Conference at the German American institute – Heidelberg 6mars 2016
It is an honor for me to be with you today and I welcome this opportunity to talk about a political process that is so important for my country and my region, but also for yours.
In the small village we all live in, what is happening in our region is no longer for you a matter of foreign policy but a matter of a domestic policy.
In this interconnected world, our problems are yours, your problems are ours.
The crisis you are facing with the flow of the asylum seekers is the result of complex problems we face for so long .
This is why it is so important for you and also for us to understand what is going on and hopefully to be able to react properly to complex and dangerous situation .
Let me begin by saying that the word spring is not the most appropriate to describethe social, economic and political changes that have occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen Syria since December 2010.
It would be more accurate torefer to these events asearthquakes or volcanoes. These two images are closer to reality.
Just like a volcano erupts, the explosion that took place in this part of the world has produced rumbles, toxic fumes, it has caused death and injured many…It was and still is a period of instability; violence and suffering.
Five years after the first volcano’s explosion or earthquake in Tunisia,Syria is totally destroyed and it will take a lot of time to this country before it recovers.
In Libya and Yemen, nobody knows what the outcome of the civil war that is ragingwill be.
Egypt under Abdel Fattah Essessiis back to the worst days of the dictatorship that the Egyptian revolutionhad toppled.
Tunisia is said to be the only success story. We certainly have avoided the catastrophic situation of our neighbors, but the old regime is back with all its sins, corruption being the main one. The protests and demonstrations that took place in January in the poorest region of the country, the birthplace of the revolution of December 2010, shows how fragile the situation remains.
The rest of the Arab world is far to be a safe heaven.
Iraq is now a broken country like Syria. The situation in Sudan, Lebanon, and Somalia is not very brilliant too.
This is why a third image may be added to the first, and one can talk about the Arab Chaos.
So, to answer your question of what is left from the so called Arab spring, my answer is: Chaos in most countries in which a revolution occured… disillusion and fear elsewhere.
To stay away from pessimism and early conclusions, let me invite you to do a mental experiment.
Imagine an historian studying the Chinese history, let us say from 1840 to 1940… and dying in 1941.
How would China look like to him or to her? As a divided, poor, backward country, torn by terrible civil wars occupied and exploited by colonialist and imperialist rushing from Europe, America and Japan. Such a country would look as a hopeless case.
How could he imagine that China would become the super power we all know presently?
Now imagine our historian knowing everything about what happened to your own country between 1914 and 1944 and dying just after the war.
Would this historian believethat the country involved in two terrible world wars, home of the worst political regime ever known, would become a peaceful, democratic and rich state, and the most important member of a peaceful democratic united Europe?
All what this historian can assert is that during that period of their history, Chinese and German people were destroyed by something : let us call it a specific social political economical order. And they were themselves destroying this order…. And may be trying to build on its ruin,a totally different new order and paying for that a huge price of suffering.
Are we facing a similar situation? If that is the case, what is destroying us and what are we trying to destroy?
Today’s social dramas are the lastconsequence of the social, political and economic order that has been built by the post-independence states in the fifties and sixties of the last century.
In light of this dramatic and unexpected outcome, many people inside and outside the Arab world are stating that the situation of Syrians, Libyans, Yemenis, Egyptians and even Tunisians was much better under their dictatorship…that they moved from the bad to the worst …and therefore that they would be better off, had their old regimes remained in placeThis is meant to imply that the other Arabs should accept their fate and not try to free themselves or to stand for their rights, the cost being too high.
But the key question is: who is responsible for this chaos?
Obviously, the peoples did not take to the street without a good reason. They were obliged to revolt because of the massive violation of their individual and collective rights and the unbearable level of corruption of the ruling elites.
Now consider the tragic situation of millions of Syrians leaving their country, or that of the Egyptian peopleliving under the harsher dictatorship ever known in Egypt.
In both cases, the message of the ruling elites is: the choice is between our order whether you like it or not and the chaos … between the very little we give to you and the nothing you get from your so-called revolution.
But what these ruling elites forget is that restoring the old regime through civil war like in Syria, through a coup like in Egypt, or even through elections like in Tunisia, will not solve their problem in the long run. It will simply lead back to the very situation that was responsible for the volcano’s eruption in the first place.
The lack of any real social and economic reforms will push the people in Egypt and elsewhere to revolt again and again.
In the early sixties in Tunisia, the state was far ahead the society. After the eightiesit fell far behind.
Our society grew more educated and developedand stood up for a more advanced political system, but the state was unable to adapt. After the clash with the civil society,that the enlightened part or the Avant garde of the society, came the clash with the broader society, that ultimately led to the volcano’s explosion.
