Time for Arab world to take control of its own destiny
One way or another, the coming year will be a seminal one for the Arab world. As has often been the case, the seeds of change have been planted by outsiders, and unless the region decides to make 2003 the year in which it takes hold of its own destiny, Arabs will continue to be buffeted by forces beyond their control.
The Cold War allowed all sorts of dysfunctional systems to thrive under the protective umbrellas of the two principal contestants, the United States and the Soviet Union. When it ended, most of these regimes fell apart. Not so in the Arab world, which has remained in the sway of 1950s-style Third World statecraft whose sole products are police states, moribund economies and unhappy peoples.
This inability to adapt has made the Arab world more vulnerable than ever, so it should come as no surprise that with a war looking set to break out in Iraq we as a civilization are powerless to prevent it even if we were not divided over whether we want to. So low has Arab governance sunk that the strongest impetus toward democracy in the Middle East is a piddling $28 million proposal put forth by the very country now poised to ravage Iraq for the second time in 12 years.
It is not as though Arabs lack the ability to improve their lot. People from this part of the world have become leaders in innumerable fields. The problem is that most of these have had to leave to do so. Conditions in their home countries are simply not conducive to the creativity and dynamism required to excel. In fact, the odd insincere speech notwithstanding, Arab rulers are indefatigably hostile to new ideas of any sort. They think this makes them stronger and more important, but its real effect is only to increase their impotence and decrease their influence. With each passing day they become more deeply mired in an irrelevance of their own making.
It is hard to feel sympathy for would-be emperors whose backward notions continue to make them vassals of those they claim to defy. The same cannot be said, however, of those unfortunate souls who have to live under such pathetically inadequate leadership.
And so they leave. Or they stay and pursue lives devoid of genuine accomplishment or even the dreams thereof. All the while, their leaders self-satisfied for no apparent reason sit atop gaudy thrones and preside over the process of their own demise.
Even if the US “democratization” campaign is genuine, it will not be able to impose new standards on Arab governance. Democracy is of necessity a homegrown crop. It can be inspired by ideas and principals from abroad, but its institutions and priorities must be established domestically. To accomplish this, Arab countries have to devote themselves both individually and collectively to building better futures for their respective peoples. Organizations like the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council must throw off the chains of their traditional lethargy and strive to fulfill their potential by concentrating on concrete results rather than empty rhetoric.
Like people everywhere, Arabs deserve democracy. Hopefully, 2003 will be the year when they finally start the trek to a better way of life.