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The Economist States The Age-Old

August 29, 2009 Leave a comment

BarackBeat will soon feature regular updates, and I have decided to mark the occasion with the Economist’s explanation of why and how the Arab world has gone to rack and ruin.

On July 23, The Economist printed two articles entitled “Waking from its sleep.”

The special report hits the sore spot almost immediately,

To revisit the Arab world two decades later is to find that in many ways history continues to pass the Arabs by. Freedom? The Arabs are ruled now, as they were then, by a cartel of authoritarian regimes practised in the arts of oppression. Unity? As elusive as ever. Although the fault lines have changed since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait 19 years ago, inter-Arab divisions are bitter. Egypt, the biggest Arab country, refused even to attend April’s Arab League summit meeting in Doha. Israel? Punctuated by bouts of violence and fitful interludes of diplomacy, the deadly stalemate continues. Neither George H. Bush at Madrid in 1991 nor Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000 nor George W. Bush at Annapolis in 2007 succeeded in making peace or even bringing it visibly closer.

These articles make no new pronouncements. Their greatest indictments– the anti-Israeli attitude, oil and corrupt leadership– are among the most well-known hindrances to development in the region (see the Arab Human Development Report). The real power in these articles lie in their pointed (even frustrated) condemnation of the region’s leadership. They make no bones about the fact that it is the ravenous scramble for power in the Arab world that has brought it to its ruinous state. It is not Islam or even the legacy of imperialism.

Not one ruler in today’s Arab League got his job through a free election. Whatever legitimacy these regimes enjoy derives mainly from tradition, fear, or an unwritten contract between ruler and ruled: in return for your loyalty I will meet your basic economic and social needs. That may be a splendid contract in times of plenty. But a bursting population is already making it hard for governments to keep their side of the bargain.

“Waking from its sleep” say that a social bargain of co-optation does not endure, and that political change is not a nicety but a necessity for economic and social progress. One gets the feeling that the Economist is not just addressing the Arab world, but is using its story as a parable, an example for much of the Third World.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10
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