The Arab World

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Articles on the Arab world after 2012
Why i still don't believe in the Islamic world
The Arab League cleans up
Articles on the Arab world before 2012

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

  • (november 2012) Why i still don't believe in the Islamic world. I have been a strong supporter of the Arab Spring, and last but not least because it was grounded in secular aspirations not in religious outrage (as it is too often the case with riots in that part of the world). I saw it and still see it as a dividing line after which, hopefully, mystical superstition (read: religion) will become less important than fact (read: science, medicine, education, politics, women's rights, etc). However, there is still one major trend that needs to be reversed, and the Islamic world is far from even thinking about it.
    First, a summary of my humble theory about the Islamic civilization. One has to start with the reasons why the Islamic civilization was so successful in the first place. When it started, the Islamic civilization had three fundamental features. 1. For the first time in history it unified the three great civilizations of the West (Greek, Jewish and Persian). 2. For the first time in history it created a huge economy extending from the Mediterranean to the Far East (a fact that created an unprecedented economic boom). 3. There were initially very few Muslims (Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews, not to mention Hindus and Buddhists in the East, were more numerous than Muslims in the areas controlled by the Muslim elite). Now fast forward to the 16th century. 1. The Greek-Persian-Jewish influence has been replaced by the influence of the Turkish tribes that have conquered the Islamic world (first the Seljuqs, then the Mongols, then the Timurids, then the Ottomans) and the Turks bring a completely different set of values. 2. The Europeans have learned how to sail around Africa and trade directly with the Far East bypassing the Islamic world altogether, while other Europeans have just discovered the Americas, making the Islamic world a lot less relevant to the world's economy. 3. Muslims have become the vast majority in all Islamic countries, and the "inshallah" mindset has taken over the yearning for progress and innovation of the Jews, Christians, etc. The cosmopolitan Islam of the past continued to reign for a bit in Turkey (if you think that the USA was the first case of massive European and non-European emigration, think again: it was Istanbul), but, in general, the trend was in the opposite direction. There followed four centuries of stagnation. (See Why did the great Islamic civilization collapse?.)
    Alas, the exodus of non-Muslims has continued throughout the recent decades and has actually accelerated in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Egypt and now in Syria, places where Christians, Jews and Hindus increasingly fear that they can be accused of blasphemy simply for not believing in the Quran (like the vast majority of the world, and almost all of educated people in the world) and fear that their families might be massacred with no warning by whichever gang of thugs decides to wipe out the remaining "infidels". While Christianity spreads to the fast emerging powers of East Asia (including China) and Buddhism spreads to the Western world, Islam is unique in that it is closing, not opening, its doors to other religions. As i have been saying for many decades, the fact that Mecca is closed to non-Muslims is an obvious symbol for the racist, fascist and violent ideology that forms the core of modern Islam (compared with Rome, the capital of the Christian world, where Muslims are welcome in any church and where Muslims have been allowed to build the largest mosque of Europe, or compared with India, where the percentage of Muslims has never changed, or compared with the USA, that welcomes immigrants of any religion, and even compared with the original Islam, that had created the most diverse multi-religious society ever seen). Worse: when confronted with statistics that show how Islamic countries are losing non-Muslims and how non-Islamic countries are instead welcoming Muslims, many Muslims conclude that this is simply a sign that Islam is winning and will soon spread all over the world (wrong). They do not conclude that the Islamic world is one century behind the rest of the world (correct). It's like an alchemist concluding that chemistry is losing because chemists are not interested in joining the labs of alchemists whereas chemists welcome alchemists to get a degree in chemistry.
    Ironically, at the same time Muslim emigrants are contributing to the multicultural societies and therefore to the general progress of the West, and increasingly it's the highly educated ones who move to non-Muslim countries and therefore indirectly help those non-Muslim countries prosper. In a world that is increasingly "xenophiliac" (friendly to foreign immigrants who bring money and ideas), leading to a multiplication of "minorities" of all sorts in all developed countries (including Muslim minorities in countries that never had Muslims), the Muslim world is going in the exact opposite direction: sending away its own minorities and scaring away any potential immigrant. How many European, American or Chinese scientists, entrepreneurs or engineers plan to emigrate to a Muslim country? How many Muslims plan to emigrate to Western Europe, the USA, and increasingly China and India? Millions. Out of those millions many will be the inventors and startup founders of the future. The net beneficiary is the non-Islamic world. The loser is the Islamic world.
    One factor that is very visible but largely neglected in discussions about the Islamic world is that the Islamic world has a lower participation of women to politics, to the economy and to the cultural debate than any other region in the world. I believe that this is taking a tremendous toll on the creativity and productivity of that part of the world, and i don't believe that it is about to change any time soon if nothing else because women themselves tend to defend the traditions that created that system.
