New Arab Renaissance: Enabling Success.
By: Sami Jamil Jadallah
At the New Arab Foundation and the Arab Peace Corps, “ we give youths reasons to live for, not causes to die for.”
Caveat: With so many Arab countries each of which has its unique history and issues, it is difficult to write about the Arab world without offending someone, even offending everyone. It is the sad fact that the Arab world through its own doing and with help from colonizing power is on a course of self-destructing and making itself irrelevant to the world except as the largest market for military hardware.
In my last article, I talked about the long tumulus history of the Arab and Muslim world, not so peaceful as we are led to believe and not so harmonious as we claim. It was a history of ruthless monarchies (Caliphates) family feuds for power pitting father against son, sons against each other. True some dynasties lasted for centuries but then fell apart because it was ruled with an iron fist and ended with decadence as in Spain.
We left off at the end of WWI and did not cover the “Arab Revolt” of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, did not speak of Sykes-Picot Agreement, certainly did not speak of the Arab military or party dictatorship that enabled Sykes-Picot to succeed.
When Sharif Hussein of Mecca declared the Arab Revolt, though started on June 5, 1916, was officially declared on June 8, 1916, it was the intention and purpose to end the Ottoman Occupation that lasted almost 500 years.
Though the Revolt was cowed in national secularism, it was declared a revolt against a ruler who violated the tenants of Islam. The Ottoman Turks accused the Sheriff of betraying the Muslim Caliphate.
The Sharif not only was planning to end the Ottoman rule over most of the Levant Arabs but with the intention to establish a Hashemite dynasty that can rule liberated areas from Aleppo north to Yemen in the South.
The Sharif armies, one regular made up of former POWs and the other “irregular” made up of tribesmen was no match for the Ottoman Turks with 20,000 strong contingency in Hejaz. Moreover, the Arabs did not join the Revolt in mass numbers with more than 300,000 conscripts remaining loyal to the Ottoman Turks.
With such odds, the Sharif had no choice but to align himself with the British with a big presence in Egypt and of course in India, with keen interests to defeat the Ottoman and free direct land access to India.
However, the allies both France and England had different ideas, neither freedom for the Arabs nor for the dynasty of the Sharif of Mecca but to divide the former colonized Ottoman Arab land into a new colonized French and England.
Though the Sharif was promised in letters and meetings that Palestine would be within the Arab state, British local politics had a different idea. There were many discussions between Loyed George who was a senior partner in a law firm and was on retainer by the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland opened discussions about the possibilities of Uganda as a possible “Jewish State.”
Howard Herbert Samuel president of the local Jewish Board and with the support and much nudging from Chaim Wiseman pushed for Palestine as a possible “Jewish State” years before the German Holocaust. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 set the nail in the coffin of a free and independent Arab Palestine.
Sharif Hussein dream of a grand Arab kingdom under his family rules evaporated with the conclusion of the Sykes-Picot Agreement which carved the Levant (today’s, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine.
The Arab Revolt did not achieve liberation but enabled the colonization’s of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan with Palestine removed and made a British Mandate to allow and pave the way for the Zionization of Palestine as an independent Jewish State, with Herbert Samuel the head of the Jewish organization appointed as the high commissioner for Palestine.
Of course, until now and into the future, the Arabs will continue to blame Sykes-Picot for all of their ills and failings. Not a single one take the responsibility for enabling the intentional damage the Sykes-Picot Agreement was all about.
It is so unfortunate that the Arab leadership at the time did not appreciate the real danger of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and never have the mental capacity or the political sophistications to make a good use of a terrible intentional plan by both France and England to cause irreparable harm to the Arab world for generations to come.
No leader was fit to understand the consequences of such agreement and since collective decisions were never part of such a culture (though much in practice in Tribal Tradition) where real issues are discussed and argued, and collective decisions were taken, political leaders of the time, never implement a decision-making practice which served the Arab well for many generations, and they never understood nor appreciated the parliamentary system in colonial Europe. Even when so-called “parliament” existed they were irrelevant and remained irrelevant until today.
