April 9: Where are the Arabs heading to and from where? A few questions…(Part I)
April 9th was a day many in the Arab world will never forget, but for what reasons? Some would say that the discourse of 20th Century Middle Eastern history ought to have led to more soul searching amongst Arabs and an affirmation amongst them that the post 48 (and European imperialism) world we have had to live in is a lot different from our past and what we were used to. The Middle East, once the cradle of civilization and birthplace to the world’s monotheistic religions and their temples has without a shadow of a doubt, had one of the most turbulent transitions from its glorious past to the developed age (not to forget the 500 years of colonialism witnessed in between). The question everybody deserves an answer for is – why? And where do we go from here?
Is it enough to say that what happened in Baghdad on April 9, 2003 and the fall of the city was just a defeat of the tyrant’s regime, or was it the fall of the entire Arab world?
Why do some of us still deny that our modern history constitutes a long series of defeats which, and unfortunately, none of us see as has culminated with April 9, 2003?
The Palestinian uprising, instead of reaping positive results, has put the Palestinian issue and Israeli occupation at the bottom of the international priority list and depicted the Palestinian individual as a ‘suicide bomber’ rather than a freedom fighter. Moreover, even the veteran Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has been besieged after he was perceived as a symbol of survival and is now forced to sideline himself permanently.
Is it enough to say that we only have lost our military battles? But what about our slogans of Arab unity, freedom, liberation and a better life – have they been defeated or affected? And our efforts for growth and development – have they been defeated or affected either?
Has the Arab national ever read the UN report about manpower development in the Arab world, and if so, where do we stand amongst the world community? (Hint: a little higher - more advanced - than African nations) Do Arabs know the exact number of unemployed and poor amongst our nations? Do they know the value the smuggled money, claimed to be invested abroad, brings should it be repatriated back to their countries?
Does an Arab national know how many Arabs were forced to leave the Arab world for good to live ‘freely and happily’ in the countries of the ‘enemies and infidels’? Do we know how many Arab scientists are working in the countries of the ‘enemies and infidels’?
Was Saddam the only Arab leader who had 36 palaces and 10 billion dollars abroad? What about the wealthy Arab individuals, particularly the rulers, the oil Sheikhs, the Kings and Princes? Has the Arab citizen seen the reports published in magazines such as Fortune and Forbes (which some may view as Western propaganda) about the wealth of their own monarchs and heads of government? Is this uneven distribution of wealth fair and deserved by our so-called leaders?
Was Saddam alone who promised his son Qusay to succeed him? What about Jamal Mubarak (son of Hosni Mubarak), Ali Ali Abdullah Saleh (son of the Yemeni president), Seif al Islam al Qaddafi (the son of Moamar of Libya) and Bashar al Assad? Haven’t the military defeats come as a result of failure to achieve development, unity and freedom? Was Saddam’s regime an evil implanted in the region – a Western and/or Zionist conspiracy? Isn’t it true that we as people and a nation applauded him when he led us from war to war, invasion of another Arab country, and finally one large defeat to the largest-ever Arab defeat?
Isn’t it true that the Arab national who applauded Saddam Hussein and danced in front of him are now hailing the American (invading) forces as liberators? Isn’t it true that the same Arab who was threatening American soldiers with death and slaughter is now looting their cities and destroying the establishments they have worked so hard to build over the years with their blood, sweat, hard work, money, tears, and not to mention the oppression they had to deal with? Aren’t the Arab people a part of all of this? Who is responsible for what we have seen and what we are witnessing unfold in front of our eyes on television sets; rulers or people?
Is the problem a matter of Arab culture and/or Arab mentality that understands history unilaterally? Is it an understanding dominated by the thought of the Arabs’ past heroism and greatness (which ended more than 600 years ago) without giving consideration to compromise, reconciliation and logical thinking? Will Arabs learn from the defeat of April 9th as they learnt from the 1948, 1965, 1967, 1982 defeats (amongst others)?
Is it enough to say that we resisted in Iraq for 22 days, in Beirut for 80 and in Jenin for 13 days? Is it enough to just count the days of resistance in order to reflect on our defeats as victories? Are wars, conflicts, and armed struggles measured by resistance and the number of martyrs, or are they measured by the overall results on the ground, and hence the final outcome?
Are we a nation destined only for “martyrdom”? Where is victory and where do our faults lie? What are the causes for all these defeats, which we insist on labeling as victories? Why do we insist on a methodology that has been proven useless and utterly abhorred by the international community? Why did we depict an international embarrassment such as September 11th and as a victory?
Why do we insist on portraying the Palestinian uprising as victory? Hasn’t Israel destroyed Palestinian society completely? Is there anyway to achieve victory over Israel using means other than military (organized civilian unrest and armed protest would be more applicable as Palestine does not have an army) confrontation?
