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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Friday, 7 July, 2006

ARAB STATES AND THE PROTECTORATE STATUS: A Return or Resurgence?

By: Ghoma

        The argument here is the state as constituted in the Arab World in the second half of the 20th century was a failure from its inception since it was a travesty in the garb of an autochthonous will which neither was sought nor ever existed. Whatever was passed as "independence" was in the best scenario mere nominal and in the worst a make-belief game. The neo-colonial state was a continuation and a new phase in an ongoing colonial-imperialist campaign for more than a century now. Oppositions have thus to reset their agendas and rethink their strategies, if they're seriously intent to carry on the fight for true liberation, and to avoid the mistakes of their predecessors.

        With France's departure from Algeria in1962 and soon after Britain from the Gulf states and Aden, around 1971, there was a collective sigh of relief that finally Arabs were waking up and getting on their feet after five centuries of deep sleep and blatant supine submission, first by the Ottomans and then, in the 19th and 20th centuries by the various Western powers. In retrospect, that sense of euphoria was perhaps premature since it didn't take into consideration the nature of the nascent states nor their relations with the former colonizers and with those old and new powers which had inherited, more or less, the legacy of colonialism. It didn't occur to the partially jolted minds that imperialism, in its old and new forms, was busy re-arranging the area into its new role: of being a contested zone between the two blocks of the Cold War era, that's, to be the theater for the trying of new weapons and a field for experimentations of new strategic thoughts. The area's location, raw materials, and the relatively large, though poor, consumer market made it a winning ace and the jewel in the crown of any power willing to flex some muscles. Due to the Arabs's backwardness, and with the other mentioned liabilities, the nascent shaky 'national' states had very little historical traditions to depend on and thus very little chance of success. Those states were born with the seeds of failure as part of their genes. They were the classical vassal states: their main tasks were how best to fulfill the roles of client-state, a role which further sank them deeper into the proxy -cold or hot- wars of either one or the other of the hegemonic campuses.

        One can argue in the case of Arab states that it was a classical case of reality hobbling imagination! The neo-colonial states was the manifest form of what could be described tentatively as the Arabization of colonialism. The ruling families and cliques, in most cases, had substituted the old colonial officers and military generals and had carried on the old exploitative tasks with new methods. Where the multitudes in all of this? No where to be seen. "The opiate of the masses" kept Arabs from ever marching at lockstep with history. History seemed to have passed them by! Notwithstanding the revisionist writers, most of Arabs were out of the range of consciousness of what was taking place in their midst or being spun around them. Though fired by Nasser's imaginative 'Voice of the Arabs,'and encouraged by the no less fanciful daydreamers in Damascus and Baghdad, the multitudes's were fed, if not duped, with fancy tales and pure lies. The hyped-up hollow expectations of the impending great things to come were of short duration. It didn't take long for the police states to show their newly honed teeth, in part, to cover their inability to cope with the demands of the modern world or to do anything else beside oppressing their own populations. Arabs were literally caught in the proverbial vicious cycles of poverty, backwardness, and bad governance; and likewise when the artificial entities, called states, for mere politeness, were caught between the demands of the always rising expectations and the illegitimacy and utter incompetence of the ruling cliques, reverted to the doublespeak of the Orwellian type to consolidate their powers, thus oppression became liberation and the mortgaging of more and more of the little sovereignty and the sham independence, which in any case only few of them had paid so dearly to gain, to the big powers for the illusory pie-in-the-sky promises of the great things to come, became the promised road to nirvana! This entwining of the neo-colonial state with its former and new 'guardians' and the consequent lower status and weak hands in bargaining any deal, were neither something new nor were completely unpredictable. It is not a case of that old cliche: what had been kicked out of the door came back through the window. In reality colonialism and imperialism had never left the area, they'd just changed shape and they'd modified their roles as times and situations demanded, that's, they'd morphed from a direct control to sometimes an indirect control, or to say it with the words of a British General, who was his or her majesty's High Resident in Egypt, we don't rule the Egyptians, we rule those who rule the Egyptians. In other words, the area was never out of the protectorate's status and the recent flourishing activity of a come back, were only the latest signs of sinking further deeper and deeper into its murky waters.

        The idea of 'protection' and the protectorate status had probably always existed along the existence of the strong and weak states. Its modern resurrection, for the ex-colonies, came during that short-lived interval between WWI and WWII: the League of Nations phase. The winners of the 'war to end all wars' (to which was given the misnomer of World War I) minus the USA, had attempted to set up a club where they could meet periodically to iron out their differences and reconcile their ambitions, peacefully. The experiment failed miserably when Italy invaded Ethiopia, and the League's different measures couldn't dissuade Mussolini to give up on his wild dreams, of resurrecting the Roman Empire! Among the statutes of the League's was the idea of protection: a nation may take under its wings a territory or a people when their statuses are still unclear, theoretically for helping them prepare to administer themselves, but practically to do whatever it wants with them for a certain period of time until the biggies can come to an agreement and either grant them some form of independence -as say Libya- or give the land to the protector for good to do whatever pleases him with it, as in the case of Palestine.

