Lately, the Arab world began to see accelerated developments. One side; Lebanon witnessed agitated vital popular movements which forced the government to resign in a unique unprecedented manner in the region for many years, on another side; Egypt and Saudi Arabia, after a long silence, joined others requesting withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon and prompt compliance with El Ta’ef Treaty; then the speedy Syrian withdrawal after unnecessary delay that lasted 14 years. On another side still; Egypt witnessed a Constitutional amendment after a long period of stubbornness and refusal to touch the Constitution, when requesters of amendment were accused of disloyalty and terrorism.
Further, there came the Palestinian elections, considered to be a model of democracy, where the opponent for Presidency won 20% of votes. There was also the historical peace treaty in Sudan, sponsored by the International Community in the absence of the Arab League.
In this framework, some questions arise, including: why did the Arab governments start to soften now after long decades of authority regimes resisting people’s requests in issues like withdrawal from Lebanon; achieving comprehensive peace in Sudan; adopting some demands for democratic reform in Arab nations; and whether the Arab regimes represent a response to people’s call or avoidance of international interference? Or has it become difficult to turn backs to the increased national struggle for democracy?
Around these issues, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) held a seminar at Ibn Roshd Salon under the title “The Government’s insinuation to reform: A response to internal demands or avoiding foreign interference?” moderated by Magdi El Naeem, Executive Director. He asserted that the world has been exposed to more than one democratic wave causing changes in more than one region. The Arab world was the exception. He stated there are currently certain indications that drive some to think the Arab world is on the threshold of some changes, these indications coincide with strong pressures from the International Community, specifically, the United States of America and the European Union. Pressures have taken different shapes and have become the subject of everyday talk.
He added that handling of the Ayman Nour case in Egypt and the way the Darfour file in Sudan was handled; in addition to other issues, raise the question whether the latest Arab government movements represent a response to internal requests for reform or submission to international pressures?
Responses to these questions were given by Dr. Hassan Abou Taleb, specialist at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. He defined reform as being a gradual social, political, and cultural change, with a clear goal, reflecting certain philosophy to move from one condition to another, indicating that reform is a process to disintegrate the authoritative features of Arab communities, reaching to a democratic model, that is participatory and with limited restrictions.
He further asserted that it is illogical to talk about one democratic model as a goal for reform in the Arab world. What is required is to have various democratic models according to characteristics of each community, with receptivity and readiness of the political culture in them for the change process. He stated that Kuwait witnessed debates and conflicts about the issue of Women’s rights, although it is an open country with freedom of press and economic freedom, he attributed this debate to the presence of some strong political powers inside Kuwait that won in the latest Parliamentary elections, and that such powers have a stand on women’s rights.
Abou Taleb criticized privacy as an excuse for not taking reform steps, or taking very formal measures. The imaginative political debate in Egypt about the starting point for reform, and whether it should begin with cultural, social, economical, or political reform, indicating that the decree to amend article 76 of the Constitution has created a somewhat opposite situation, and ensured that there is room for reform related to the political field, reflecting in turn on other fields.
He also talked about the external pressures for reform and change, and he stated they must be released. He stated that the internal distribution of American financing known as the “Middle East” project, which was changed into a “partnership” project, allocated 293 million dollars distributed as follows: 23% for media, civil society and democracy; 23% for economic field; 26% to develop education; and 23% to empower women. Americans place their priorities in democracy, media and adopting training programs for political figures in leadership and political competition skills, promoting independent information, and skills and knowledge for local parliament members on legislative issues.
Reforms in the Arab world are fragmented and lack a model; meanwhile, they often seem like “reactions”. As a proof, no one in Egypt mentioned the reason behind amending article 76 of the Constitution.
Absence of the Arab model is a problem that leads us to say our governments are not careful to respond to requests for national movements in our countries. Arab governments and communities are in trouble, with the added undeniable external pressures. Accordingly, steps taken by the governments are divided between responding to these pressures and the partial satisfaction of the internal national movement.
Dr. Hassan Nafaa, former Chairman of Political Science Department at the Faculty of Economy and Political Science, Cairo University, referred to his approval of the steps taken by the Arab governments lately, that they are just insinuations of reform, which do not necessarily mean there is a desire or direction towards reform.
