The Arab world and the necessity for positive change
In the coming days, The Dynamo will share with you a series of reflections by Mohamad Zakaria, a student of Palestinian origin who was born and raised in Lebanon. Mohamad has a background in environmental science, international relations, peace and conflict studies, and is currently a Master student in the Lund University Master Program in Public Health. He has also previously worked at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies. In these articles, he offers his views on current events in the Middle East. Read on!
by Mohamad Zakaria
A policewoman confiscated the unlicensed vegetable cart of 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate who was the breadwinner for his family and the only financial supporter of his sister’s university education. He begged the officer to return the cart with its $200 of goods to him but he failed to convince her in doing so. The policewoman slapped him, spat in his face, insulted his dead father, and confiscated the goods. The man stood in front of a Tunisian municipality building, doused himself in fuel, and lit the match on 17 December 2010. That fire has ignited a revolution in Tunisia and spread the fire across the Arab region.
That sad story was just the direct reason. There are, however, many indirect reasons that are the real causes behind these revolts. I am just mentioning a few of them in this essay. Most countries in this region have been ruled by autocrats since their independence. Basic democratic and transparent political practices have not been allowed freely by any Arab state (Lebanon is an exception). Most of the Arab autocrats (call them Sheikhs, kings, Princes, etc…) have not given the well-deserved value for the lives and dignities of their citizens. They have created cultures of corruption and bad management. In most countries across the region (with some exclusion of the oil-rich Gulf states), a skilful graduate usually faces difficulties in getting a well-deserved job if he/she does not have the “proper contacts” with people from within the governments and also without being a member in the governing political parties. Moreover, freedom of expression and the right of free, transparent election are among the basic human rights that most Arab countries do not guarantee to their citizens at all.
Many of the autocrats have been ruling their countries for over 30 years and inheriting the countries leadership/power to their sons after they die as if the countries are among their personal properties. The leadership in most of the Arab countries are change-resistant and lack intelligent long-term thinking. Most of them and their advisors are ageing men that think in a way that the world today is the same as it was 30-40 years ago when they were put in power and that the aspirations of their nationals today are similar to those in the 1960’s-1970’s. Therefore, they are neither inspirational nor transformational leaders but just dictatorial autocratic ones that are dragging their nations and countries for decades long back.
According to The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report of 2009, around 13% of the Arab world total population are experiencing shortage of food on a daily basis and one third are living below the poverty line. This is despite the richness of the region in natural resources, including oil. The wealth generated by the sales of national resources is controlled by the autocrats and they are misusing that wealth. According to The Middle East magazine (October 2009), by 2008 the Arab states invested $ 1.282 trillion in the US banks alone. A majority of this investment vanished when the financial crisis started and the majority of the US big banks got busted. Let’s imagine that such big amount of financial resources were invested in the Arab region infrastructure and in the well-being of the Arab citizens. This would have created millions of jobs and more financial profits in a region where unemployment is estimated to be over 15% of the total workforce and is much higher than that among Arab young graduates.
The people in the region nowadays are loudly saying to their rulers “enough”. Arabs have been enduring the mismanagement and bad policies of their rulers for decades. Those dictators cannot and should not be tolerated anymore since they led their nations’ images and their people everyday lives to miserable ones. You see people begging on the streets, people trying to fool the tourists to get some cash for survival while their rulers are enjoying wealthy styles of living spending around $20.000 for a suit (Hosni Mubarak was an example). Nations in the region have started to destroy the thick barriers of fear that had been dominating their lives for decades.
The revolts in Egypt and Tunisia have managed to create new realities that are inspiring the Arab nations in the whole region. Some may criticise these revolts and say that they have not changed much so far. I argue that those revolts have managed to change much and will further manage to change more. It is not easy to change everything in short period of time and correct all the wrong doings that were done during decades of mismanagement. Positive and long-term change requires time to get the wished-for results. The revolts have given the hope for the Arab nations that if they want a change in their political system they can make it happen in reality regardless of the situations. Other outcome is that many autocrats in the region have started to promise and introduce reforms, though with slow pace, fearing that their nations will revolt against them soon and take them off power.
Other revolts have been less successful though. The revolt in Libya is such an example. The revolt in Libya is crucial to the fate of the Arab revolts’ continuity and their reputation/support among their nationals. Libya revolutionists have been experiencing enormous difficulties to succeed in taking the Qathafi regime off power. This is due to their lack of adequate weapons and also due to weak organization/coordination among their forces. However, eventually they may well manage to succeed though it may take much longer time and sacrifices than it was initially anticipated. In Yemen, people have been persistently demonstrating against their ruler despite the fact that many of them are killed by the Yemen Presidential forces. Those revolts also mean huge sacrifices. Many families are losing their loved ones and many revolutionists are injured, imprisoned and being tortured. But without such sacrifices the change is not possible in a region where people are not given the right to choose their leaderships via ballots, free and democratic elections. Therefore, some are compelled to use the bullets for that purpose and the current revolts in Libya and Yemen are examples.
The positive change is a necessity in all the Arab countries. The hope is that change can be achieved by peaceful means and with cooperation from the leaders of both opposition and governing parties. In most cases this is not happening. Therefore, if the peaceful means are not given chance to succeed then people are compelled to speak out loud, unite, and force the change they want to happen in whatever ways possible. It may take time to eventually succeed. But with their persistence and unity, nations will get their fates in their hands and will make the positive change a reality. The costs will be enormous such as losing innocent lives and many other sacrifices. But those who are killed are sacrificing their lives to give dignified lives for their fellow citizens and offspring. They are sacrificing to give the hope for a better future and brighter prospective for their nations. Without making revolts against their rulers and without sacrificing in the past, many high-income countries around the world would have never got the prosperity and modernity their nationals and offspring are experiencing today.
There is a hope in the region for making the change happens. The hope that such change will make the region more prosperous, stable where competence, skills will be appreciated and people living there won’t need to emigrate for seeking better lives and jobs abroad. Nations there are persistent and strong enough to make that change happens no matter that they may need some time more to eventually succeed.