Tag Archives: Arab development

An Evolutionary Journey through Arab Governance, Past, Present and Future

By: Elza S. Maalouf, President and co-founder of CHE Mideast and author of the upcoming book:  Emerge; A New Paradigm on Conflict Resolution


The Arab Spring continues its bloody rumble through different parts of the Middle East. It has toppled dictators and democratically elected governments alike. It has shattered the dreams of those who thought democracy was just a few tweets away and has fueled the ambitions of Islamists to rise to power. Would this so-called spring blossom into a mature manifestation of modern day nations or would it lead to a deep freeze that will continue to marginalize and radicalize the region for decades to come? Would these revolutions end in democratic regimes that will enable the Arab world to join the world community of Nations away from terrorism and with respect for human rights?

It is important to point that more than three years have passed since the start of the Arab Spring and no visible change in how people are governed in the rebellious countries has taken place.  A closer examination of the intricate dynamics in the region might uncover a narrative that is not as simple as just ousting the dictator who’s in charge. Western leaders not aware of the Memetic structures and historic patterns in the Middle East might conclude that the outcome of Arab revolutions will resemble that of other revolutions in the world.
Brief History of the Middle East

Today’s dictatorships and autocratic rule in the Arab world are symptomatic of greater hurdles the region must overcome as it seeks more advanced developmental stages. Indeed the cultural development map of he Middle East looks vastly different than that of Europe and the West. While Europe fought for religious reformation, and the entire West was fully engulfed in the industrial revolution, experimenting with science, building institutions and developing their value systems based on scientific inquiry, the Middle East faded into the background. It seems that somewhere along the line, Arab cultural development process was arrested. This is the same culture that gave the world science, numerals, mathematics, and astronomy.  What were the factors that blocked the continued emergence of this region? And what internal and external conditions contributed to its prolonged entrapment?
In the history of the region there is a number of critical phases of development that should be examined in order to provide a better understanding of how the current developments will play out. Prior to the dawn of Islam, tribal conquest was at its pinnacle and warrior kings dominated the vast nomadic deserts. The rise of the Prophet Mohammad ushered in a new religion that imposed order upon these tribes through a Godly guidance and a lifestyle adherence to certain rituals that provided a guide to daily living. For a few centuries after the establishment of Islam science, philosophy and astronomical exploration thrived wherever the values of Islam were present. But, much like Christianity that was adopted by the Romans to impose passive measures on the masses and give the growing religion a cover of conquest, the Ottomans took on the mantle of Islam to quell its growing influence and spread through the cover of religion throughout their empire.

The ruling style of the Ottomans could be summed up in one sentence and that is the exploitation of people and resources in the region. For close to six hundred years there was no national platform that would have concentrated movements towards upward emergence.  At its zenith the Ottoman Empire covered a vast geographic area that spread from the Arabian Gulf to southeastern Europe with influence as far as Spain and North Africa.  By the mid 1800’s the Ottoman unaware of the shortcomings of their patchy and decentralized political platform, could not maintain control over some of their territories. The industrialization of European culture helped them gain military superiority over the Ottomans by adopting technological advancements into modern warfare while the Ottomans struggled to gain a competitive technological edge. It took less than 50 years for the Ottomans to lose their vast territory. This hollow and obsolete structure of power came crashing down by the end of WWI reducing the size of the empire to modern-day Turkey and leaving an entire region of tribes with little skills for modern self-reliance in the hands of Western Colonialists.
The West, primarily England and France placed the region under colonial mandates for a few decades and assumed that once a few charismatic leaders had an understanding of how Western democracies operate, the region will be in good hands. Accordingly, the Middle East was carved into arbitrary countries with artificial boundaries that had no alignment to tribal or clannish allegiance but favored the colonialists’ best interest. With these newly formed countries recognized by The League of Nations and later the UN, the territories were left to their own devices after a relatively short period of administrative guardianship ignoring thousands of years of tribal and ancestral history in the process. Initially, Western powers appointed kings thought to have historic ties to the land to set the region on the road to progress.  As these mandates came to an end, kingdoms started to crop up all over the Middle East. Tunisia had King Mohammad VIII, Libya had King Muhammad Idris as-Senussi, Egypt had King Farouk, and the pattern of arbitrary kingdom-ships spread through the rest of the region including Syria, Iraq and Alhijaz, which is now Saudi Arabia.
To the tribal masses in the region, the imposition of monarchies by the west was paramount to a return to Ottoman rule. The monarchs simply were not in step with the changing needs of their subjects. In the 1940’s and 50’s a new meme was sweeping through the tribal and feudal masses on the Arab street. They were becoming spellbound by the Arab intellectual elite who preached Stalin-style Marxism and the powerful effect it had on toppling monarchies. Several charismatic leaders making false promises for better lives were able to capture the hearts and minds of the people and in very short order overthrew the monarchs. The results were the absolute dictatorships of Saddam Hussein, Hafez Assad, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Zein al Abeddine and Moamar Al Ghaddafi.
The circumstances that further arrested emergence of the region was the discovery of oil before the development of institutions and the creation of economic policies that would have properly distributed the wealth from oil revenues. In comparing the differences between a less developed culture of an oil rich country in the Middle East to another oil-rich country with developed institutions like Norway one can see the vast difference in how money is perceived through the prism of value systems. In the former, the money went to extended royal circles, the merchant class, dictators and their cronies, while in the latter, no more than 6% of oil revenue is put into the economy and the rest is invested in a National wealth fund to support future generations of Norwegians. It was only recently that a visionary ruler like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia took on the mantle of creating a long-term vision for a national development program that goes beyond the age of oil.

