The Scope and Direction of Change in the Regional and Global Environment*. By Ziad Hafez email@example.com
Introductory Remarks The Arab world is living currently one of its darkest moments in its modern history. Iraq, the cradle of civilizations, the hotbed of Arab national consciousness is being invaded in the name of liberty and democracy. At the same time Palestine, land and people, is being raped by a government whose head has been anointed by the President of the United States as “a man of peace”. Both assaults have been deemed illegal and illegitimate as well as immoral. For some heads of government, the war on Iraq is a huge political and strategic mistake1. The pitiful responses by Arab regimes to the ongoing onslaught on Iraq and the rape of Palestine are likely to trigger in the Arab world major movements of seismic proportions. Change will come, not necessarily in an orderly manner, but it will come. It may be wishful thinking on my part, but I do believe that the Arab order is no longer a functioning system and will have to be replaced by a more assertive one as nature abhors the vacuum. Strangely enough, I believe that the United States will be a major vehicle of change, though not necessarily in the direction it has in mind. The problem in the Arab world is the huge gap between the rulers and the ruled, the former being friendly to the United States, the latter reserved or outright hostile because of its unjust policies in the region. So the democracy that the United States is trying to implement may produce unfavorable governments to the US. I believe the present US administration knows this and that is what makes its claim not credible to Arab governments, elites, and populations.
In this presentation, I will try to sketch out the directions of change at the global and regional level. Change is going to take place. Part of such change will be outside the control of Arab elites. This is the change at the global level. The rest of the change is within our control. That is the change at the regional level. The main argument developed is that at the global level unipolarity of the international system is likely to be replaced by a multipolar system. The world will see the emergence of the Eurasian polity, a combination of the European Union and Russia, the assertiveness of China and India, and a redefined non-aligned movement that will encompass most of Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. The multipolarity will take time and will not be established at once, but gradually, despite the doctrine of preemptive strike developed by this US administration to prevent precisely the emergence of such order. The United States will remain for a long time the predominant power but without the clout of absolute and unchallenged power.
At the regional level, a double task is awaiting Arab elites. On the one hand, they will have to articulate a new vision for Arab society that will provide freedom, unity, prosperity and justice to their people. On the other hand, they will have to develop a strategy of resistance to the dictates of American policy and its extension Israel without committing a collective suicide. .
From Unipolarity to Multipolarity The United States could be forced to occupy vast regions of the Arab world to impose its will on the Arab world and ensure the supremacy of Israel, and Arab resistance will be the likely response. Whether through messianic appeal or through security related concerns, the United States will be compelled to behave as an imperial power. The doctrine of America’s Manifest Destiny will not lead to the spread of American values but to the destabilization of societies in the rest of the world2. Contrary to what is being advocated in many circles in the United States, the American empire is not benevolent. There is no such thing as benevolence in an empire and America will have to be brutal for a sustained period of time to maintain its grip and enforce its will. In this respect, Israel is one instrument and the only beneficiary of this plan, at least in the short run. In the longer run, the United States and Israel are likely to run afoul of each other because Israel will not tolerate the presence of the United States as a regional power competing with its own strategic interests.
One must remember that an empire exists because of sustained military control over territories. Will it succeed? My answer is no. The United States, like ancient Rome, is beginning to experience the limits of its power. Furthermore, it has lost the moral high ground, the political support of Arab populations and that of the rest of the world, and is creating a wave of anti-Americanism of unprecedented proportions that will make its rule and influence at best ephemeral and at worst tenuous. But the more fundamental reason is that structural changes in the American economy have led to a reduction in its leadership in industrial production3. In 1929, 45 percent of world industrial production was in the United States against 27 percent for Great Britain, France, Germany, and the Soviet Union. In 2000, US industrial production was less than that of the European Union, and barely higher than that of Japan. This has led to huge trade deficits of over 450 billion dollars in 2000 making it dependent upon the rest of the world to sustain its level of consumption. Emmanuel Todd in his excellent book makes the case that the United States need the rest of the world more than the latter needs the United States4. Furthermore, it is already overstretched in military capabilities and dependent upon the rest of the world to maintain its level of consumption as indicated by the huge trade deficits it has been incurring. I do not want to dwell any longer about the decline of American economic clout for lack of time and space, but there is a case to be made for that thesis.
