Will the Arab World Escape the “Black Hole” and the Dangers of Devastation?

In Salon Ibn Rushd by CIHRS

The Arab nation represents to a great extent the political manifestation of the astronomical “black hole” phenomenon, where the executive authority forms a black hole that turns the surrounding social atmosphere into a field where nothing moves and nothing escapes its attraction.

This is the description used by the Arab Human Development Report for the year 2004 to diagnose the state of unlimited attributions available to this authority and its executive bodies, and is aided by what are called the ruling parties, if there are any. The report considered the parties nothing but organizations subject to the executive body, which uses them just as it uses the normal and exceptional courts to eliminate and downsize adversaries, rather than the more important methods such as the investigatory and security bodies.

Therefore, can the Arab world escape the black hole, and the state of centralization of power that drives our society into more decline and forebodes chaos and devastation: that is the question that was asked by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) to many participants in a seminar organized within the Ibn Roshd Salon on May 22nd of this year around the Human Development Report.

The evening was run by Sayed Ismail the coordinator of the Arab Culture program at CIHRS. He clarified that the report linked two issues, the first of which is that partial reform is no longer functional at the present time, and the other is that the political restraint on the development process is the tightest restraint in the Arab world.

Dr. Mustafa Kamel El-Syyed, the professor at the Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences in the Cairo University, and one of the advisers of the background papers on which the report depended, on the other hand, said that the report in the third link in a chain of reports published by the United Nations Development Program in the Arab world.

He said: the first report handled the inadequacy of political participation in the Arab world, the second the inadequacy of knowledge, and the third, the one in question, handles the inadequacy of freedoms and sound authority. He pointed out that the fourth report will handle the conditions of Arab women.

He added: the report talked about the lack of freedoms and sound authority, and the range of the freedom and democracy crisis in the Arab world.

El-Sayed described the report as not adding anything new in comparison to what was said before concerning this issue.

El-Sayed also uncovered the presence of three forms that were prepared of the report before it was published in its final present form. He said that this was due to interferences by the United Nations Developmental Program.

He said: In spite of the “sifting” processes that the report underwent due to the interference of the program officials, the sense of the report came out compliant with the background papers it was based on.

El-Sayed then turned to the crisis the report went through before its publishing and what was raised about the presence of American and Egyptian objections that delayed its publishing.

He admitted the truth of these objections and said: the American journalist Thomas Freidman was the first to uncover these facts, pointing out that Freidman noted the presence of American pressure on the development program objecting to the condemnation of the American authority and the Iraq occupation case.
He also added that the fact that the report handled the possibility of the inheritance of rule in Egypt led, in turn, to Egyptian objections.

He then presented the report and said that it lays down a group of standards to sound authority, including decentralization, transparency and eliminating corruption and the succession of authority.

El-Sayed then pointed out that there are other standards, in his point of view, that the report did not handle, including wisdom in making decisions, the absence of which he considered one of the factors that waste and hinder the development process.

He also criticized some of the Egyptian government’s policies toward some serious projects, giving as an example the national project for the development of the southern valley of “Toshka”.

He said that the project, as declared, will result in the reclamation of three million and a half acres of land for agriculture and five million Egyptians moving into the southern part of the western desert.

He added that what has been done until now is the reclamation of just half a million acres, assuring that the project is facing many obstacles, including the high temperatures and the high humidity in the region as well as the lack of adequate investment.

He also criticized the government and its policy in the Abu Tartur Phosphate project in the western desert, assuring that the income from the project is very low, in spite of the fact that it cost the government a lot of money, and that its work is still going on until now. He also criticized the construction of a new airport near the old one, the constriction of Al-Azhar tunnel, and other decisions which he described as faulty.

El-Sayed said that the lack of the factor of the decision-maker in the highest stage is an important characteristic of the absence of sound judgment.
He divided the Arab world into countries that make partial reforms and others that move in very slow steps to create any reform.

He pointed out that Egypt and some of the Gulf countries are moving in the partial reform method, while Libya and Syria are exceptions in the region. He described what is going on in Egypt as partial reform inside the reform process itself, pointing out that the various sectors and civil society powers in Egypt stand against this partial reform.