        Of course, the territory had to be conquered first in order for the protection clause to be invoked. Frequently, post facto of occupation, the conqueror nation would ask the international community to recognize its status as a 'guardian' or protector. The process was invoked only whenever there was a big ruckus among the predators about a scramble, say for markets, colonies, and territories they couldn't agree on who should get which land or what people. In the post-Westphalia logic of the so-called international law that's how things should work: Not very much different from what was practiced through the ages and known as the law-of-th- jungle, or the stronger eats the weaker. Morally the notion is abhorrent: it's equivalent to asking the hunter to protect the prey, or the rapist to marry his victim, or the fox to look after the hen! Giving the conqueror the protector status was/is rewarding basically the nation-aggressor for its campaign of murdering and pillaging in most cases of innocent unarmed people and their lands.

        USA, Britain and their allies ran the North African campaign and drove the Nazi-Fascist alliance out of the area, somewhere around 1942-43. France was still dominating North Africa west of Libya, and the Bulldog's Empire was controlling Egypt and thus wanted to add Libya to its meager conquests along the Mediterranean coast, on the way to India! After covert and oftentimes overt maneuvers and scrimmages on who gets what, Britain and France[?] were given Libya to protect until the winners could find a way of how to divide the spoils of that war which came to be recognized as another "world war" -the measure was taken mainly to prevent the Russian bear from getting a spot in the warm sun on the waters of the Mediterranean Sea! We all have some idea about the give and take between these two fat nations and their other competitors until again an agreement was reached to grant the land called Libya its "independence" under the umbrella and implicitly the protection of the Western big guys, specifically Britain and the USA. Both got what they wanted from the clown they installed as a king: military bases, economic concessions, and political advisors -these later basically ran the show, behind the charade of the straw crown and its puppets and lackeys who took turns on what was euphemistically referred to as the government of Libya!

        History never proceeds linearly but rather in turns and twists. After an interval of misunderstandings, which saw the interruption in direct presence of the biggies, lasting close to 37 years -this period could be characterized as the lost years in the wilderness (Qaddafi could have waited for another 3 years to get even with Moses's mythical 40 years of roamings in the wilderness of the Sinai!), the quarrel is coming to an end with the same powers back to their traditional statuses and usual roles. Britain has just signed a "Letter" to "come to the help and protection" of Libya if this latter were attacked by WMD -who in the world is going to attack Libya by WMD except those nations who already possess such weapons as Britain? The funny thing about the whole business of this unholy alliance, is the way the Libyans have put it as if they were really dealt with, in the bargaining, as equals and treated on equal terms, and thus came to an agreeable understanding as any two peace-loving countries. The loser behaves always with short memory! Forgetting or ignoring not long ago Libya was forced by the same powers who're armed to the teeth by the same and worse weapons to disarm itself of any WMD ambitions (only ambitions not even actual weapons) -mind you, these same nations, who're now also eager to come back and protect Libya from the WMD's, allegedly, they'd taken out of her possession, are the same nations, who've been wrecking havoc with the Middle East since the Crusaders! It seems Arabs are truly still living out of history or they've never paid any serious attention to it. If not, Britain, of all countries in the world, would be the least to be trusted with such a task, that's, to protect Libya! Just look to the areas where conflicts are raging these days, or since the 20th century, and you'll soon realize that Britain was one of the main causes, if not the only reason, to their active or simmering onslaughts. Why Britain had wanted to disarm Libya? It was never a threat to its national security. And why from the same weapons that now is extending its protection against? These kind of questions may give one clues to where the old ugly Bulldog is still keeping his eyes on. Yearning to be recognized as a great power, Britain is going around collecting the left-overs, for protection! or to just flaunt around the memory of its old days! If shove comes to push, Britain cannot protect itself, just as was the case in both World Wars! As for Libya, who's saying: The best protection is one's own weapons! The option of taking care of oneself is becoming a luxury, Libya and its likes are denied! Given how the world works and Libya's idiotic rulers, that's only to be assumed for the grownups. The big uncles and aunts, like the GB and USA, will take care of kids like Libya and its ilks, to protect them from their own nutty behaviors, and to remind them that it's dangerous to play with fire, they may end up burning themselves. The big nannies will keep a watchful eye, and will take any unsafe objects out of the possession or reach of these naughty little ones who still cannot distinguish between a whole in the ground from the one you-know-where-else!

