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Politics Birth Of A New Arab World

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Birth of a new Arab world

February 14, 2011
Rami G. Khouri


Egyptians demonstrate in support of their country's uprising
and transition to democracy in front of the White House in Washington.

The overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the transitions to new governance systems in Egypt and Tunisia — with others sure to follow — promise the birth of a more democratic, humanistic Arab world, assuming the transitions persist, which I believe is certain. Here are 10 things that may emerge from the current changes and that will determine if real democratization is underway, for these are the attributes that the Arab people have been denied throughout the past century:
[SIZE=+2]•[/SIZE] Real self-determination: Egypt and Tunisia may be the first instances of Arab countries that truly define themselves, their national values and their policies, on the basis of their people’s will and sentiments, rather than the decisions of a handful of self-imposed or foreign-installed rulers.
[SIZE=+2]•[/SIZE] Real sovereignty: This may be the first time that modern Arab states implement domestic and foreign policies on the basis of the consent of the governed, rather than according to the desires or dictates of foreign powers.
[SIZE=+2]•[/SIZE] Real politics: This may be the first time that modern Arab states experience the thrill and complexity of genuine politics, by which a variety of legitimate local actors negotiate the exercise of power and the routine transfer of incumbency from one group to another.
[SIZE=+2]•[/SIZE] Real nationalism: This may be the first time that Arab societies create a nationalist spirit that accurately reflects the sentiments, rights and aspiration of their own people, rather than the exploitative, narrow goals of self-imposed rulers or the hysterical crowds those autocrats callously manipulate.
[SIZE=+2]•[/SIZE] Real constitutionalism: This may be the first time that modern Arab states see their own citizenry writing the rules of how power is exercised and how public authority is apportioned among the institutions of state, in the form of a constitution that actually represents the constituent population.
[SIZE=+2]•[/SIZE] Real citizenship: This may be the first time that modern Arab states actually implement rules of behaviour by the governed and the governing alike that guarantee the human and civil rights of citizens, who will be protected against abuse of power by the state or fellow citizens. Critical elements of this are freedom of expression and association, and an independent, respected judiciary.
[SIZE=+2]•[/SIZE] Real democracy: This may be the first time that mechanisms of citizen participation and representation are created that actually give authority and power to the majority sentiments of citizens, while protecting the rights of minorities. The must-have anchor for constitutionalism, citizenship and democracy is the rule of law, which has largely vanished in the past three generations in favour of the whims of Arab autocrats and the thuggery of old men with guns.
[SIZE=+2]•[/SIZE] Real civilian control of the security systems: The single most important key to comprehensive and sustainable democratic transformation in the Arab world is for representative civilian institutions to oversee the behaviour of the security services. We should see hints of this if the current transitional mechanism now being developed includes a serious civilian majority that works closely with the widely respected armed forces.
[SIZE=+2]•[/SIZE] Real fiscal accountability: Alongside the control of guns, the control of money is the second most critical element needed for the long nightmare of Arab autocracy and authoritarianism to end and make way for a new democratic dawn. Civilian oversight of government spending also must include the budgets of ruling and royal families.
[SIZE=+2]•[/SIZE] Real Arabism: This may be the first time that free Arab citizens in countries across the region make their voices heard and align their sentiments and aspirations in a manner that allows an authentic political and transnational Arabism to manifest itself — responding to citizen and national needs, rather than only reacting emotionally to foreign aggressors or local demagogues. Free Tunisians and Egyptians may now lead others in the region in giving expression and life to what they really feel it means to be an Arab.

Egypt and Tunisia have sparked a dead region back to life, moribund states to regain their vigor, docile subjects to transform into vibrant citizens, and marginalized states to reclaim a role in the world of dynamic countries. Widespread collective and individual humiliation is giving way to self-assertion. Incompetent security states are giving way to relegitimized governments and normal societies. Hail, Tunisia and Egypt! God bless and remember the souls of those who died in this Second Arab Revolt, and all those who have struggled for decades to bring us to this point.

Neither we in the region nor those in the West who supported Arab autocrats for decades should offer any advice to Tunisians, Egyptians and the other Arabs to follow on how to proceed and what to beware of. They know what to do, for they have already brought us to the start of this road towards liberty and democracy. We should just stand humbly in appreciation and awe, and work hard to make sure that the ten attributes above ripple through all Arab lands.

Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of Beirut’s Daily Star and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.



1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Soul_jyot ji

This is a very good summary of issues that I have been finding scattered all over the Internet. Thanks for this article. :)