Did the post-independence state fail just because it was a dictatorship? The problem is more complex than that.
Consider the Asian dictatorships. At least they brought social and economic development to their peoples.
Arab dictatorships, by contrast, never had any other ambition than distributing the maximum proportion of wealth and honors to the group upon which they rely in order to maintain their hegemony for the longest possible period at the expense of the other elements of society.
Our most famous historian, Ibn Khaldoun, defines this resource for the exercise of power as assabiah.
This Arabic word impossible to translate means the solidarity between members of a social group to take the political power by all means and to dominate and use the state for the benefit of this group .
The asabiyya is based on family ties in the Gulf, on regional ties in Tunisia and Algeria, on sectarian solidarities in Lebanon and Syria, on tribes in Yemen, and on corporatism in Egypt, where the military caste plays the role of a tribe or a religious group.
The Asabiyya remains the foundation of political power and the organization of Arab states, no matter the ideological cover employed, whether nationalism, socialism, or even democracy.
This kind of regime cannot maintain its power without using corruption, hijacking the state for the benefit of a tiny minority, and in so doing destroying social values such as solidarity, justice, freedom and dignity.
Arab dictatorships, extremely jealous of their power, dismissed any kind of structures like the European Union or even the African union. The Arab region while sharing the same language, religion, problems is the less integrated region economically and politically in the world.
The ‘’Arab spring’’ is the last and most spectacular fight between developed societies and backward régimes, the challenge ahead is the following: will societies be able to destroy asabiyya-based dictatorships before Assabia dictatorships destroy societies? …and suppose societies win the fight, what will replace dictatorships?
We see the destruction process every night while watching the news, but not the construction process.
This process however is very active even if unseen or not clearly understood.
Two projects are currently competing to build the future: the democratic state led by the civil society and the Islamist state dreamed by ISIS and other terrorist groups.
Let me underline the fact that the’’ Arab spring ‘’was, and still is under harsh attacks not only from the corrupt ruling elites, but also from the Jihadist groups. Both consider this democratic social and peaceful uprising as totally against their interests and projects.
To talk about Jihadist groups and their project of building a Kalifate, namely a theocratic state and an Islamist dictatorship, there are three kinds of speech.
First: Islamism is a backward ideology; Islamists involved in what they call Jihad or a holy war are terrorists, which mean violent stupid irrational criminals. To deal with them we have to take all the appropriate measures including torture.
Second: Terrorism is a complex phenomenon. You must tackle the issue not only by state violence but also mainly by addressing its social economic and political roots.
This discourse is a little bit more sophisticated but it is as naïve as the previous one.
Terrorists are not all poor, uneducated, and motivated by psychological disorders .Many young people joining ISIS are highly skilled, come from the middle class and are as sane or insane as the people claiming that they are crazy and bloodthirsty monsters.
The third speech – mine – will underline the fact that the success of the Jihadist project and its danger for the future comes from two sources.
It first offers an opportunity of social rehabilitation to a population giving up any hope of being integrated in the social order. Many drug dealers, drug addicts, criminals, jobless and homeless youngsters found in the Jihad what the society denied them: rehabilitation and dignity.
Moreover, to the youngsters coming from the middle class, the jihadist groups are giving something more important than a new beginning: a dream.
Remember that history has been made by people having a dream and ready to kill and die for it.
Whether we like it or not we must accept that democracy as it was imposed by the US intervention in Iraq is very far from the dream that can be opposed to the dream of a mighty Islamic state restoring the greatness of the Arab world.
This deeply corrupt democracy was and is still for us, Arab democrats, the most poisonous ‘’gift’’ of the West, and its best one to the jihadist project. We, Arab democrats and human rights activists, urgently need to offer the youth a better and happier dream.
In conclusion, I have tried to show today the following points.
-The Assabia dictatorships have been unable to adapt and are struggling to maintain a dying social economic and political order. However, they are bound to disappear whatever the price payed by the Arab societies to get rid of them is.
-There are two projects competing to build a new order on the ruins of these collapsing dictatorships.
Which one will prevail is not the most important question.
Let us go back to our mental experiment
Imagine our historian looking to the Aztec empire from
13 25 to 1521
Would he believe that this mighty empire would go suddenly extinct and a new nation very different would replace it.
If we consider these three situations the Chinese, the German and the Aztec, the question is:
Will the Arab world, divided, poor, occupied, and torn by revolutions and civil wars as it is, go extinct like the Aztec empire or will it become in the middle of the century as peaceful, rich and strong as China or Germany of today?
I am a pessi-optimistic person. I do believe that we cannot stop the destruction forces, but I do believe also that the constructive ones are deeply rooted in every person, every culture, every country, every civilization and that we should always bet on them.
Thank you for your attention.