    Too many people in the Islamic world have forgotten that we don't need to go back centuries to find an age when the Islamic world was doing better: within a few years from the end of World War II most of the Islamic world became independent and most of it trailed only the West in wealth and democracy. The rest of the world was either under communism (Eastern Europe and China) or starving (India, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa). Cities like Beirut, Alexandria and Algiers were among the richest in the world at the same time that millions of people were starving to death in China, Latin America and Africa. In just 70 years the Islamic world has been passed first by Eastern Europe, then by China, then by India, then by Latin America and now even by several sub-Saharan countries.
    The Islamic world is being left behind by a world that has better things to do than deal with medieval superstitions of prophets and holy books.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • (march 2012) The Arab League cleans up. The Arab League's call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power has followed similar actions in Yemen and Libya. Before the Arab Spring began, the Arab League was mostly representing totalitarian regimes. Even now the vast majority of members are kings, sheiks and sultans. The notable exceptions are the semi-democratic governments of Iraq and Lebanon and the transitional governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. The question is why would the Arab League, representing dictators, support the Arab Spring that removed a few of those dictators from power. Look close and a pattern will emerge: all the dictators that have been deposed (and opposed by the other members of the Arab League) were secular republican dictators, dictators who, in theory, did not obtain their title dynastically but, in fact, came to power after the local dynasty was overthrown. Look close and this will look surprisingly like the old nobility of the Arab world taking revenge on the parties that dethroned the nobility in their countries. In fact, there was one Arab Spring that would have affected a king: in Bahrein. That was the only case in which the Arab League sided with the dictator. (To be fair, it was also the only one in which the protesters were Iran-leaning Shiites and the regime is anti-Iranian Sunni).
    The reason for the longevity and resilence of the Arab nobility is twofold. On one hand, the kings, sheiks and sultans have been less brutal and less brutal towards their people. The customs police in places like Saudi Arabia might be ridiculously medieval, but they don't torture people to death like Saddam Hussein or Qaddafi used to do. The secret police that controls the opposition has not been guilty of indiscriminate killings. It is also a lot easier to get pardons from the aristocratic rulers than from the secular ones. The kings, sheiks and sultans of the Arab world have traditionally tried to present themselves as benevolent dictators. Some of them (Jordan, Morocco) also boast international credentials that allow them to look relatively "enlightened" to their people.
    On the other hand, the Arab mindset has traditionally been willing to accept the idea that a dictator has to lead the country, and, in fact, that there should be a man in charge of the entire Islamic world, an idea rooted in the very concept of the divinely appointed caliphs who ruled the entire Islamic world in the first few centuries. Since the very beginning the issue has not been the legitimacy of dictatorship but what system should be accepted for becoming dictator. Islam got started with a civil war between those who felt that the best man should lead (their version of meritocracy, although in practice it means the most brutal man) and those who felt that power should be inherited dynastically. In theory the Shiites should be the ones supporting the dynastic principle, but in practice (Shiite) Iran got rid of the shahs and installed a republic whereas many (Sunni) Arab states are still ruled by dynasties.
    The Arab Spring conveniently started in places ruled by republican dictators (dictators who were not the son of the former dictator). The royal dictators (kings, sheiks and sultans) have viewed this as an opportunity to look populists, on the side of the street. After all, the royalty knows that its days are numbered and the only question is how it will die: will it die in a bloody coup that will behead its members, or will it die through internal reforms that will slowly grant more and more rights to the people, while retaining power and wealth? The latter sounds a lot better. If nothing else, it will buy them a lot of time. They also know that these revolutions come at a price: all the countries that got rid of their old dictator (from Iraq to Egypt) are temporarily in a big messy situation with collpasing economies and potential civil wars. The royal dictators guarantee a smooth and peaceful, if slower, transition to democracy that has a strong appeal on the minds of millions of ordinary households.
    The West has tacitly sided with the royalty because the real troublemakers have always been the republican dictators, from Nasser to Saddam Hussein (and notably Iran, not to mention the Algerians who fought the French). Kings, sultans and sheiks are more interested in enjoying and perpetuating their lavish lifestyles than in ideological propaganda. Their children study in the most prestigious Western universities. Even some of the wives (and now mothers) of the kings are Western. Of course, there has been the occasional exception to the rule, notably Mubarak. But in the overall scheme of things the royalty has been easier to manipulate than the republicans. And, of course, the West hopes that the new democratic governments will be even easier to manipulate through commerce and culture: democracies tend to be more rational than dictators like Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • Articles on the Arab world before 2012

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TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.