Many analysts are indicating that several poles of influence are emerging and it is a question of time when they will be challenging the will of the United States. We already have seen a preview of the loss of diplomatic clout by the United States. The fiasco of its diplomacy at the United Nations is an illustration of that fact. The paralysis in NATO is another example of its failure. The United States has significantly impaired these institutions without offering a credible and viable alternative. International relations need to be structured and the vacuum created will have to be filled somehow. Though it is premature to announce the withering of the United Nations the failure of the United States to provide credible solutions will force it somehow to return to the fold. I do not believe that international order can be based on the “coalition of the willing”. It is unsustainable for many reasons that will take too much space to develop.
Professor Charles Kupchan of Georgetown University in a seminal book about the “End of the American Era” contends that the challenge to America will come from an integrating Europe whose economy rivals that of the United States5. Russia is on the rise and the axis of Paris, Berlin, and Moscow has already begun to manifest itself. Europe will be building its own military to be less dependent on NATO. Already France and Germany are considering establishing a force of 60,000 as the nucleus of European military power. It will be seeking a political influence commensurate with its economic status and therefore will become a counterweight to the United States. America and Europe are parting ways, the discord extending well beyond the realm of trade. Furthermore, American primacy will unravel because of growing opposition in the United States and abroad to the country’s burdensome role as a global guardian.
The multipolarity will be reinforced with two giant players coming into the international arena. Already India has served notice that not only it has become a nuclear power but is also developing the capability of delivering its nuclear payload. The vastness of the sub-continent and its population make it one of the largest middle income countries, a prized target for multinational corporations seeking new markets. So far, they had limited success as India has ambitions of its own. In a not distant future, India will attempt to stake its claims westwards, specifically towards the Gulf region where already a talented Indian working class has become one of the pillars of the Gulf economies. I remember Prime Minister Nehru telling my father, then the ambassador of Lebanon to India, in the early sixties that India has to look west towards the Arabian Gulf! So one should not be surprised to see India to becoming a major player in the Gulf region within the next ten years.
The other pole is likely to be China. Today, in spite of a world recession, China is posting a tremendous annual growth of over 7 percent. Analysts believe that China’s GDP will be comparable to that of the European Union and of the United States sometime after 2010. It also has a huge military potential and will make its political will felt. It is not by chance that the present US administration believes that China is not a strategic partner but a strategic rival. One of the reasons for the control of oil resources in Iraq is to enable the United States of controlling China’s appetite for oil and consequently its growth. Therefore, one must believe that China will not stand idle for long without countering US hegemonic ambitions.
With the emergence of multipolarity in the international system, some form of instability will take place. This will lead to the reemergence of a non aligned movement to counter the gravitational pulls of the various poles. Already, the non aligned movement has indicated recently in Malaysia its intention of voicing its role in international affairs. I believe the coalition of Latin American, Sub-Saharan African countries, Asian, and maybe the Arab countries if they get their act together, is likely to become a player in international politics especially in the trade flows from the South to the North. I anticipate that more South-South flows to slowly replace South North transactions in volume as well as in value. But my guess is that should take place by the end of the next decade.
The discussion about trends at the global level cannot be complete without some perspective about globalization. To the extent that globalization is associated with the hegemonic tendencies of the United States, one should expect further resistance to that trend. There is an abundance of criticisms about globalization and the way it is being implemented6. Joseph Stiglitz, to name just one has spoken of the devastating effects globalization has on developing countries and especially within these countries. The way “globalization has been managed, including international trade agreements that have played such a large role in removing those barriers and the policies that have been imposed on developing countries in the process of globalization need to be radically rethought”7. Many decisions by the Bretton Woods institutions, the main proponents and actors in the globalization process, have been taken on ideological and political grounds were wrong headed and caused much harm to developing countries8. Some would argue that globalization has reduced effective demand in the world, hence the stagnation in economic growth, and had increased disparities among countries and within countries9.
