at the same time.

      If the answer is that a free Arab world regards Israel as accepted different neighbor, then the reality will be that Israel is invited and “beware” will be interpreted celebratorily.

      It won’t be accepted until it retreat to 1967 borders and allowd refugees to return.

      • fuster
        February 16, 2011, 5:52 pm

        Shingo

        —It won’t be accepted until it retreat to 1967 borders and allowd refugees to return.—-

        If by that you mean all the people claiming to be descendants of those refugees and not merely the actual refugees, Israel doesn’t need that type of acceptance.
        Israel really isn’t going to be taking in more than 7 times the number of people who fled.

      • Shingo
        February 16, 2011, 8:27 pm

        If by that you mean all the people claiming to be descendants of those refugees and not merely the actual refugees, Israel doesn’t need that type of acceptance.

        it’s not up to Israel to decide. It’s law.

        Israel really isn’t going to be taking in more than 7 times the number of people who fled.

        Expelled no fled, you Nakba denier.

    • Citizen
      February 15, 2011, 7:24 am

      The future of the Middle East, same as the future of the USA, is unknown, but trend patterns may be discussed, yes? (Egypt’s last 30 years speaks to both past and present, the loom of any future predictions) Meanwhile, the present of the Middle East is known, as is the present USA. How realistic is it to say and move as if this present is sustainable over the long run, especially in light of instant international internet communication unfiltered by any government? The US and Israeli leadership and their respective mainstream media mouth pieces are foolish to keep playing the same old game around the world–nobody knows this better than China.

      • Citizen
        February 15, 2011, 7:42 am

        More specifically, I mean the present power configuration of the Middle East and of the USA is known.

  2. Avi
    February 15, 2011, 4:26 am

    That’s a very good article. Thanks, Issa (Jesus in Arabic).

    The Mubaraks of the Middle East, having been neutered by treaties and bought off with US aid, sustain Israeli intransigence and belligerence, such as in Gaza and Lebanon. If extremism and instability are not in anyone’s interest, is it wise to bet one’s security interests on repressive despots who give rise to these conditions?

    Colonialism’s plan of befriending dictators has backfired on several levels.

    When those dictators realized that the United States’ greatest fear is so-called radical Islam, they started using it as a bargaining chip with the US and Israel. “If it weren’t for us, you’d be fighting off radical Islam from the Atlantic to the Pacific“, was the warning those dictators often used to convince the US and Israel to maintain their support, foreign aid, monetary and military assistance.

    So, radical Islam became the fear-mongering card used not only by the US government for internal (domestic) consumption in order to impose more limitations on privacy and civil rights, but also by foreign dictators in an effort to scare the United States government into providing them with more financial and military support.

    Muslims can be most forgiving, and even assume the banner of fighting anti-Semitism. I say this with the certainty of a non-Muslim. Yes, this was, is, all possible, realistic for anyone who knows the Middle East and its historical, psychological, and cultural make-up well.

    Please stop shattering commonly-held illusions, prejudice and misconceptions. (sarcasm)

    The Israeli poet and novelist Yitzhak Laor argues that Israelis vehemently insist on their identity as Westerners and Europeans, juxtaposed to the Arab barbarians.

    The Israeli government had realized early on that for Zionism to succeed — as a Judaizing force for the colonization of the land and the eradication of the native Palestinians — it required the mobilization of Jews against the native Palestinians. And the only way one can mobilize thousands if not millions of people to fight off another group is by dehumanizing that enemy, that group of undesirables.

    So, one of the ways through which the dehumanization of Palestinians has taken shape was the claim that Arabs were inferior, unclean, disheveled, slow — both in thought and in action — primal, sexual predators/perverts and so on.

    For example, one of the most common slurs is “Aravi Meluchlach” – Dirty Arab. Another one is “Arabush” — think of it as the equivalent of yid.

    Stop me if this is starting to sound like Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the Second World War and the holocaust.

    Anyway, with such deeply ingrained stereotypes — institutionalized stereotypes — it is no wonder that only a handful of Israelis would have the desire to associate themselves with ‘the Arabs’, or the greater Middle East for that matter.

    • bijou
      February 16, 2011, 3:35 pm

      The only good Arab is a dead Arab. – Another classic one.

      And something to the effect of, “If you turn your back on an Arab, he’ll knife you straightaway.”

  3. Taxi
    February 15, 2011, 8:03 am

    It was never gonna work out for the israelis in the first place: their mindset is european and exceptionally insular. It goes against their inner grain to adapt and become mideasterners. Because of this, in the long run, in peace or in war, they’d always be in conflict with the organic environment they’re in.

    Before the Egypt revolution, I thought I’d be really really really old before I saw the collapse of the state of israel. Now I can estimate the years on a single hand.

    I do not believe they’re capable of genuinely befriending anyone in the region – not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow.

    All the nice sentiments about how great the middle east would be if israel and the Arab countries were at peace and together working towards their regional prosperity is pure castles in the air.

    Truth is the majority of people in the region do not accept the europeans as governors of the holy land of historic Palestine – and they never will. And it hasn’t exactly helped that the israelis have for the last sixty four years refused to make a SINGLE friendly gesture towards any of the arab people.

    That anyone would entertain a Kumbaya between israelis and the millions of grieving arabs is surely a tad too optimistic.

    Expect an unstoppable regional war within a handful of years. That’s my sober assessment.

  4. Citizen
    February 15, 2011, 8:11 am

    My sister just came back from a visit to her friend of many decades, who happens to be a Jewish American woman of a bohemian nature, and who has demonstrated by the conduct of her whole long life a very open and free-minded spirit in apparently every way possible. My sister told me she greeted this friend at her humble apartment with, inter alia, the comment (more or less), “Hey, how about Egypt! Go Egypt, huh?!” The old girlfriend’s immediate reponse, “What about Israel?”

    My sister, who treasures this long-standing girl friend, then remarked to me, “Hey, I love her to death–she’s the greatest! It’s just her knee-jerk reaction. What are you going to do?”
    My sister then went on to say she has clients and other acquaintances who are Jewish, and “I just don’t talk about that stuff with them at all–I avoid it like the plague! I know exactly what their reaction will be. It’s always been the same.”

    • Shingo
      February 15, 2011, 5:40 pm

      Deep down.the old girlfriend is obviously smart enough to realize that Israel is a lost cause, which is why she doesn’t live there.

  5. yourstruly
    February 15, 2011, 10:03 am

    what sort of world?

    how about a liberation square?

    here, there, everywhere

    those eighteen days of infinite potential

    the children of the nile rising up

    blowing tyranny away

    the all for one and one for all

    that ever simmering

    perpetual glow

  6. yourstruly
    February 15, 2011, 4:56 pm

    liberation square

    those eighteen days that shook the world

    lesson learned?

    that an immovable object is no match for an irresistible force

    lesson relearned?

    that a people united can never be defeated

    apply?

    whenever and wherever needed

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