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Are the MENA & Gulf Regions in Tatters?
Over the past of three decades, I have written quite a few articles focusing on one or other of the conflicts raddling the MENA region. My initial and formative experiences focused on Israel-Palestine, and I have accompanied the few highs and abundant lows of this conflict since well before the phrase “Oslo Accords” became a twinkle in the political eyes of most pundits or observers.

7 October   |   2018   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

However, since 2010, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once a main hub for most of the Arab and Muslim worlds in terms of rights as well as aspirations, has regressed in importance. Today, many politicians no longer associate themselves with the words “just” or comprehensive” when speaking of the plight of a people whose lands and properties were seized by another people.

Instead, the MENA region today exhibits a multiplicity of conflicts. Just look at the map of this rather vast region! Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria remain the most obvious examples of pain, destruction and cruelty. But Tunisia, the sole example often cited for its progress since the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is also experiencing many post-natal hiccoughs. Countries like Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon or Iraq that had their own somewhat different challenges from the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ are also anxiously struggling to avoid meltdown.

And as if this canvas is not disconcerting enough, the Gulf region (comprising for the purposes of this short piece the six member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council) that once prided itself for its stability and forward-looking vision, has also been plunged into more tensions. Why? Because three countries - Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain - broke off relations with Qatar. Whilst there are many political euphemisms used by these countries seeking to justify their savage hostility and rapacious embargo of this small state, the reality remains that their actions were somewhat led by the fact that Qatar did not toe the line and follow their policies.

Mind you, once upon a time, I would have also raised vital issues of sovereignty in a reflection such as this one. But as Rami Khouri stated in a recent interview, we are witnessing the “de-sovereignisation” of the Arab World. So let me express the contradiction I face here: my wish to write about the issues affecting the MENA & Gulf hurtles into a daunting realisation that the region is teetering on the edge of the abyss. So where do I go today?

Some observers claim that the region is more stable again now because the perpetrators of the ‘Arab Spring’ have been defeated and that stability is slowly regaining the upper hand. The famous trade-off between stability and freedom has been made and steadiness has won - meaning also that freedom has lost miserably. And whilst they consider this a proud achievement, I view it a sorry defeat. Alas, since the start of the latest uprisings, we have been faced with an antinomy squaring off two viewpoints of this region.

The peoples of the Arab World today - those who are aspiring to become citizens of their states rather than stay unfortunate human beings deprived of freedoms - are worse off than they were eight years ago. Serial abusers of human rights, dressed up as rulers, have been using their security forces to clamp down on dissent whilst the outside world largely watches warily and then simply sighs wearily. Couple this with dire economic realities plaguing many of the MENA countries, and it becomes self-evident that violence will flare up again as people resist more torture, repression, humiliation, incarceration and death. This awakening by the Arab populace can no longer be extinguished with brute force. The genie is still out. It has to be dealt with via rights and freedoms.

But how does one speak of rights and freedoms when rulers think that they are demigods and that their ‘subjects’ are no more than cannon fodder to nourish their own omnipotence and narcissism?

The only way we can achieve this breakthrough is through a process of “re-sovereignisation” of the people in the Arab World so they become real citizens in their own countries with rights and responsibilities. Any brutal top-down totalitarianism, coupled with constant interference by outside vested or greedy forces, will only muddy the waters and act as incubator for further resistance and outbursts. But how will this happen? And when?

Not sure that I wanted to write another article, I ended up raising more helpless questions. So I stop here.

The photo associated with this piece is by the Palestinian painter Mohamed Khalil

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2018   |   7 October


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