Manifesto of a Dictator.  In order to understand how effective the current revolutions will be, it is paramount to assess the damage and the impressions that these decades of dictatorships left on the collective Psyche of Arab the masses. The Modus Operandi of a Middle Eastern dictator went something like this:

  • First: Convince the people that the primary reason for their misery is the presence of the State of Israel and build a regional political alliance that confirms the myth.This belief was pounded into the psyche of every man woman and child on the Arab street for more than 5 decades. Projecting the collective misery on the “evil enemy” worked well as a relief valve through which pent up anger was channeled. This ideology was spread further by firebrand Imams who with the help of their leaders propagated the US as greatest evil adding to their repression by blindly supporting Israel. It is worth noting that the Arabs collectively have abused the Palestinian cause and used it for political and monetary gain more than anyone else. Palestinian refugees were kept in dire conditions in camps by their own leaders and Arab politicians. As this ideology festered into a pathology every extremist wanting to start an Al-Qaeda-like chapter from Detroit to the Philippines invoked the Palestinian cause.
  • Second: Suspend most if not all civil liberties and impose emergency laws under the guise that the government must be able to insure peace and that must be in absence of any right to due process.These controls instilled horror into any free thinkers who dared to speak against the regimes as they were hauled off to prison never to be heard from again. The governments made sure that everyone knew about the fate of these so-called infidels and the fear of speaking out spread at a systemic level.
  • Third: Feed the masses carefully selected propaganda and inject it into an antiquated educational system that serves to praise the leader for preserving Arab dignity and safety and warn against the adoption of Western values.Of all dictatorial policies, this was the most damaging to the development of long term capacities of Arab culture as education and the expansion of the mind was a dangerous thing in the eyes of the dictator. The UNDP reported in 2006 that the region suffers from rates of illiteracy that are as high as 80%. On average the entire Arab world produces less than one tenth of the scientific papers per capita compared to developed countries. The basic institutions that build human capacities simply do not exist.
  • Fourth: Build a military and a ruling class whose primary goal is to keep the dictator in power.This was a common and very pervasive policy that insured the anchoring of the regime especially if a country is rich in natural resources or receives foreign aid. In most cases, absent a national development plan, working for the regime was the only opportunity to earn a good living. The knowledge that this privilege could be taken away at the first sign of descent kept many loyal to the regime for many generations and created an internal division that might prolong the demise of a dictator when such time comes.  This was seen in Tahrir Square and is being repeatedly played out daily on the streets of Damascus, Tripoli, Yemen and Bahrain.

Anatomy of the Arab Spring

The unawareness for the need to innovate was one of the biggest flaws in a Middle Eastern dictator’s platform. The tapping of phone lines and eavesdropping on conversations were things the young generations easily outsmarted.  These young men and women, children of Google, Facebook, Skype and Yahoo, were communicating with people all over the world, exchanging love songs and freedom filled ideas and dreams. The barrier of fear that their parents experienced with dictators had disappeared with  Gen Y and the Millennia generation as they were able to witness and experience freedom over cyberspace.  The news of young Abou Azizi setting himself on fire in Tunisia created the perfect storm that mobilized young people from Tunisia and Egypt and on to Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and Iraq.
Political experts and analysts have offered many trajectories on how the Arab spring will evolve without having the deep understanding of the underlying cultural tectonic plates that are at play.  A factor that is rarely considered by Western governments and political advisers are the Memetic profiles of the Arabs that are rising in these cultures which were shaped by the chaotic, repressive and passive history of the region. Dr. Don E. Beck, a renowned developmental theorist points out that the next natural step after revolution is the disintegration of a culture. This is based on many years of research and experience in global hot spots. As events unfold Beck’s views become more confirmed. Yes, indeed the short-term future of the region might not look as bright and euphoric as Tahrir Square looked on the day Mubarak stepped down, but a few decades from now elements of uniquely Arab democratic institutions will be emerging.
Today, more than 2 years have passed after Ghaddafi death, Libya has become a hotbed for Al Qaeda factions from all over the region. very little provides a sense of direction on Libya’s road to democracy.  Are these rebels capable or ready to produce a democratic Constitution that will replace the Green book, Ghaddafi’s bible?  His ouster was a good start on the path to organizing and structuring Libyan society, which is now centered in tribal and exploitative value-systems. Since cultures cannot skip a developmental stage they have to go through the pangs of nation building to raise themselves to a place where everyone is equal under the law.
For Syria the patterns of emergence are becoming even more violent than Libya, especially that Assad has gained favor with Western powers by agreeing to the dismantlement of chemical weapons and regaining the upper hand in the war.  Still, NATO does not want to meddle with Syria’s protector and benefactor, Iran. Military interference could lead to a regional conflict between Shias and Sunnis considering that Syria, Iran and Hezbollah form the Shia Crescent in the region. Assad, the son, so far has followed in the same butcher footsteps of his father and shows no signs of relinquishing power. The collapse of the Syrian regime will have dire ramifications on Lebanon, Jordan and Israel as the only organized movements that can fill the power vacuum is the Muslim Brotherhood which, in Syria, is far more radicalized than it is in Egypt. If Syria should fall into the hands of groups that are deemed terrorists by the West, The issue of refugee resettlement could cause political and social collapse in smaller neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan.
In Iraq a natural disintegration has taken place a few years after the coalition’s invasion. The Kurds in the north have formed their semi-autonomous state with oil revenues coming to the coffers of the tribal government of the two main tribes, the Talibanis and Barazanis. Baghdad and its surrounding areas are becoming the stronghold for Sunnis, while the south including Basra, and the two main Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbalaa are very much influenced by Iran as they become a Shia stronghold.
It is fair to say that the whole region continues the search for  new identity, which will take time in order for it to forge a coherent platform. The collective, much like the individual search for identity, must go through the dark night of the soul and that will be a long and painful process.