        Is this a relapse or metastasis? It all depends on how the 20th century history is seen. When history of the period is written, it certainly will include the final verdict on the nature and direction of the post-colonial state. If the neo-colonial-state is to be considered as a secular interlude or merely an aborted experience of the so-called nation-building phase, or merely it's a relapsing phase. This judgement will take place, despite the hoopla made about the neo-colonial state and its modernization-cum-westernization attempts by the relentless continuous attacks particularly from the religious movements - attacks which have further contributed to the undermining of the little legitimacy the state has been garnering- the fact remains such a state had lacked the necessary legitimacy and the persuasive powers to embark on any serious project that deals with social-cultural changes which required a social consensus beyond the modicum of traditional notables's acquiescence and tribal silence. None of these states was able to break completely with the past and to free itself from the hobbling effect of the traditional cultural modus operandi. Lacking the mechanisms of social consensus, leadership, foresight, and the courage to face up to the traditional religious dominance of the collective mind-set, the state had no other alternative but to improvise at times, scramble around and thus to continue to function basically as an uber-tribe. Leaving aside its umbilical tie to imperialists, perhaps, its utter weakness was due to its young age, lean built, and the fragility of its structures, facts which contribute to its acceptance to remain hostages to the powers that called the shots on the international arena and to pay lip-service to all and sundry of its local load!

        Is there a way out of this historical cul-de-sac? Are there any chances of Arab states being re-addressed by means of traditional reform type measures short of new re-founding? Not after the 20th century fiasco of piece-meal sort of one step ahead two steps back. The area is still mired in the same bogs which had caused the outrageous lag vis-a-vis the rest of humanity, since all it could come up with what can be summarized as since nothing of the "borrowed stuff" has worked, let us go back to what once had worked. A wishful thinking or just one of those flares of a religious mind-set illusions that sees history on par with long dead humans -both can be resurrected and made to repeat themselves in some form or another! A fatal confusion between individual behavior and collective destiny! This kind of thinking may fit individual destinies -since these are the properties of their owners who're free to believe whatever they wish and take the gambles they can afford- collective destiny is another matter. The state, unlike individual biographies, is rooted in the here and now; and unlike them again, it's based on objective and tangible calculations and forces. Thus its destiny has to be determined in advance by its constituencies and its workings and directions have to be entrusted and monitored by a constant flow of revolving teams.

        Only a society that comes to realize there're no forces beyond itself that will shape its fate and future. Then and only then, will be ready to assume the burdens and responsibilities of figuring out what's the ultimate purpose of living together; and, therefore, a state based on reason can emerge. A state that takes its mandate from the people and is regulated by a written document and the institutions necessary to carry it on, and confines itself to deal with what it can do best, that's, guarding individual freedoms and human rights, improving the conditions of life, securing the country, and keeping the peace. That, in turn, needs a citizenry made out of free and conscientious individuals whose motto:" I'm the captain of my ship, I'm the master of my destiny."

        If the changes, as championed by a many of the so-called opposition groups, are seriously well-meant and if one day may take roots which go beyond the cosmetic whitewashing, they must go beyond the hackneyed rhetorical speeches and cliches symbolic gestures so often aimless and, literally, out of place. The parroting of certain imperialist circles hypocritical mantras is only one of these groups refrains. The much championed brand of democracy that is being championed by the neo-cons these days appears to be formulaic in intent and mechanical in content; in the best, it ain't meant to go beyond the processes of legitimizing power -the last thing imperialists want is a truly democratic and united Arab World for that would be the end of their messing around with it.

        While change may occur in each region or state separately, the similarities in the conditions and behaviors of Arab Societies and their states, despite their apparent different systems and skewed recent histories, make meaningful changes to take place simultaneously or thereabout in many of them if not collectively a necessity. Viewed in such a light, Arabs and their opposition parties and groups have to fight as well the trends of further fragmentation alongside the other different fronts in the same time. Emphasis on regionalization only furthers the interests of disgruntled ethnic or sectarian fractious groups whose causes spring in part from a perceived and actual weakness in the main stream alternative paradigms. These paradigms include an overriding objective, a meta-goal, if you well, from which and under which local issues and priorities can be formulated and integrated. Thus, oppositions in different countries, addition to cooperating and coordinating among themselves, as the police-states do particularly with regard to their survival, must structure their fight on variuos levels and fronts simultaneously, that's, on internal and external fronts as well as on local and collective goals. However, the external front is as important, if not the decisive, for this phase, as the internal and local struggles. For to defeat the neo-colonial state is also to sever it from its life support systems. Only by neutralizing the backing of the imperialists and ex-colonial powers can the local puppets and lackeys be defeated and disbanded. The task is truly challenging for its multi-prongs approach, that's, to fight imperialists and their local collaborators and to garner support of the masses for the changes needed to a true take-off.

Ghoma
Ghoma47@hotmail.com

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