Dr. Dalal El-Bezry, the Lebanese writer and researcher, disagreed with Dr. Mustafa El-Sayed, and said that the report has many boredom-inducing factors, pointing out that it is full of repetitions with no clear justification.

She criticized the repetitive mention of Islamists and democracy as well as overlooking the names of countries when mentioning negatives and stating them when talking about positive things.

El-Bezry clarified that the report is more academic than informative; pointing out that what the report included concerning the opinions of foreign writers and experts on democracy and freedom is not valid now.

She mentioned that, in spite of all that, some facts and negotiable ideas can be extracted from the report, the most important of which is concerned with the Islamic progress heritage, and the common tone now which is the connection between reform, progress and democracy.

El-Bezry objected to what the report included on the presence of three government tactics in the Arab world which are: absolute monarchy, revolutionary republic and Islamic radicalism. She wondered where these things came in concerning the actual reality we are living now.

She also criticized the report’s lack of comment on the cultural aspect and focusing on the economic, social and political conditions while missing the cultural aspect and its effects on the issues of democracy, freedom and sound authority for fear of Islamists.

Dr. Jamal Abdul Gawad, the president of the International Affairs Unit at AlAhram center for Political and Strategic Studies, agreed with the criticisms Al-Bezry had concerning the report and his calling them smart. However, he assured that the report had performed its function and was published at a time when the whole world is concerned wit the issue of reform in the Arab world.

He also pointed out that the Arab world was economically and politically behind due to the absence of democracy, saying that the report confirmed these facts clearly.

Abdul Gawad then divided the Arab world into countries that do reform, placing Morocco at the head of Arab countries capable of change and moving on the road to reform. He then named Jordan and then a number of Arab countries that fall into a “medium” area, including Egypt.

He clarified that the absolute regimes and monarchies are in worse shape and are following the road of reform with very slow steps.

He pointed out that the image and scenarios that the report painted were highly dark and pessimistic, assuring that it is an actual and realistic image of the current conditions in the Arab world, and he said that the “black hole” “sucked up” a lot of what surrounded in and turned it into a state of silence and stillness.

Abdul Gawad said: the suppression operations, the bribery, the corruption and the “non-politicization” are all factors that led to the destruction of the Arab political top and the obliteration of the political society in these countries.

He added: the oppressive countries and the “black hole” country have made the distance between themselves and the citizen almost empty space. He assured that a large part of the gravity of the current condition is that these countries need to have some material to build on if they want to have reformations. He said that the “black hole” country doesn’t have enough material left to execute a real political reform.

Abdul Gawad stressed that the main mission that faces these societies is to rebuild the political top, confirming that without an active top there can be no real democracy or reform.

He clarified that the report has a contradiction in terms, pointing out that while the report called on receiving help from foreign countries to execute a reform, it tried not to criticize the foreign countries. It also did not condemn the Arab regimes for violating freedoms and suppressing rights, and at the same time assured that it did not trust these regimes.

Abdul Gawad also pointed out that there is no such thing as change from the outside, saying that there is only one world, in which the strong influences the week, describing the case as having some “artificiality”.

He said: concerning the Arab area, the foreign world has had a substantial role in progress and executing some reforms in the Arab area.

He also wondered: I don’t know what the fate of the Arab world would be without the foreign world? Pointing out that the measure of progress of any society is how well it is connected to the outside in any field.

He mentioned that the elevators of progress and the thrust towards modernity and freedom are not inherent in the region, assuring that one of the reasons for that in Egypt is accusing anyone that has any connections with the Arab world with treason and perfidy in spite of the current political condition.

Abdul Gawad also demanded the solving of state and religion issue, pointing out that no country, like Egypt for example, can handle a group like the Islamic Brethren without resolving the public political conflict on the relationship between state and religion.

He also criticized the Arab political mindset, and said that it was still – despite the fact that 50 years had passed since the freedom from colonization – acting as if it were in the process of national liberation.

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