The end of WW1 saw the Arab world divided into vassal states, cantons ruled by families for and on behalf of the colonizers without any true sense of independence.
As it happened no rulers whether in Syria, Jordan or Iraq, attempted to build a modern nation state, they did their best to keep the peace and manage the semblance of a country fragmented into various ethnic groups and held together by the colonization powers.
After WWI, many of the Arab countries of Levant gained independence albeit limited with the presence of troops or mutual defense treaties.
Lebanon was carved out of Greater Syria and given to local feudal lords forming a political social, economic partnership between the Catholic Maronites and the Sunnis of Beirut, while the other ‘ethnic or religious” communities were sidelined.
This partnership continued and survived the Lebanese Civil Wars of 59 which saw the landing of US Marines in Lebanon and the later Civil War starting in 75 and lasting for tens years.
Nothing changed, the same socio-political systems founded by the French survived with one exception, the Shiite “minority” rose to political and military powers thanks to its daring fight of the Israeli Occupation back in 82. Now the Shiite exercise power, which was and for a long time the “prerogative” of the Lebanese Sunnis.
Syria did not fare any better; it saw the first of many military coups, which set the pace for other Arab countries. Husni Al-Za’im became the first military officer to take over Syria from its “civilian” government.
Soon Nasser of Egypt took over in a military coup that ended the foreign rules of Egypt by the Albanian dynasty of Muhammad Ali Basha.
Iraq was soon to follow with a bloody military coup that saw the cold blooded murder of almost the entire Hashemite family of Iraq and the installation of a “Communist” oriented military government that saw itself in competition with Nasser leadership of Egypt and the Arab world.
Sudan, Libya, and Yemen also saw the take over of government by military officers. Jordan saw a real challenge by armed militia under Yasser Arafat who left the fight and escaped to Syria disguised as a woman, leaving a nation more divided than ever and planting the seeds of mistrust between the Jordanians and the Palestinians who have more to share than to divide them.
The Arab Gulf fared much better, which for the most part remained safe and secured by the British as the colonizing power. In early fifties oil was discovered in commercial qualities promoting many exiled Palestinians mostly professionals to seek refuge and employment in states such as Kuwait and Bahrain as teachers, engineers, and skilled labor, thus setting the stage for a big boom to come in the late Seventies.
Several sheikdoms in the Gulf formed what became the United Arab Emirates, perhaps the most successful union in the history of modern Arabs, unlike Syria and Egypt, which split after strong resentment of the “colonization” of Syria by Egyptian military officers.
Nasser of Egypt while fairing very well in the hearts and minds of Arabs from the Atlantic in the West to the Gulf in the East and from South Turkey to Yemen, Arab masses idolized Nasser and saw in him the leader who can reclaim their dignity, dignity lost and humiliated by over 500 years of Ottoman rule, extended to Western colonial rules and the humiliating defeat of all Arab armies with the well trained Jewish Militias that declared Israel as an Independent state of Israel.
Nasser firebrand of National Socialism excited the Arab masses and put many established royalties on notice such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Morocco among others.
However all that was damned by the well-coordinated attack of Britain France and Israel on Egypt and the Suez Canal. While the Egyptian army ill trained and ill equipped did not succeed in repelling the invasion, the day was saved Eisenhower, the American president who demanded the immediate withdrawal of all invasion forces. Nasser claimed victory, albeit moral but not military victory. This together with well-greased propaganda machines propelled Nasser into the world stage becoming a leader of the Non- Alliance countries that included such world leaders as Nehru of India, Tito of Yugoslavia Sukarno of Indonesia.
French out of defeat by the allies in the Suez war, Nasser soon found himself deeply involved in civil war in Yemen between the Royalists and the Republicans with his ill trained and ill equipped army bogged down in a protracted war that saw the intervention of Saudi Arabia on the sides of the Royalists supported under an umbrella of American missile batteries installed in Western and South Arabia
With heavy losses for his army in Yemen, Nasser was forced to withdraw after an agreement to end the Yemen Civil War, which saw the end of the Royalists and the rise of the Militarists in Yemen
With only couple of years to heal his wounds and that of his army, once again, Nasser was facing a young military fit and ambitious Israel, daring to end his tenure as leader of the Arab world.
