By Nader Uskowi
Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, there is a real Arab awaking movement that has engulfed the Arab world, creating an Arab Spring that was unimaginable last winter. What’s going on? Yesterday, I posed the questions to couple of old Arab friends who have been blogging seemingly without break in the past couple of months. We were meeting in a beautiful spring evening in an otherwise hot Arab city on the shores of the Persian Gulf. What was discussed seemed so logical that I thought I knew everything already, only realizing that’s what happens when confronted with strong arguments.
Let’s start with the Arab street. Jobs, food and affordable housing, hope for future and a chance to advance; all scarce commodities on the street. Politics follow soon. Freedom of press, freedom of assembly, freedom for political parties, free elections, and freedom from arbitrary arrests, torture and imprisonment; all as scarce as jobs and hope for future. The street feels no one cares, with the business and political elite and their foreign supporters caring almost exclusively for security and stability at the expense of the dignity of a whole generation of youths growing up in a global village increasingly linked to outside world and increasingly aware of the opportunities available to the youths elsewhere.
Add to these the seemingly ever-presence of fundamentalism, sectarian divide, and naked foreign interference in the affairs of the region.
Since coming to power, Syria’s Bashar Assad (and lately Iran’s Ahmadinejad) saw the solution to the malaise in launching economic reforms but keeping political reforms at bay, the so-called Chinese model. The problem is the model is not working; it puts too much emphasis on upholding the vested interests of the powerful, the Alawi in Syria (the clergy in Iran) and their cronies and their security apparatus. Yes, the new middle class enjoying the benefits of the economic reforms has thrown its support to the old guard, but their numbers, even in thousands, is not enough to stop the avalanche of discontent among the youths. After eleven years of economic reforms in Syria, the youths still do not feel being treated as equal stakeholders in society, it still yearns for political freedom, jobs for now, hope for future, and their lost dignity.
Those who still believe that causes of Arab Spring should be found in the foreign policies of the regimes and foreign interference in the region, Syria offers a clear example that those factors, as important as they certainly are, do not constitute the root causes of the rage and anger seen on the street these days. Iraq and Afghanistan also offer good examples: the two countries are occupied by foreign troops, yet there have not yet been any movements there comparable to other parts of the region, although we should expect the wave finding its way to those countries as well. The argument here is cautionary: do not look for foreign policy and foreign interference as the sole, or even the main source of the current discontent in the region.
The regimes in the Middle East, from Egypt to Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Iran and soon the rest should have realized by now that a program of sustained economic development together with genuine political reforms, giving the youths their voice, freedom, hopes and dignity, is the only way ahead.