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    The Roots of Arab Failure can Deepen and indeed Spread

    Five Arab countries – Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon – are among the 37 failed states that Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace singled out recently in their Failed States Index 2010.

    These five are unable to control their territories, rendering them havens for crime, drugs, piracy or terrorism. Their territorial integrity is jeopardized; they are unable to make decisions that influence the lives of their citizens; and they fail to provide essential services for them. Worse, they tend toward violence, corruption and tyranny.

    Even more worrisome: no fewer than 11 Arab countries are classified as being on the verge of failure. At this rate, most Arab countries will soon be listed as failed states. Indeed, most suffer from poor state performance, deterioration of government legitimacy, and the emergence and growth of “pre-state” structures, relations and institutions, such as ethnic, patriarchal, religious, sectarian, regional or tribal entities. The perception of Arab countries as failed states will accelerate if international centers of influence lose interest in the region. The viability of some Arab countries is due to the support they receive from the United States and the European Union.

    Only four Arab countries, all in the Gulf, are classified as moderately competent. The list, incidentally, omits two Arab countries – Palestine, because it is not yet a state, and the Comoros, perhaps due to its marginal importance. If these two were included in the study, the number of completely or nearly failed Arab states would increase.

    In examining reasons for the failure of contemporary Arab countries in the aftermath of colonization and independence, one cannot accept the interpretations provided by governing elites, families and dynasties. Sometimes these elites blame “international colonization.” Or they blame “Arab particularity,” wherein Arab historic, religious, cultural and social heritage are said to contradict modernity and not harmonize with the discipline of freedom, human rights, democracy and pluralism. That “discipline,” it is argued, is the byproduct of Western culture, not a natural outcome of Arab Islamic civilization.

    All of these “interpretations” are but pretexts and arguments most often used to justify the inertia and passiveness of political reform, democratization and integrated socio-economic development in Arab countries and communities. Nor is this passiveness limited any longer to Arab monarchies. Rather, to a large extent, it has become the status of republican systems that are becoming “monarchic republics.”

    Most Arab intellectuals and reformists argue that the main reason for Arab state failure is governing patterns that spread in the post-independence era known for their totalitarian and dominating nature and dependence on extensive military and security forces to grasp and maintain power. These forms of governance have marginalized political parties and civil society, impeded the judiciary and denied it independence, controlled the media, eliminated the separation of powers and concentrated constitutional authority in the hands of a single person, family or group of individuals beyond accountability.

    To perpetuate their dominance and build up a social base for their government, most of these systems have implemented a policy of divide and rule. They have impeded the rule of law and the principle of citizenry as a basis for rights and duties and a regulator of relations between the individual and the state. They have relied on tribes and sects; they are a minority ruling the majority. They have excluded social groups or marginalized them politically and economically. They have based security, military and civil institutions of the state on the principle of political loyalty – of family, sect and tribe. They have deprived large groups of citizens of basic rights.

    As the Arab state has lost a monopoly over power, minor and secondary identities have grown, sectarian and tribal structures and linkages have been revived, and the role of non-state actors has risen. Trade and economic liberalization have weakened the role of the proprietary state, ending its status as the largest employer and enhancing the private sector. The communication, media and internet revolution has deprived the state of a monopoly over media and news sources. In some Arab countries, the proliferation of light weapons has resulted in the state losing its monopoly over the use of force.

    If Somalia is an example of the worst sort of state failure in terms of internal collapse and projection of threats regionally and internationally, Sudan is likely to have a similar destiny if peace and self-determination do not come to Darfur and the South. Yemen is sliding toward Somalia’s status in projecting threats of terrorism, piracy, weapons and drug trafficking and civil war.

    The roots of failure and sources of threat in these countries can deepen and spread. Schisms in Yemen will not stop at the country’s northern and southern borders. The Houthi belligerence is echoing in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, a country where nearly a century of family rule has failed to handle the challenges of equal citizenry and regional unity. Moreover, the Houthi movement in the Saada mountains is largely welcomed among Shiites in Bahrain, a country of “moderate competence” facing major challenges due to the imbalanced relationship between a ruling Sunni minority and a Shiite majority complaining about discrimination. Repercussions of events taking place in the Saada mountains are reaching southern Iraq, Kuwait and southern Lebanon.

    International actors concerned with the challenge to international security, peace and stability are currently developing strategies to prevent the collapse of failed Arab states. In some cases, that means direct interference in their internal affairs, including security and military activities on their territory – with or without coordination with their governments. The most important issue here is that the citizens of these countries are the major victims of this failure.

    Oraib RANTAWI
    The Daily Star
    08.09.2010

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