To a large extent, global capitalism, a major component of that phenomenon is corrupting democracy. I will refer to the thoughtful analysis provided by Noreena Hertz who has brilliantly demonstrated how multinational corporations, the main actors of global capitalism, have manipulated and pressured governments by means both legal and illegal, and rendered the ballot box an ineffective means of expressing people’s will, hence the increasing low participation of the public in national and municipal elections. Violent protests in the streets of Genoa, Seattle, and Washington D.C. have become more effective ways of expressing dissent than the ballot boxes10. What I want to say here is that globalization will have to take into account the will of people. The latter are becoming better informed and better organized thanks to the revolution in telecommunication, computing, and transportation, the fundamentals of the globalization drive. Direct participation through the internet is a new phenomenon that will have to be reckoned with. All of this will add further constraints to superpower politics and will confirm the limits of power itself.
Of course, multipolarity runs against the ideology of the present US administration, which believes its unilateral action is driven by the unique messianic role of its Manifest Destiny. An eloquent exposition of such views could be found in the writings of Robert Kagan and William Kristol11. This line of thinking states that strong powers need not abide by the rule of law and international legitimacy. Europe has become pacifist because it is weak and advocates the rule of law and international legitimacy as the basis of international relations. The United States, because of its strength, must not be constrained by pacts, treaties, or any other institutional bind that may be contrary to what it defines being its national interests. Under such thinking, Might is Right underscores the doctrine of preemptive strike. This would be a return to 19th century or Napoleonic politics. If the precedent that the United States is launching is generalized, then what would prevent China from invading Taiwan, India from clobbering Pakistan with nuclear weapons, Russia from invading Georgia? Only Israel and the United States are electing to act outside the realm of the international rule of law. I do not believe that this thinking is sustainable as it means waging permanent wars and with consequences that are unthinkable, hence multipolarity is the direction of change at the global level.
Accomodation/Subservience to the Hegemon At the regional level, the direction and scope of change will be related not only to the outcome of the war in Iraq, but also to the manner it will be completed, and to the scope and direction of the global environment. However, whatever the outcome, the resistance put by the Iraqis, despite the lopsidedness of capabilities, is likely to open new pages in the self confidence about Arab military capabilities. The United States can draw little glory from defeating a country weakened by 13 years of sanctions and embargo. The stigma of earlier defeats will wither from the Arab psyche as the Vietnam syndrome has withered away from the psyche of the American public. The cumulative effects of the liberation of South Lebanon, the resilience of the Intifada and the resistance in Iraq is likely to generate further resistance to the hegemonic tendencies of the United States and Israel. One must remember that the liberation of the South Lebanon has led to the Intifada.
Meanwhile, what are the likely scenarii to develop under present circumstances? What come to my mind are two diametrically opposed possibilities. The first scenario is the scenario of accommodation with the present state of power where Arab elites would embark “theoretically” upon the rebuilding of Arab society as dictated by the occupying forces. For one must be clear, the present Arab order has been defeated, and there are no regrets about it because it has failed miserably in addressing the needs and aspirations of the Arab people in their dreams of unity, freedom, justice, and prosperity. As painful as it is to me to acknowledge it the Arab elite (nukhba) has failed miserably in undertaking its leadership function. Such elites have betrayed the hopes vested in them during the heydays of Arab hope from the Nahda period in the 19th century through the decolonization process of the fifties.
However, should such a strategy be adopted the agenda will be dictated to a large extent by the occupying power until a certain level of compliance (or tameness!) by the Arab elite has been deemed achieved. Meanwhile, the price Arabs will have to pay will certainly be the abandonment of a free and sovereign Palestine and an accommodation with the concept of illegitimacy and immorality of a colonial fait accompli (Israel) and the pillaging of Arab resources by the occupying forces. Arabs will also have to comply with American and Israeli requirements to change the basic tenets of their culture, beliefs, and values to accommodate American and Israeli interests. In other words, Arabs will have to relinquish aspirations of independence and accept the status of subservience to the American Israeli order. It is not clear at this stage what would be the material steps towards such goals, but I guess the first one will be the liquidation of the Palestinian intifada, second the opening of Arab economies to Israeli goods and services on one hand and on the other hand the handing over of strategic economic interests, mainly oil and energy related activities, to American dominated multinational companies, third to a revision in the cultural curriculum of Arab schools and universities in order to “market” a new set of values and principles that will serve the perpetuation of the dominant powers.