Hasn’t the US destroyed Iraq because of its overwhelming power? Would a move by Saddam to step down and leave the country (which he later did in the Russian convoy) prior to the expiry of the Bush ultimatum a source of shame to the Arab nation? Did we feel humiliated when we saw a young Iraqi girl begging an American marine for some food? Did the Arabs lose their dignity when the barbaric invaders stepped foot on the tombs of Saladin and Imam Ali in a manner reminiscent of the French Colonialists?
Where is our dignity and pride when Western cameras are now focusing on the looters in Iraq, once the cradle of civilization, depicting Iraqis as nothing more than a group of petty thieves and gangsters? Aren’t these the same images of killing, destruction and looting, which took place during the civil war in Lebanon in the seventies? Where do we stand with the killings and destruction in Algeria?
Currently, civil war is expected in Sudan and oil-rich Arab countries are suddenly exposed to the risks of being dismantled. Ethnic minorities now rule Arab countries with civilizations that go back thousands of years. Oil-rich Arab countries waste their money on palaces, close followers and friends, nightclubs and casinos in Switzerland, Monte Carlo and the beaches of the Mediterranean. Can a person who faces defeat at home and school really live to fight another day? What are the results and what have we learnt?
Jordanian political analyst Uraib Rantawi sees the region on the brink of deep political change, yet rules out the possibility of change in its geography. “I do not think the map of the region will be redrawn, which could result in new entities emerging in the Arab world. We are at the threshold of deep political changes in the whole region,” said Rantawi, director of the Jerusalem Center for Strategic Studies.
He added, “The plan [of redrawing the map of the Middle East] which the US administration keeps alluding to is more about the political reformation of the Middle East. For example, splitting Iraq into smaller entities does not serve the interests of the US or the region at all. It is no good for the interests of the US to confront Iran with a torn and weak Iraq.” “Dismantling Iraq may spark more regional tension that may lead to possible conflict, and open the way for Iran to expand its power to the oil rich areas and perimeters of the Arab peninsula,” he conveyed.
Rantawi went on to add that the near-term American ambitions in the region can be summarized by the [American Secretary of State] Colin Powell’s call for countering terror and removing weapons of mass destruction - except of course Israel’s. This is in addition to solving the Palestinian issue based on the ‘road map’ plan.
As for the Arab region as a whole, the “US sees that it should be democratized. Some regimes [Saudi Arabia] should also be shaken, particularly if Washington feels they have been responsible for the emergence of the Bin Laden led terror network,” said Rantawi, adding “this is the US vision of a post-war Middle East.”
When asked whether Arabs can face-up to such challenges, Rantawi asserted “there are certain rules we [Arabs] should stick to, rather than have them imposed on us by the outside [US]. This scenario was played out entirely in the case of the now-toppled Iraqi president, and is a strong message [by the US] to the conservative and totalitarian Arab regimes.”
He added, “What happened in Baghdad should be a lesson for all of us. If the Arabs cannot make the changes required in their own countries, it is quite clear that the US will.”
Rantawi reiterated, “it is better for us to counter the challenges ahead of us in a way that will only better serve our national interests, rather than wait until solutions are imposed on us in a manner that will only serve the greater American interest.”
When asked whether the Arab regimes have enough flexibility to cope with these requirements, Rantawi stated that he cannot speculate on this, however he did suggest that he has started to notice some positive measures taken towards democratization, however uncertain these measures really are in achieving their targets.
He added, “It is regrettable that Arab political movements are still weak, which has stemmed from old systems and ideologies which failed to modernize by adapting their agendas to an evolving world around us.” “We have now witnessed the serious consequence of such policies in Iraq” referring to the absence of real resistance to Coalition forces in the war-on-Iraq and the wide gap [financial] between the people and the ousted Iraqi regime. “Pictures still coming from Iraq are continuing to show the reaction of the Iraqi people to what has happened over the past few weeks,” added Rantawi.
According to Rantawi, the Iraqi leadership responded positively to the UN Security Council’s requirements, but failed to reconcile differences it had with its Arab neighbors, something that has always been demanded of Saddam. His regime sought only in the last moment to normalize its relations with the Arab countries, despite the longstanding issues between them and Hussein’s regime that were left unresolved,” said al Rantawi, warning other Arab regimes could face the same disastrous consequences should they decide to follow Saddam Hussein’s footsteps.
Rantawi does not necessarily see future ‘disasters’ as outcomes of US military action, but does foresee Arabs facing strong political and diplomatic pressures. He also rules out the possibility of any military action against Syria or Iran in the foreseeable future. In conclusion, Rantawi strongly feels “a tangible change towards democratization should take place in the Arab world, not only to protect Arabs from American ‘anger’, but also to respond to the region’s greater interests.”
