Slow trip to democracy in the Arab world|
By: Dr. Mansour O. El-Kikhia
Slow trip to democracy in the Arab world
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted: 11/21/2008 9:04 CST
In the Arab East, the classification of government has become quite insignificant. It doesn’t really matter if countries refer to themselves as monarchies, sultanates, sheikdoms, republics, or in the case of Libya’s Daffy Duck a jamahiriya or state of the masses. The names are different, but they are almost all the same and are all ruled by individuals or their heirs who stay in power for a very long time. There is no such thing as democracy, popular participation, shared governance, serious national economy or any real sense of civil society.
In these societies, the intellectual progression of national political leaderships does not appear to have advanced beyond the era of the divine rights of kings, which characterized the formation of the nation state in 1648. And, even after independence, when opportunity presented the possibility of adopting concepts such as popular sovereignty and political participation, none did, and leaders fought vigorously to prevent the infection of their societies by these dangerous concepts. The result has been years of effete political institutions, dictatorial rule and political, social, cultural, and economic regression not witnessed in the region since the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258.
Economically, the regimes chug along aimlessly, surviving parasitically on opportunities afforded them by the international system and, with one or two exceptions, any scarce natural resources they might possess.
Unfortunately, this is happening at a time when many countries are shifting into fifth gear, racing toward fundamental changes in their political and economic structures to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It is only a matter of time before China, India, Brazil and other developing countries join the developed world to set up colonies on the moon and Mars and hence join in the reshaping of a futuristic global culture. Missing from this evolution will be an Arab culture because it contributes nothing to the pool of global knowledge. It is a shame for a culture that gave so much to human development to be referred to as a dead culture.
This week’s Washington visit by the Libyan dictator’s son and heir to the throne, Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, vividly reminded me of this calamity engulfing the Arab world. He was welcomed with open arms by the Bush administration. During his visit, Mr. Bush took the opportunity to call the father and thank him for paying the remaining $1.5 billion of the blood money for the Pan Am 103 terrorist calamity.
Over the past five years, I have said enough about President Bush and I wasn’t planning to say more, but extending an invitation to and meeting with the future dictator of Libya goes against everything he claims to stand for. How can he, for posterity’s sake, “pal around with terrorists” and earnestly justify the death and maiming of hundreds of thousands of souls in Iraq or his “War on Terror.”
Qadhafi senior had him tagged all along, and he knew exactly what it would take to open up the doors to the White House, so chalk it up for Muammar. George junior will be the seventh American president he puts behind him. Now comes Barack Obama’s turn, and the Libyan dictator sent his son to feel him out in a highly expensive and orchestrated visit, which includes lectures at Harvard and Johns Hopkins, as well as meeting with American business leaders and members of Congress.
But what’s new about Libya and Libyans? The short answer is nothing, but continued despair. One can only feel sorry for a country dominated for the past 40 years by a lunatic sitting on top of a kleptocracy. Ignorance, backwardness, dilapidated infrastructure, tribal divisions, lawlessness and corruption of the worst sort rule the day. Opposition to any of this and any calls for human rights, transparency and rule of law are punished by long prison sentences.
In Saif’s visit there is a valuable lesson for Libyans and other Arabs. Neither I nor they can ask any American administration to assume responsibility for what the dictators do in Libya or Arab lands. They must assume that responsibility and pay the cost of ridding their countries of the evil that has engulfed them for so long, sapping both their health and wealth. This will not come about without cost in blood, sweat and tears. Short of doing that, they will meander into cultural, social and political irrelevance.