Mon, Dec 04, 2017 - Page 7 News List

The Arab world must resolve to pull itself back from chaos

By Nabil Fahmy

A series of startling events last month revealed the abysmal state of affairs in the Arab world.

The Lebanese prime minister announced his resignation abroad, but reversed the statement later. A missile was launched from Yemen toward Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s leadership carried out a major anti-corruption campaign that affected dozens of high-profile personalities. Egypt, meanwhile, experienced its worst terrorist attack in living memory, with more than 300 civilians killed and injured. Finally, video footage of alleged slave auctions in Libya underscored the continuing chaos there amid the complete breakdown of the Libyan state.

Military victories against the Islamic State and a rapprochement between Palestinian factions in Gaza and the West Bank have done little to ease a collective sense of anxiety in the region. Nor have these positive developments inspired much confidence that the Arab world will somehow pull itself back from the edge of the abyss.

Foreign interference has become routine in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, while ongoing debates over identity politics and borders in the Levant are a prelude to the grave, fundamental challenges ahead.

In fact, the situation in the Middle East is not surprising, given that in recent years no Arab country has led attempts to resolve the ongoing conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen, let alone address the Palestine-Israel issue. In many of these conflicts, foreigners have had far more influence than Arabs.

Historically, the Middle East has been the target of numerous foreign invasions, from the Crusades to European colonialism. Its natural resources have been greedily usurped, and it was a theater for proxy wars during the Cold War. Even today, Arab territories remain under occupation.

While there are many reasons to blame foreign powers for the region’s parlous state of affairs, blaming others — or even one another — will solve nothing. After all, the Arab world has many homegrown problems, too, including inefficient and ineffective governance, unholy alliances and undeveloped national capacities.

Disaster awaits any region that is helpless to shape its own future, in which a majority of citizens feel disenfranchised. Though the Arab world is traditionally conservative, almost 70 percent of its citizens are below the age of 35, and young people suffer from the highest rates of unemployment in most countries.

This constitutes not only a tremendous waste of resources, but also a serious long-term sociopolitical problem. Yet, it is just one of the many domestic challenges facing the region.

Arabs must take charge of their own agenda, and become the primary force defining their future and that of their countries. They should, of course, continue to engage with the outside world and strengthen their strategic relationships and alliances, but they must also become less dependent on others.

For starters, the region’s governments need to develop their own national-security capacities, to defend against non-existential threats and hegemonic expansionism. This, in turn, will enhance their political influence, and give them more diplomatic tools for addressing regional problems and preventing military conflicts.

Moreover, Arabs must defend their national identities. The Middle East’s nation-state system is not perfect, but it is far better than religious or ethnic sectarianism, which threaten to destabilize the region even further.

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