By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Since the 1970s and beyond, when democratic ideas and institutions spread, power has been exercised on behalf of the people in most of the world’s nations. Democratization came about through actions initiated by the elite reformers, by the demands of political activists to adapt foreign models to solve local problems, and by social movements on behalf of excluded groups. The era of colonialism in Africa, India and East Asia ended, but Zionism, a new form of colonialism supported by the nineteenth century European colonial powers emerged in the Middle East.
History has to be rewritten every generation because each new generation should ask new questions as it lives differently and learns from the mistakes that had been made. Only people in the Middle East today still re-live the same aspects of their predecessors’ experiences; they keep asking the same questions of the past generations and they are making the same mistakes. Things are going from bad to worse; the old tyrant rulers are replaced by new ones; old conflicts remained and new conflicts emerged. The tyrants of the new generation are as bad as or worse than the old ones were. And the Israeli government has become more aggressive in implementing the Zionist project for Palestine.
To understand tyranny in the Arab world today, look at Egypt, the most populous Arab country, the country that has the potential of being the region’s political heavy weight. Egypt achieved a high degree of multiparty democracy almost a century ago. The constitution of 1923 introduced political pluralism, regular elections to a two-chamber legislature, full male suffrage, and a free press. Democracy was interrupted by the military in 1952.
Millions of Egyptian protesters took to the streets in 2011 and 2013 demanding the end of the sixty year military rule that relied on repression and graft which turned Egypt into one of the poorest and least developed countries economically and politically. The protesters’ expectations had been artificially inflated by ousting two presidents, but with the return of the military rule, they saw their high expectations’ bubble burst against the reality of a country coming apart at the seams.
The ruthless coup leader, Field Marshal Abdul Fatah al-Sisi sought to replace the democratically elected president, that he served under and overthrew, followed by street bloodbaths inflicted on unarmed anti-coup protesters and thousands were tortured in jails. The elections of the coup leader ran according to the old familiar repetitive script. Like the referendums on the former army general, President Husni Mubarak before him, al-Sisi received more than 96% of the vote, same as then President Mubarak. But instead of getting better, living conditions, lack of security, unemployment and human rights violations are getting worse under the new regime. And most alarming is politicizing Egypt’s judiciary institutions. Most Egyptians today even miss Mubarak’s era that was most hated and feared. Like Latin America in the last century when the business elite and foreign powers favored military rule for fear of communism, the Egyptian elite, the crony business class and the Coptic minority favored military rule for fear of the Muslim Brotherhood.
If Middle Eastern people think about the world in which they live, it is easy for them to see why they are suffering and why they have not been developed up to their potentials economically, politically, intellectually, socially and humanistically; why the majority is living in despair and why they support violence and extreme movements.
For the Arab world to satisfy the aspirations of its people and join the civilized world community, as a start, they have to break the cycle of the authoritarian exclusionary system of government and military rule. Democracy will not solve all their problems, but without it, they will continue to be led most likely by ambitious cunning men who engage in criminal practices to coerce society to accept or support their rule. Even with liberal democracy, much more needs to be done to fulfill the aspirations of the young to participate in shaping the future of their country, and to break the cycle of political and economic subordination to foreign powers.
But the hope for a transition to democracy has fallen victim to the protracted periods of self-perpetuating autocratic rule. While the rest of the world lives under different kinds of democratic systems today, power holders in the Arab states developed multiple forms of authoritarian political systems. No Arab citizen lives under liberal constitutional democracy, and women have no civil rights in the Arab world. Arabs live under the constraints of authoritarian regimes in male dominated hierarchical societies that do not treat their members as free and equal citizens. Arab regimes leaders have developed the capacity to concentrate the national resources for use to stay in power. They are the absolute rulers and they are not held accountable to any judiciary or legislative control.
Arab military defeats by Israel in 1948 and 1967 ushered in a radical new age of Arab politics. The magnitudes of the defeats combined with the deliberate deception of the Arab public set off a crisis of confidence in the existing political leadership. Public disenchantment set off support for a wave of military coups led mostly by cunning men against existing governments across the Arab world.
In the 1950s and 1960s the feudal and monarchical governments in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya were overthrown by military men who established secular governance. Each of the new governments adopted a radical Arab nationalist platform as the basis of its legitimacy, calling for the liberation of Palestine and the triumph over imperialism. The new rulers who reigned and ruled tried to broaden their popular support by appealing to nationalism and promises of better economic conditions to come, and the new political culture of military governance took roots in the region.
After decades of authoritarian rule since the 1948 war, sectarianism and ethnicity have superseded Arab nationalism, and international and regional foreign powers dominate the Arab lands. The issue of Palestine that was uniting the Arabs in rhetoric, not action, is overtaken by other issues that have divided them. Israel became a dominant ally to many Arab regimes against Iran and “the war on terrorism” (which includes resistance to Israeli occupation), while the Israeli military and settlers terrorize the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem; and Israel continues to colonize the Palestinians’ land, demolishes homes and villages, and denies them their human rights.
Israel committed heinous massacres in the besieged Gaza enclave. Haaretz newspaper reported that a gang of Jewish settlers firebombed a Palestinian family house in the West Bank village of Douma on July 31st. They burnt an eighteen month infant, Ali Saad Daoabshi alive, and seriously injured the rest of his family. Saad is not the only child killed by Israel. The crimes of killing Palestinians are repeated daily and will continue as long as there is occupation! According to The Independent, a report by Amnesty International on the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians claims among other things that “Israeli forces killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians including 75 children in Gaza on August 1, 2014.”
The dead Palestinians, whether by fire or bullets or bombs or starvation in the besieged Gaza, are victims of racist colonialism which is still being practiced in Palestine. The Palestinian people are betrayed by the international community and especially by the Arab authoritarian regimes. The clearest indication of Israel’s obstinacy and Arab authoritarian regimes irrelevance came from Israel’s economy minister, Naftali Bennett. “The idea that a Palestinian state should be established within the land of Israel has reached a dead end,” he declared.
The Middle East can accurately be described as the land of dictators and a dominant Zionism.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.