He added that if Arab governments were heading to reform as a response to pressures from their peoples, they would have responded to these requests long time ago, he excluded the fact that these insinuations result from internal pressure, but these are old pressure. He believes what is currently going on is just a “maneuver”. We need to research whether this maneuver is meant to lessen international pressures or not? He doubted if such international pressures seek to actually achieve democracy in the Arab world, and wonders about the reasons for such pressures and how the Arab countries deal with them. In a 2-pole regime, the big powers sought to obtain support of other countries regardless of the political systems there. Despite the differences between them, and these countries were arbitrary and non-democratic. However, with the fall of the Soviet Union, there was only one pole which did not have to play that game. The September 11, 2001 events had an impact on a profound change inside the American community, and the emerging of theories asserting that arbitration creates terrorism, especially when it has a religious dimension and that it is not in the best interest of America, according to such theories, to protect the systems that constitute incubators of terrorism.
He clarified that the United States of America is currently ruled by the extremist right wing party which does not believe in democracy. It used September 11 events to adopt laws and procedures that are not related to democracy, but impose further restriction on democratic freedoms and wastes civil and political freedoms achieved in the United Stats.
He considers the current pressures to be as settling accounts with countries that are against the American policy. Iran for example, is an enemy of Washington, has partial multiplicity and is not comparable with a country like Qatar, an ally to Washington. He asserted that Washington has inconvincible position; one cannot agree that it builds external positions based on a democratic principles. We are facing embezzlement operation between the Arab governments and the United States; the former seeks to terrorize the latter with the “Dreadful Islamic Principles” with the hope that Washington would realize there is no resort except for these governments to continue their dependence on them in offering concessions in different fields and to pass along American politics. It considers these governments and systems as being the most capable to protect the American interests in the region, whereas the United States realizes that the greater majority of these systems have achieved their objectives, and Washington would not wait for real popular uprising since it realizes these up rises breed radical systems. Further, the United States insinuates its desire for reform, and asks for formal procedures of such systems and superficial rather than genuine democratic life.
He stated that international interference will never breed genuine democracy. Those who bet on the American tankers must realize that all the experience of history indicate that democracy is never realized with external tankers. He reminded that it was the British occupation that aborted the democratic change in Egypt.
The Syrian nightmare:
The Lebanese writer, Dalal El Bizry, focused her talk about the events taking place in the Lebanese arena. Since the declaration about the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, there was a greater sense of freedom of the press. The Lebanese have been for long, forced to keep silent under the pressure of the Syrian existence. She accused Syria of confiscating the Lebanese national decisions since they entered Lebanon, to a point that the Syrian intelligence controls the appointing of professors in the Lebanese universities.
She stated that many generations were raised to believe that Lebanon is a “private property”, but now cannot believe the possibility of their withdrawal. Since the Iraqi war in 1990, there was no Syrian custody over Lebanon, but there was plundering and domineering on all its security and cultural institutions. El Bizry further placed the responsibility for the major assassinations on the Syrian authorities which targeted individuals who rejected the Syrian presence and refused Syrian custody, aspiring to achieve supremacy over the land and decisions of Lebanon.
She further warned that the resistance weapon could lead Lebanon to another civil war. There is no need to maintain huge amounts of weapons in the hands of a segment ruled by Allah party, claiming that it has Iranian leadership, describing its leader Hassan Nasr Allah as the legitimate agent of Iman Khameny in Lebanon.
She added that Syria considers Lebanon as its battle field for the war with Israel. It has liquidated Golan since more than 30 years, and considers what happens in Lebanon is like an Intifada.
Writer and researcher Sabry Said focused on what he described as “contact” between historical events. He stated that the British did not achieve democracy in Egypt. What happened in the liberal period from 1923 to 1952 was under the British occupation of Egypt, and leaders of the 1952 revolution led Egypt once again to the concept of the closed country.
What we have in Egypt is an aging system; however, it is increasing and tightening control in the country through what he described as “dawlanat” of institutions; that all institutions submit to the State, leading to a state of dryness and breeding a tyrannical system. The external forces are not serious on exerting pressures on the system, nor are they serious in interference. He agrees that what is currently going on is an embezzlement game between America which has a global strategy to defend, and the Arab regimes. Insinuations could add some legitimacy to dictatorships through adoption of formal democratic mechanisms.
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