Lacking the political sophistication of the Israelis with strong backing from all Western powers without exception, Nasser soon found himself staring across the border. As a condition of troop withdrawals after the 56 invasions of the Suez, the UN staged its troops on the border of with Israel. Not so sure whether Nasser was bluffing or not, he demanded the UN troops leave Sinai thus setting the stage for powerful Israel to do what it wanted all along, destroy the Egyptian army and destroy Nasser leadership.
On June 5, 67, Israel fighter jets within minutes destroyed the entire Egyptian air force, which was a sitting duck. With incompetent ill trained and ill led army, the Egyptian army was defeated in the most humiliating way, with many those not executed by Israel as prisoners of wars found their way back to the West of the Suez, badly humiliated and abandoned by Nasser’s top commanders.
Though Nasser presented himself as the Arab national champion which he did succeed in gaining the love and confidence of millions of Arabs the loss and defeat of 67 saw the loss of Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the entire Palestinian West Bank and what remained of Historic Palestine.
Nasser submitted his resignation in national radio broadcast promoting millions of Egyptians taking to the streets in Cairo in support of Nasser staying in power.
Meanwhile, the problems and conflicts of the Arab world kept brewing with Yasser Arafat and the PLO taking arms and began to challenge the rule and sovereignty of King Husain of Jordan. A brief civil war ensued that saw the ready intervention of England and Israel on the side of King Hussein. Jordanian army with the help of contingency of Pakistani army was able to route the armed PLO militia with Arafat escaping seeking refuge in Syria.
The civil was of the 70 with much sadness never totally healed the wounds of the two communities, Jordanians, and Palestinians who are more than any other Arabs bound by marriage and family relations. The issue of who is a Jordanian and who is a Palestinian continues to pop up whenever there are social and economic crises.
The Sixties and Seventies saw an oil boom propelling Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar to the world stage as leaders of OPEC, the oil cartel. This oil boom saw a construction and rebuilding boom not seen in the Arab world in modern history.
The 73 war which saw the attempted reclamation of loss terrorizes in the Sinai and Golan Heights, though initially successful with both the Syrian and Egyptian armies making significant advance, saw the direct involvement of the US in the war on the side of Israel with US military planes landing in the battlefield fully loaded with a wish list of arms to Israel.
After and initial gains, the Israeli army regained its balance and took the offensive routed the Egyptian army and the Syrian army. Not sure what Sadat aims of the 73 War, certainly it was not to regain the entire Sinai but to break the stalemate and force the UN and world power to broker a peace deal.
The late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia came to the rescue and ordered an oil boycott that saw the entire West come to a halt, with carlines lining up for miles waiting to gas that is not there.
It also saw a boom in the oil prices prompting many Arab Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar to go on a shopping spree building massive infrastructures from zero with projects worth hundreds of billions saw the roads bridges harbors and ports, airports and modern cities and housing projects and most important the installations of several major power and desalination plants.
This boom lasted few years with millions of Arab and foreign workers flocking to the Gulf as professionals and skilled workers. Students were dispatched to the US in the thousand to pursue higher degrees of education.
Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia this fast-paced modernization had it’s cost with the powerful Saudi clergy demanding a share in the budget which was granted through the establishment building of a massive universe Al-Imam University graduating tens of thousands of “Shari” graduates who were dispatched to the four corners of the world preaching what became known as “Ahab” version of Islam.
The story, of course, does not end here, in fact, it starts out West in Morocco, Algerian and Tunisia all of which were colonized by not so benevolent occupation that saw the mass murder of tens of thousands of Moroccans and Algerians including the ISIS style chopping off heads of the resistance fighter.
Morocco saw the exile of its Sultan Mohamed V and his family to Madagascar and eventual return to partially sovereign Morocco, later regained its full sovereignty from France. Morocco played a key and significant role in the liberation of Algeria hosting leaders and smuggling of arms to resistance fighters.
