Political illiteracy in the Arab World is fueling chaos in the region

The truth might be hard to swallow but the concept of democracy itself has been unattractive to the Arabs who have been living for years under authoritarianism

When we look at the Middle East, we find ourselves lost in a labyrinth of mistrusts and rivalries. The region’s current situation is so complex that only a few have the prowess to describe this mayhem. While we achingly try to understand the wars that are being waged in the region, we could not fathom the reasons behind these fights or struggles. It seems that one problem gave birth to another, and so on until it multiplied. However, when we ponder over the crisis that the Arab World is drowned in, we cannot help question the agendas or perhaps the mentalities driving those agendas. There is a deep sinking feeling when we witness the high amount of casualties and the beastly approaches of regimes towards their own people, not to mention, the twisting and turning of rules that establish and govern a firm political system. Sadly, and disturbingly, the people in the Middle East have grown accustomed to their leaders and their allies’ callous tactics.

When we talk about pragmatism in politics, there is absence of creative minds to maneuver a situation in control. Apparently every conflict has been dealt with aggression – one of the reasons why there is a conflict in the first place. Use of force has become a mandatory option, only a few have suggested negotiations as a way out. Even the majestic Emiratis have lagged considerably behind in dealing with issues that might reduce the damage that they and their counterparts have done in the Middle East. The members of the Arab elite class are idolized by their people. On social media, the Arab royal forces, which are carrying out operations against Shia militias, are showered with praises. It seems that a picture of the Bahraini Prince with an AK-47, surrounded by Saudi and Bahraini military troops standing in the Yemeni desert is far more attractive than a call for negotiations between them and the Houthi rebels. Both sides are adamant on their positions; no one wants to “blink first”. Making the conflict more interesting and intense are the active supporters on each side, who are a part of a delusion that their men in armor are on a holy quest to annihilate the “defilers” of their land. The Arabs and the Iranians contemptuous violation of Yemeni territory will not be easily forgotten by the country’s residents who have suffered innumerable losses from the war. And what is more frightening than a thirst for vengeance?  

For some Arab leaders, the best way to stay in power is to disown their people and make them fatal targets; Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian president, has been on a killing spree since the revolution first began in 2011. In the process of trying to solve the crisis, international and regional powers have turned Syria into pandemonium – recklessly bombing militant hideouts is not a strategy.

Another disastrous outcome of the Arab Spring is Egypt, the flamboyant Arab revolutionaries, who with great determination replaced totalitarianism with civilian rule, in a year turned against the very government they elected. I perceive it as a successful manipulation by the military of the confused minds, who without hesitation surrendered their will without giving it a second thought.

Notwithstanding the volatile situation of their country, the Egyptian army is more eager to “exterminate” terrorism, which predictably comes in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood and their affiliates than focus on rebuilding the shattered nation. But such an expectation is far-fetched as the military has been equally hasty as the people. The khakis could have been craftier in their approach towards power, by giving democracy a chance they could have been silent observers, simultaneously materializing into a stronger opposition. However the institution got what it wanted – MB is gone but it drastically failed in its calculations. The Egyptian military was incautious, it could have dealt the situation methodically, instead it rammed the Brotherhood off the cliff. 

Apart from the Egyptian military’s injudicious approach to power, the local journalists have not lacked behind in confusing the world with their ideas. For some, the focus of debate among other things is about suppressing the conservative identity of the nation and replacing it with a secular one. Egypt is stuck in a political quagmire; these suggestions are unhealthy to a society that is politically and economically struggling. It is not that religious intolerance is not part of the problem, it is, however it is a part of many grievances that has plagued Egypt.  But we have to give credit to the Egyptian journalists and political activists who have bravely battled state repression to release their counterparts from prison. Nevertheless, when it comes to the Islamists, who have been imprisoned and persecuted since the military took power, such activism is absent.

Although dissatisfied with the country’s current position, it seems that the liberal and leftist parties are slightly relieved that the Islamists are no longer in control. While the Saudis and the Sisi government are engaged in a smooth waltz, it is rather amusing to watch political activists talk about rebuilding a democratic society from the remnants of democracy in a society that so vehemently overthrew a “democratically” elected government.

The truth might be hard to swallow but the concept of democracy itself has been unattractive to the Arabs who have been living for years under authoritarianism. While political analysts try to figure out as to what type of regime best suits the Arabs, the public itself pays less heed to the different forms of government. This became clear in Egypt when even liberal Arabs including the pro-democracy activists, visualized a messiah than a leader. After the Brotherhood came into power, it became evident when some liberals distanced themselves from their advocacies for a democratic society, as they cheered for the military coup. According to a poll was conducted by PEW in 2014 before the presidential elections and after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, 54% of Egyptians wanted a “stable government” as compared to a “democratic one”, which was 44%. Societies have been nurtured by military rulers. The people there have mentally embraced the methods and their style of governance. Hence, a force that challenges those methods soon comes under speculation. The resistance is appreciated and to some extent applauded, however, a society cultivated by authoritarian regimes slowly grows weary of ideas introduced by rival political forces which are pro-egalitarian.

In the Arab World, most issues have been dealt without deliberating the elements which have played a central part in creating them. No doubt, some Arab societies lack critical thinking skills, the region has experienced one of the fastest regime changes in history and the state institutions have serenely breached their constitutional boundaries. Not to mention have stepped over (infringed to be more precise) doctrines that have been established by the rule of law. The consequence of a revolution is the battle for power grab that pursues – for example Libya. We can also imagine a similar scenario in case of Syria, where allied militias can turn against each other if Assad falls, but that is a prediction, not a fact.

Most Arabs have closed their minds to the possible repercussions that their actions might have. In some parts of the Arab World, ambitions are limited. There are few who want to contribute to their society, the rest work on individual basis with less interest to create a better surrounding. It seems that in order to achieve certain goals the use of force is necessary, but in this display of valor, rationality goes down the drain. After almost every piece of concrete turns to rubble then Arab countries resort to negotiations. Without the skills to thoroughly analyze or evaluate a situation, it has become difficult for some Arab countries to regulate their political institutions.

The hysteria surrounding these multiple conflicts does not have a logical explanation, for the individuals who are responsible in turning the Middle East into a mad house have not displayed any signs of sensibility.

Fatima Ansari is an LLB (Undergraduate) from the University of London. She writes on domestic and international affairs and is a keen observer of Middle East and South Asia. Follow her on Twitter

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