RULES OF THE ARAB WORLD
In the muslim and Arab world
there are a number of recurring circumstances that
constantly keep repeating themselves and that have
established a set of rules. The latest events lead us to
analyze these factors to try to understand the failure
of the social phenomenon labeled with the evocative -
but misleading - name of "Arab Spring".
The first rule is that power, in this part of the world, has almost always been held by authoritarian regimes, democracy does not exist.
The prevailing authoritarian forms of government are a direct consequence of the total absence of any democratic culture. This was not imported by the colonial countries who have long ruled over these lands, nor by the successive division and creation of nation states with often no social common denominator. The end result was not accidental, but thoroughly planned. The weapon of coercion, as opposed to consensus, has facilitated the passage from colonies to self-determination and independence, thus avoiding with one big leap all the social contradictions the new status would have fatally determined. And, on a general basis, those who took over power did so with the acquiescent support of the former colonial powers.
The second rule is that the majority of these authoritarian regimes are of military or pseudo-dynastic extraction.
This is/was the case for Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Syria and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. To these countries we have to add, with the necessary distinctions, also Kemal Ataturk's Turkey. For obvious reasons, the armed forces was one of the strongest institutions at independence. Therefore, they exploited their influence to take over power. The other option during the territorial division of the Middle East was to impose pseudo-monarchies, whose legitimacy bore from the former colonial powers rather than from history. Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrein, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the Arab Emirates all belong to this category. Overall, military regimes and monarchies use the hereditary system in the transmission of power.
The third rule is that in the Arab and muslim world no alternative political ideologies and their related social values have taken root.
There have been several
attempts to disseminate ideologies that could have
helped harmonize societies and awaken the participation
of social masses. Nasser's Arab nationalism that turned
into Pan-arabism was one of them. The so-called Arab
socialism of the Baath parties in Iraq and Syria is
another example. The truth is, such ideologies were not
targeting the creation of social fabric, but were born
to subdue and justify pre-existing military potentates.
Communism, for instance, did not gain proselytes in this
part of the world with the exception of the christian
communities, maybe because they were socially more
developed. A possible explanation is communism's
professed atheism that hardly reconciles with Islam. The
communist ideology served the purpose of emancipating
the people of the region from colonialism, but did not
affect their social development.
The fourth rule is that Islam, as opposed to christianity, has a deep social impact.
This is a religion that not only divulges concepts, but mainly behavioral precepts. It exercises a decisive influence over those societies where it prevails. Religion is one of those factors to be accounted for when we try to understand how these societies react to change. Furthermore, Islam easily moves from religious grounds into politics, with all the consequences - mainly negative ones - such a step involves. These include the disappointment determined by the passage from the sacred to the profane, from spiritual power to the secular one.
The fifth rule is that Islam is a religion without a leader, it's acephalous.
Islam does not have a hierarchical structure providing dogmatic guidelines and/or interpretations of the sacred books. In other words, it doesn't have a Vatican and its appointed clergy. There are obviously different schools of thought, influential figures in religious disputes, but there lacks a unique koranic school to become an imam or a clerical hierarchy (except for Shiism). This allows the exploitation of the writings of the Koran by those seeking a religious avail to their actions. It's as if christians and jews tried to attribute a strictly literal meaning to the tales in the Bible. This produces fatwas, extremism leading to jihad and fanaticism in a vicious circle comprising religion, social demands and politics.
The sixth rule is that once an authoritarian regime collapses, religious-based political claims take over power.
Regardless of the links between Islam and politics, the fall of a regime provides an advantage to those social structures that already deal with the transmission of consensus in islamic countries, namely the mosques and the religious associations. The latter, who provide assistance to the poorest strata of the population, turn this credit into political support. To this effect, the case of the Muslim Brotherhood is emblematic. Therefore, when a regime collapses and democracy takes its first steps, then islamic parties prevail. This is also because, as we've mentioned, there lack alternative political ideologies and Islam is the only glue keeping politics and society together.
The seventh rule is that in this part of the world there is an emphasized social inequality deriving from an unequal distribution of wealth.
This is the typical consequence of dictatorships. Whereby social justice and freedom are denied, the first effect is the creation of a class of privileged ones and one of dispossessed. And when the latter outnumbers the first, then this social mass becomes capable of ousting a regime. It doesn't do it for freedom or democracy, but to respond to its daily basic needs. The mass obviously expects that the collapse of a regime will reap all those benefits it requests. But if these are not delivered, then more protests are to be expected. This is what happened in Egypt, where both the economic crisis and the failures of Mohamed Morsi's tenure have justified or tried to justify, at least in the very short term, the military's return to power. But in the Egyptian case the army also controls a good portion of the economy.
The eighth rule is that the first immediate consequence of a regime falling is anarchy and social chaos.
Authoritarian regimes generally have the quality of controlling the people they rule over. They don't grant freedom, they don't protect human rights, they abuse repression, but they definitely provide security. When such regimes fall, social chaos takes over favored by the lack of democratic sentiment inspiring the revolt of the masses. Freedom turns into anarchy leaving room once again for the abuses of the stronger over the weaker, even though this time around the roles are reversed. There is no space for tolerance or dialogue, but only for contraposition. Basically, the exercise of power lends its behaviors from the past, force instead of ideas are used once again to impose a new socio-institutional order.
The ninth rule is that Arab authoritarian regimes never create an alternative political class to compete with their power.
When a ruler is removed, there is no one that can take over from him. This is surely dictated by the logic of survival for any authoritarian regime, but this happens most where an alternative culture or virtuous examples, at least on a regional level, are lacking. The case of Iraq and Libya are emblematic.