Amr Hashem, a political analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, differs in his opinion about the reasons behind why the US is pursuing changes in the region. “There is a strong determination by the [fundamentalist] neocons and Zionists in the American administration, who accuse us of the same, yet, counter fundamentalism, to enforce their repressive policies and [arrogant] power to pursue their interests and objectives. This has nothing to do with the Arab regimes and [their] political reform,” he said.
The Egyptian analyst believes that the American agenda of democratization and human rights are false slogans the US is hiding behind to topple regimes that do not support her [Middle East] policies. “The US wants to consolidate its power in the region…supporting countries that harbor loyal regimes to US policies [in the Middle East], regardless of the principles and values these regimes stand for and hence America’s double-standards in the region. This policy is based entirely on [American] interests that differ from one region [of the world] to another,” said Hashem. He also added that the US “will not wait until reforms come from within [the Arab countries] but rather will seek its own agenda [against these regimes] to achieve its [regional] objectives.”
“Under such circumstances”, Hashem added, “one cannot speculate about the forthcoming ‘surprises’ as nobody really expected to see what was seen in Baghdad on April 9th, which in my opinion, is more devastating than the 1976 crisis [referring to the peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in Camp David]. Arabs now need to look at their internal situation and for a way to deal with the situation in Iraq.”
Hashem emphasized the urgent need for the Arab countries to demand without lassitude UN administration of Iraq, until such time as a legitimate Iraqi regime is established as an outcome of fair elections under the sponsorship of the international community. He also thinks “Arab regimes should seriously consider what happened in Baghdad on April 9th and learn from the disasters totalitarianism could reap on their countries.”
The Egyptian analyst also said “the values which the United States preaches are being violated in many Arab countries, even in those countries that allege their commitment to democracy. “In order to learn from the April 9th disaster in Iraq, Arab governments should immediately set defined mechanisms to support democracy in their countries and the separation of powers [between the monarchs and the democratic process], something which is not at all apparent at present,” adding that “Arab regimes should also put an immediate halt to repressing opposition factions and political parties.”
According to Hashem, the future of the region seems gloomy, and although the people may learn from the Iraqi war, the regimes will not as they have a track record of wasting such opportunities. “Most of the regimes in the region have not learned from the past and what we are seeing now is evidence of that.”
Mahdi Dakhlallah, editor-in-chief of the state-owned Syrian, al-Baath daily, views the American initiatives [for change] in the region as part of a “wide psychological campaign the US has been waging on us”. He supports his claim by alluding to the absence of tangible American threats against opposing such regional changes. “For the most part, these initiatives aim at creating pressure and fear in the region…we are now living in a state of psychological and media warfare,” added Dakhlallah.
“The Arab region has never been a place for change imposed by foreign powers. Attempts have been made several times to reshape the region however none have materialized,” said the Syrian editor.
“The issue now should be about how the Arab world will deal with the recent occupation of Iraq. Will the Arab regimes be able to revive themselves to confront the new challenges or will they fall one after the other,” said Dakhlallah. He added, “We should find ways of dealing with this issue, particularly now that things have become clear….there is a plan to exploit this region and control its wealth.”
The daily’s editor-in-chief believes that “confronting such a plan can be accomplished by an Arab counter-plan, proposed and implemented through a strong Arab league. What I am saying are not just words, but rather important issues that are as necessary as water and air [is to life].”
Commenting on the US threats that have been targeted at Syria, he said, “Over the past three years, Syria has been moving towards more openness, democratization and industrial development. However, the implementation of such progressive reforms is a matter that should be decided upon solely by the Syrians.” He added, “Changes should be viewed as normal internal affairs, and should never be according to the whims of the US.”
Moreover, he expressed his suspicion and skepticism towards America’s intentions to bring about change in the region. “We all know that the US does not want democracy in the Arab world [similar to the democracies in the West]. What will America achieve if the Arab regimes become true representatives of their people? The US knows very well that if the decision lies in the hands of the Arab people, things will be a lot more difficult for her in this region,” said Dakhlallah. He cited Lebanon, and the Hizbollah resistance in the South, as an example, referring to the May 17th Agreement [peace treaty] Amin Jumayel signed with the Israelis, which was later turned down by the people of Lebanon, an event dubbed as the ‘intifada’ of Beirut.
He concluded by saying that “US pressure on Syria and Iran stem from US fear of the emergence of a popular resistance movement [against the US] in Iraq following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime. They fear that Syria and Iran may support such resistance in Iraq.”
Written and compiled by Al Bawaba’s editors.