Rebuilding the Arab World The other scenario is opposed to the first one. Change is coming and though it is difficult to predict with any kind of confidence its scope and direction I submit that the prospective change will have to be a negation of the adverse conditions prevailing in the Arab world. But if Arabs are to take their fate into their own hands their first task would be to assess the reasons of why they have fallen so far back. As the late Professor Constantine Zurayk had indicated in one of his seminal contributions to Arab renaissance and in the wake of the last Gulf war, what is needed is a thorough assessment of the reasons of the present state of affairs in the Arab world. A thorough critical introspection is needed and every single tenet of Arab beliefs must be revisited. This intellectual audit of our society is a prerequisite for any rebuilding effort. Reason should the first and last benchmark of this exercise. Arabs must get rid of the sectarian culture that has plagued their societies for so many centuries with the hatred of the Other, whether the other is one’s own brother or a foreigner. This has led to the hatred of the self and it is time to put an end to it. If the Arabs do not have the courage to undertake this kind of intellectual revolution then any attempt of reform will be an exercise in futility and the desired change will remain in the field of dreams.
So the two questions of what is needed and why must be addressed in order to know by whom and how. As indicated, the first order of business is the courageous diagnosis of the present situation. I strongly believe that our dismal state of affairs is caused by a combination of outside factors and domestic factors. The outside factors are the combined interferences of imperialism, Zionism, and the Arab reactionary regimes, the old unholy triangle of evil. Sounds like the sixties? Yes it does and it is unfortunately true. However, this time, Arabs must be ready to shoulder their share of the blame as they realize that their own weaknesses have been instrumental in favoring the endeavors of outside forces. So in addition to the negative influence of forces beyond Arab control, Arabs should be ready to deal with their own condition.
Already, some steps have been taken. Arabs have preempted Bernard Lewis’ specious book of what went wrong in the Islamic world12. The Arab Human Development Report, despite its many shortcomings, (I would even say, because of its shortcomings) is an attempt to reveal some of the basic weaknesses of Arab society. Critics have pointed out to glaring methodological weaknesses and have suggested the negation of the findings. I believe that such mistakes do not negate the facts what every Arab scholar, intellectual, and reformist already know. How can a society develop if it ignores half of its members? Women empowerment is not an empty slogan and will need to be addressed forcefully. How can a society strive if it is not free? How can it prosper if the knowledge it seeks to acquire is inadequate and restricted? These are some of the basic issues though by no means the only ones. But the report has contributed to create the debate and elevate the level of discussion within Arab circles, and as such I believe its contribution is significant. The exercise initiated under the auspices of the UNDP must be continued within Arab societies themselves.
In the next few paragraphs, I shall outline the answers to the what, how, and with who change should take place. As to the rebuilding of Arab society, the first order of business is the establishment of the rule of law and that of democratic institutions. This is the only way to bridge the gap between the rulers and the ruled and the only way to impart any legitimacy to the rulers. Until now, such rulers have had no legitimacy and it is time for this illegitimate system of government to go. Without the rule of law and the establishment of democratic institutions no political, economic, or social development can take place.
Here, I would like to specify what I mean by democracy and democratic institutions. If one is thinking about the paraphernalia of democracy, namely “free elections” and “one person one vote”, a constitution that separates the executive, legislative, and judicial powers, etc. then we are likely to see soon enough the emergence of an oligarchy or even a plutocracy that will divert the whole process to the benefit of a new ruling elite concerned only with its own self interest. A caveat to the democratic process is to limit, if not eliminate altogether, the influence of money, otherwise what would prevent local or international mafias from taking over our countries? Hence, the democratic system and institutions that must be implemented must generate a new elite whose concern is the public interest. The new Arab elite must be freed from the grip of the petrodollars that have corrupted the existing elite for the past three decades and from the new corporate invaders. I concede that this smacks of idealism. I am extremely weary of corporate dominance in this world as it has already led to the theft of human rights. In a thought provoking work, Thom Hartmann has shown how the Fourteenth Amendment has been used by lawyers representing corporate interests to further the interests of business at the expense of basic human rights13. I certainly do not wish to see a similar fate in our part of the world. In short, Arabs must be in a position to control the agenda of their government.