By the end of the Algerian war of liberation more than a million Algerian died as a price of freedom. As it happened in all of the Arab countries that gained its defense with the exception of the Gulf military leaders ruled installing a one party system and following a failed Soviet model of National Socialism that saw the countries facing financial and economic ruins.
Muammar Qadafi took power in a military coup that ousted the Sanusi royal family installing himself as leader of the people Libyan revolution and presenting himself to the Arab masses as the young, dynamic national leaders with Nasser as his hero and mentor.
Qaddafi overstayed his welcome by 43 years when he was ousted by massive uprising and the military intervention of American, France, England and Gulf countries ending with a civil war that brought Libya to its knees and saw the looting and loss of over $200 billion in Libyan assets deposited in foreign banks but was never recovered.
As if all of this was not enough, war broke out between Morocco, Algerian and Libya immediately after Spain ended its century-old canonicalization of what referred to as “Western Sahara”.
Tens of billions were wasted by “brothers” over the issue of whether Morocco, which claimed historical rights over its Western Sahara had the right to do so or whether the “people” of the “Western Sahara” have a right to their freedom and independence
This tragic war lasted for almost a decade and took away precious resources from all parties to the conflict, Moroccans, Algerians and Libyan; enough money was wasted on this senseless war that could have rebuilt the entire infrastructure of the region several times over. The issue was never resolved and with threats it the war may break out at any time. Meanwhile, Morocco invested tens of billions of dollars rebuilding its claimed Southern regions.
It seems I always got back to Nasser and for good reasons. No doubt the man was honorable decent and not the thief, but he was unfit and not sophisticated enough to understand the responsibility that lies on his shoulder as the leader and hope of the Arab masses east and west, north and south.
Nasser mistake is that he did not know his limits as a leader and rather than selecting the best and brightest to be by his side, selected at best mediocre lacking talents and smart to help govern. His chose loyalty as the only standards of his inner circle and these inner circles what caused him to fail on so many fronts?
Nasser has he been the kind of leader like Nehru of India or Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore or Konrad Ridenour of Germany or Charles de Gaul; Nasser was a mediocre officer with highly any political or military education thread into a leadership thought his power oratory, charisma but not his smart in governance.
He relied on a bunch of mediocre officers to run and manage a country like Egypt, a leader in the Arab world. He appointed military officers in almost all major ministers and all local authorities, military officers that failed in wars and could never manage a complex country like Egypt coming out of feudal times, with massive uneducated population and yes an elite that is well educated and well versed in economic and politics. He failed to make good use of the talents around to rebuild a modern nation state with governing institutions that live up to the dream and aspirations of the Arab world. Rather than build a democracy with transparent institutions he builds a police state with “mukhabarat” at the center of power and a military that at best unfit and unqualified and he should have known better from his experience in Yemen, in 56, 67 and even the Sahara war.
That was the sin of Nasser, and the rest of the Arab world paid the mistakes for it. He did not set the tone or example for other military officers who took over governance in Sudan, in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen and Algeria. All without exception followed Nasser model of a failed police state, and the results lead us to the Arab Spring.
As if this was not enough, Arab leaders engaged in continues wars against each others wasting tens of trillions of dollars on senseless wars all of which they lost badly, just to name a few.
- The Yemeni –Yemeni Wars
1962- 1972- 1979-1994-2015-Present
- The Sudan-North/South War of 20 years
- Sudan Darfur War
- The Libyan-Chad War
- The Moroccan- Algerian-Libyan Sahara War
- The Iraq-Iran War
- The Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait
- The Algerian Civil War
- The American Invasion of Iraq
- The Lebanese Civil War
- The Palestinian- Jordanian War
- The Libyan Civil War
- The Syrian Civil Wars
- The Dhofar Rebellion
Now we all need to imagine the costs of these wars. Hundreds of billions, no but tens of trillion wasted on useless, selfish wars that leaders chose to go to war rather than find ways for solutions. Of course, the Arab League is useless as ever, marginalized and insignificant to local and world event.
