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Articles on the Arab world after 2013
Has the Arab Spring failed?
Articles on the Arab world before 2013

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

  • (october 2013) Has the Arab Spring failed? There is no Arab country whose economy is doing better now than it was doing when it was run by a dictator before the Arab Spring of 2011. That seems a terrible indictment for these democratic revolutions.
    Tunisia, where the Arab Spring started in 2010, has witnessed the assassination of two opposition politicians within five months (Mohamed Brahmi, founder of the secular leftist Movement of the People party, and Chokri Belaid). A car bomb at a hospital in the Libyan city of Benghazi killed nine people. And Egypt's army staged a coup to remove democratically-elected president Morsi from power. Many analysts and historians are beginning to resurrect the spectre of Arab history and of Islamic history in general, and its chronic tendency to generate mad dictators and suicide bombers instead of scientists, inventors, artists and... democracies.
    The easiest response to these critics is to point out how long it took for Germany, Italy and Japan (who also created their share of mad dictators) to restore democracy after World War II, how long it took Asia to create real democracies, and how long it took Eastern Europe to create stable democracies after the fall of communism; not to mention the two centuries it took Latin America since independence. Democracy has largely been an Anglosaxon and northern European phenomenon that has spread to other regions and cultures of the world in a slow, traumatic and painful way.
    That said, there is certainly some truth in the simple fact that Islam and democracy are incompatible. It is not only that Mohammed never said "vote to decide what is right" (he said "I know what is right and you subject yourself to my will", hence the word "Muslim" or "subject"). It's the very psychology of any Muslim leader (convinced of being a "caliph") that is an obstacle to real democracy. I can picture Morsi the day he was elected president of Egypt: he did not thank the Egyptian people, he thanked Allah. Once you are convinced that your mandate comes from Allah (as most leaders of Islamic nations have believed and still believe) you are very unlikely to spend much time caring for the people (especially the ones who didn't even vote for you) and let alone for the democratic process that elected you.
    There is, de facto, a general distrust that the Islamic world can ever (under any circumstances) get out of the downward spiral in which it has been sinking for centuries. Muslims themselves ponder what went wrong. Both in the West and in the Middle East i get asked my opinion on what caused the decline of the Islamic civilization (once the greatest and most liberal on the planet) by the very people who should know the answer. They study their glorious history in school and then they witness their humiliating conditions of today and are puzzled by the contrast. I have already given my version of the facts. But there is another question that Muslims rarely ask and they should be asking themselves.
    At the end of World War II the Arab world was the second wealthiest in the world after the West. Asia was destroyed and starving, with millions dying from India to China and to Indochina and Indonesia. Latin America was starving too. Eastern Europe was rapidly succumbing to the inept policies of communist regimes. Sub-Saharan Africa was a poor European colony rapidly falling into the hands of corrupt and sometimes cannibal dictators. The Arab world, instead, enjoyed relative peace, culture and wealth. Believe it or not, many Europeans chose to live in the Arab countries (today it is unthinkable that anyone would want to move to an Arab country). Cities like Beirut, Alexandria, Casablanca, Algiers and Damascus were as cosmopolitan as the cities of southern Europe.
    The question that Arabs have to ask themselves is how did the Arab world go from being the second wealthiest region in the world to being pretty much the poorest, passed first by Asia, then by Eastern Europe, now by Latin America and soon by Sub-Saharan Africa, in just 60 years. When asked that simple question, too many Arabs still turn to Israel and the CIA. That excuse looks pathetic when you consider what was going on in the rest of the world: Japan had been totally destroyed, China was in the hands of Mao, India was going from one starvation to another one, Indochina was devastated by the USA, the Philippines and Indonesia were run by dictators who killed millions of political opponents, etc. The Arab world actually did not experience any of the major tragedies of the 1950s and 1960s. All the Israeli-Arab wars combined and the Palestinian intifadas killed way less than 100,000 people in an age in which a million casualties was the norm. Arabs will not find the answer in international conspiracies (their favorite passtime). The answer lies in a ruling class that brought wealth and eventually democracy to Asian countries that were poorer than Egypt at the end of World War II while another ruling class could not stop the accelerating decline of the Arab countries.
    Many of the dictators of Asia (from Singapore to South Korea, from Taiwan to the the Liberal Party of Japan) invested in education, technology and trade while the Arab countries were mostly stuck in the agricultural world of their ancestors. Meanwhile, the population exploded. Today the gap is colossal: Egypt's economy is not even remotely comparable with South Korea's, and, still, in 1960 the two countries shared the same GDP per capita.
    That gap has been created by both the ruling class and by the people at large. The ruling class in the Arab world thought of its role as being a god-given role that only implied the administration of ordinary matters. The ruling class in East Asia, instead, thought of its role as being a people-given role that required tangible signs of progress in all aspects of society. The people of the Arab world had and have little tolerance for non-Islamic values, no matter what their benefits could be: Arabs, in fact, specialize in denying the obvious (e.g. that Western values create more democratic and prosperous societies, not to mention much happier people). The people of East Asia, instead, had and have a lot of tolerance for alternative values. In fact, they eagerly adopted Western values and any new values that proved effective. China was probably the least open, due to its millennial Confucian belief in being the best of the best, but the other countries, mostly Buddhist, had no problem embracing other religions and other ideologies. Compare with Saudi Arabia, where you can be beheaded if you practice any religion other than Islam and no "infidel" is allowed inside the city of Mecca (and so much for the much vaulted Islamic tolerance). Hence Islam (as it is conceived and practiced today, not as it was 1000 years ago) is indeed the problem, both at the level of government and at the level of ordinary people. You can't create a modern state if you are still stuck with the idea that there is a god named Allah who appoints his caliphs on Earth and with the idea that Islamic society is the best of the best even though Islamic countries are becoming the worst in too many fields. (See The Islamic world is perfect).
    Democratic elections in Arab countries run for decades by dictators inevitably lead to Islamic governments because those are the only groups that people can recognize. It will take a generation to raise a generation of credible politicians in places that have had no opposition for so long.
    This seems to be a contradiction in terms: if Islam is the problem, and democratic elections lead to more Islamic regimes, democracy simply exacerbates the problem. But this is not true. The revolutions that led to democratic elections were not started by those who vote for the Muslim Brotherhood: they were started by young people armed with cell phones (not with the Quran) who demanded dignity, if not freedom, and justice, if not wealth. From that point of view they were the first sign that the monolithic wall of Islam (that has de facto caused the emigration of hundreds of millions of Muslims and the exodus of tens of millions of Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus) is crumbling. The anti-Islamic riots of 2013 in Tunisia and Turkey confirmed this view. Iran might be run by an Islamic theocracy but it probably has the least religious youth of any Muslim country. Further away from Mecca we see Bangladesh sentencing the leaders of the Islamic party to death and countries like Malaysia and Indonesia run by Islamic parties that have converted to democratic values.
    There is hope that the first free Arab elections are just one step in the right direction, the first step of a long and painful process. The day that Arabs stop blaming Israel for all their problems and start blaming their own society (and especially their own religion) might not be too far.
    Therefore the military coup in Egypt was a really bad idea because it sent that society back to square zero. Square one is to have democratic elections and fail. Democracy has been created by trial and error everywhere, starting with Britain. It comes with no instruction manual.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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  • Articles on the Arab world before 2013

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