In this respect, the rule of law, the recognition of basic rights, and the implementation of good governance become crucial. Without them, all attempts at democratization and liberation of Arab societies will be meaningless. How is such governance to be implemented? Here, the combined efforts of the intelligentsia, the media, and civil society are essential. The generation of an effective intelligentsia, media, and civil society are contingent upon the implementation of an effective educational system that will provide knowledge as well as critical analysis of society. Dissemination of knowledge is linked to the spread of modern communication technology and the internet is a most potent weapon. Good governance starts with the eradication of corruption and maintaining a permanent watch against it.
But how effective is democracy and governance if the members of the polity are uninformed or ill informed? How can people make rational decisions if they do not have the knowledge? How can they have the knowledge if a large segment of the population is still illiterate? The statistics about illiteracy in the Arab world are a powerful indictment of Arab regimes. Knowledge begins with literacy, and with that comes empowerment
At another level, Arabs must begin to transform their economies from a rent producing economy to a real production and productive economy. The diversification of the productive base must first take place before Arabs can move effectively to a services. Agriculture and industry must take precedence over services. The latter must ‘serve’ the primary and secondary sectors. One must remember the words of the great Khalil Gibran: “Pity the nation that eats what it does not grow, Pity the nation that wears what it does not weave”. Arab labor and capital must circulate freely within the Arab region. Furthermore, I do not believe that Arab countries can successfully solve their economic woes within the confines of their own boundaries. Their own individual economies are small markets for the establishment of viable industries. Economic salvation lies in the creation of an Arab Economic Union, even if such union will require some infringement upon local national sovereignties. Only through economic integration that the Arab common purpose can materialize. Only through such regional harmonization of economies and policies can the Arab world compete in an irreversible globalizing world.
In the end, Arabs must decide what they want and put the effort to achieve. For it is only them who know what they need and they need to help themselves before they can ask for help.
Bibliography Hartmann, Thom, Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, (Rodale, 2002)
Hertz, Noreena, The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy, (New York, The Free Press, 2002)
Heykal, Mohammed Hassaneyn, ‘The Empire the American Way’, in Arabic, Weghat Nazar, Vol.8, No. 80, March 2003.
Kagan, Robert, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)
Kagan, Robert and Kristol William, Editors, Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy, (San Francisco, Encounter Books, 2000)
Kupchan A. Charles, The End of The American Era: US Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twentieth Century, (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)
Lewis, Bernard, What Went Wrong ? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002)
Todd, Emmanuel, Après l’Empire, (Paris, Gallimard, 2002)
1*Paper submitted at the Symposium on Human Development in the Arab World and Latin America, hosted by the Center for the Global South at the American University in Washington D.C. on April 8 2003.
Jean Paul Raffarin, Prime Minister of France in a statement to the press after the NATO discussions in Brussels on April 3rd 2003.
2 Mohammed Hassaneyn Heykal, ‘The Empire the American Way’, in Arabic, Weghat Nazar, Vol.8, No. 80, March 2003.
3 Emmanuel Todd, Après l’Empire, (Paris, Gallimard, 2002), pp.79-81.
5 Charles A. Kupchan, The End of the American Era, (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002).
6 Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents, (New York, W.W. Norton, 2002).
7 Ibid, pp. .ix-x.
9 Todd, op.cit, pp. 145-6.
10 Noreena Hertz, The Silent Takeover, (New York, The Free Press, 2001).
11 Robert Kagan, Of Paradise and Power: America, Europe in the New World Order, (New York, Albert A. Knopf, 2003 and Robert Kagan and William Kristol, Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy, (San Francisco, Encounter Books, 2000)
12 Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002).
13 Thom Hartmann, Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, (Rodale, 2002).