One has to imagine the trillions wasted on such wars, and imagine if these funds were invested in building the almost non-existing infrastructure. With the trillions wasted the Arab world today will be on par with Europe regarding standards of living and education.
While trillions of were wasted, tens of millions were killed in these wars, a human capital that in and of itself worth tens of billions simply wasted by leaders who failed to establish a semblance of accountability, transparent governments. As if this is not enough one has to imagine the hundreds of billions looted in commissions and outright theft by officials.
Hard to believe that until recently, most leaders from the rich Arab Gulf had to travel to the US and Europe for medical care, when they could have invested in the best medical facilities anywhere around the world.
In Jordan, in Lebanon, in Egypt, in North Africa leaders continue to travel to Europe and the US for medical care and treatment when in fact they could have invested as a priority in medical and educational facilities.
No wonder the Arab world is so far behind in almost all categories in health, in education, in food production, in science and technology, in the welfare system, in government efficiency and rank high in illiteracy and corruption and bureaucracy.
So where do we start and where do we begin. Certainly, we do have serious “cultural issues” that are basic and endemic to our failings. We need to transform our cultural morays to the needs of the modern world without scarifying our identity of who we are. Cultural norms that make our military a total failure and disaster with the only wars it can win are when waged against the people but not the enemy.
An educational system that is at best archaic based on systematic memorization without ever engaging the brain to think and an educational system that is hostage to a religious established trapped in history of 1400 years ago, a clergy that decides on what is taught in schools from science to math, to biology to all physical sciences, making sure they are in control of an educational system that train and instill a culture of total obedience.
When we think about, perhaps 50% of the population in Egypt is illiterate and how can a country like Egypt with such a high illiteracy rate and failing economy ever lead the Arab world.
While the Arab Gulf made great strides in building an impressive infrastructure and economies such as Qatar and UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait needs to reform and catch up to the 21st century with modern dynamic economies and institutions that are semi if not entirely independent of oil as the basis of wealth.
Saudi Arabia faces the most critical challenge in its 100 years of modern history. It needs to reform its economy, and it could not do that without transcending its cultural norm and social change that makes citizens, not oil the basis of dynamic economies. The Kingdom is on the way with its 2030 Vision, but that vision will not happen unless there are major structural changes in the value system of society, without ever losing own cultural identity. Citizens must be the source of wealth not the consumer of the nation wealth. Bureaucracy and the need for a complete overhaul of the educational and business culture have to change. The days when high officials and leading businessmen became wealthy by taking “commissions” must go. Wealth must be earned and based on active enterprise not based on whom you know.
North African countries also face a major challenge with large young population, ill-educated and ambitions and agitated for change, anxious about its future and its personal needs of housings, of jobs, of marriage and political and social security.
The government must make the necessary changes for an accountable, transparent government, must get actively engage in limiting if not overhauling a bureaucratic system that functions on bribery and personal connections. There must be a total reform of a bureaucratic humiliating bureaucracy where citizens must spend at least one month a year simply going from one department to another collecting signatures and stamped documents.
Algeria faces the most difficult of times. With low oil prices that saw the days of high earning going to military expenditure at the cost of education, of health, housing and agriculture, must be and should be of major concern to policy and decision makers.
Tunisia is making progress but unless it goes beyond the old regime with its endemic corruption and unless there is a total reform of the social, economic, even labor system it will be difficult to attract international investment.
Lebanon is a unique case where it functions without credible active government and even after years of civil wars that destroyed the country and cost the lives of hundreds of thousands it is unlikely that Lebanon will ever reform its archaic political system which is sectarian at best.
One was hoping that the end of Saddam will usher a new era, instead of the American Occupation opened hornet nest with sectarian and ethnic fighting tearing the country apart not to mention the endemic corruption with tens of billions only looted by officials and leaders of sectarian parties. Unless the Iraqis take charge and install a clean effect government that is accountable to all segments of society irrespective of sectarian or ethnic affiliation Iraq will within a year or two years become a failed state no different than Somalia.
Libya is another story with political leaders beholding to sponsors outside the borders and with infighting over areas of wealth for personal benefits there is no hope. Qadafi like Saddam, like Saleh, made sure there are no governing institutions that survive their death. They deliberately made sure the countries will fall apart once they are out of power, and we are seeing that now.
Palestine is another sad and tragic story. Arafat ruled the PLO through corruption, nepotism, and criminal racketeering and he never was interested in having solid governing institutions independent of himself and his successor Mahmoud Abbas is following the same model of governance. The only hope for the Palestinians is the One State for All of its citizens since the two-state solution will never happen.
Yemen, Ah Yemen as if poor Yemen all it needs is wars and bombs that are destroying what little it has in infrastructure. With serious social, economic, educational even health and nutrition Yemen is on the verge of becoming Biafra where hundreds of thousands died of starvation.
It is so difficult to predict how it will end in Syria, with a regime intending on fighting to the last Syrian standing and the last mortar standing. The Arab world is paying the price of dictatorship that was accepted for the last 60 years since the early days of independence from colonial powers.
Is there hope?
Of course, there must be hope. We only need to look at the United States that came out of 6 years of Civil War with over 650,000 dead and millions injured and economy in ruins. We need to look at the United States that within few years of suffering total financial collapse with millions of people waiting in line for a hot cup of soup to become the most powerful nation.
We need to look at Spain that came out a civil war that costs the lives of one million to build an economy that is equal to the combined economies of the entire Arab world.
We also need to look at Vietnam that came our of a foreign invasion and civil war that cost the lives of 3 million, yet it was able to rebuild and transform its society and was able to rebuild its economy and its infrastructure.
Singapore and South Korea are but a small sample of what a benevolent corrupt free dictatorship can do to a country coming out of war. With the majority of the population facing starvation, good leadership was able to transform those two countries to become leading world economies and leaders in education. There are many stories the Arabs can learn from.
However what is lacking is sound educated responsible leadership that can formulate a vision for the future setting a target of say 15-20 years to transform society in every way. Without cultural and social transformation there is simply no hope.
Modern technology is not substituted for social and societal transformation where the new innovative educational system must be at the core of such transportation.
This will take shifting the resources from the military that at best could not and did not win wars to a civil economy with heavy investment in education, in science in technology and of course in social science. The problem we had in the Arab world that the decision makers, for the most part, were and are either engineers or accountant, with social scientists playing no role in the plans for the country.
If the Arab world is to overcome all of its failings and conflicts, it must give the people the right self-governance, though transparent, open election and multi-party systems away from government rigging the elections as we have seen in many countries.
Political parties must transcend and go beyond “cold war” ideologies and must reform to represent the best interests of the public and nation and must not allow being marginalized by self-interests and useless, ineffective parliaments that do not hold the executive branch accountable for its action. Have the Arab parliaments were a true representative of the people we would not see Iraq and what happened to it, will not see Syria and its destruction, or see Yemen with its total annihilation and there will be no needs for the Arab Springs. Citizens abdicated their responsibility to be full citizens and accepted the role of subjects; the intellectuals were nowhere to be seen, always in their bubble engaged away from the needs and suffering of the masses. Leaders are often behind walls rarely visiting their constituent and citizens more easy to travel to Paris when to take the one-hour drive to the next town. The army, which always played less than the constructive role and the beneficiary of the budget, must become the army of the people and nation and not the regime.
Finally, the religious establishment which in large part allied itself with dictatorial corrupt regimes must understand that the days it has homogeneous control over the population as guardian of its “virtue” are over, that people need to think on their own and away from the daily fatwa’s coming out of religious leaders best they remain silent. The Arab Spring is not yet over, but before there is a political revolution, there must be social and cultural revolutions that prepare the nations and citizens to the needs of proper accountable and sound governance. We must keep in mind that modernity, science, technology can live side and side with faith and religion, and we can see with the outstanding success of Jewish and Christian scientists and thinkers who are for the most part true believer in their faiths.
At the New Arab Foundation we must face a much greater challenge and as a foundation that defines itself as “incubator” of initiatives, we hope we can generate the interest and seek the challenges to make the Arab world a place where youth have reasons to live for and not causes to die for.