An Emergence-Prone Manifesto

Fortunately, this is all happening during the age of the Internet where access to knowledge and the help of integrally informed political allies can speed things along the road to establishing viable and productive Arab states. In light of these realities and in designing for that profound shift that must take place we at the Center for human Emergence Middle East would outline the following plan of action:


  • Building a Viable Palestinian State: First and foremost the issue of Israel/Palestine is of critical importance as it occupies a deep place in the collective Arab psyche. When most of these Nations were gaining their independence they came to view Israel as the entity that deprived Palestinians of Nationhood. Right or wrong this is how Israel is viewed in the Arab world. The elements of a Palestine Design Conference on our website outlines a development plan that will put Palestine on the road to independence.  
  • Pursue A Stratified Approach to Arab Democracy: Based on principles of what we call Natural Design. We can accomplish this by pursuing the following 3 objectives:

1. Conduct a region-wide study of the profiles of the citizens in the country seeking democracy. This step starts by assessing each individual country’s history, religion, topography, and cultural evolution. Who are the Egyptians, the Tunisians, the Libyans and the Syrians etc..? How have the historic events mentioned in this article shaped their cultural evolution?  What is their psychological makeup?

2. Identifying each country’s zones of synergy: These are the respective sources of national wealth, be it natural resources or human capital, active or dormant. This will form the basis for a viable private sector that can provide jobs that fit the landscape and various capacities of the citizens. From building cement factories and designing sustainable agricultural models for laborers to creating the most advanced hi-tech research and development companies.

3. Designing Forms of Governance that work. This will be the painstaking process that will take years to evolve into a coherent platform for governance. Now we can talk about what form of democracy fits those citizens who live in such dynamic landscape, and what form of institutions are needed. Would a centralized form of democracy for this stage of development fit better than a multi-party democracy? Would a monarchy like that of Saudi Arabia with varying degrees of openness be a transitional fit for a few decades? All this should happen with an enlightened co-leadership that can create an overarching goal for a patriotic national cause that brings forth the state into the community of nations and that Shia, Sunni and Christians alike within that nation can rally behind.

  • Alter US Foreign Policy and base it on Natural Design. A bold declaration in new US foreign policy should be made towards making a conscious effort in balancing America’s values and our strategic and economic interests in the region.  Sadly, we are faced with a tradition of mistrust towards the United States in the Arab world, as it’s often seen protecting the two things closest to it; oil and Israel. Some of that mistrust and anger is justified and some just stems from the Arab street projecting their aggression onto the West.
  • Align with and Empower Regional Nations of Influence: The US and NATO should call on the major power brokers in the region like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Morocco and now Egypt to help facilitate the stage for them to play a more assertive role in brokering political deals in return for security guarantees. This type of regional leadership should be encouraged especially when it comes from another Muslim country on which far enemy projections aren’t made.
  • Pursue a Systemic Approach to Economic Development:The West should team up with Arab Gulf States to help in the economic development of emerging Arab democracies. Along with the IMF, the World Bank and the respective countries that are being rebuilt, the leaders in charge of these development plans should have an “ecosystem” approach to development that address the causes of corrupt business practices. The Arab Spring is signaling the birth of Industrial Age values that were postponed under the Ottomans but are now emerging simultaneously with the information and knowledge age. This must be promoted through responsible corporate practices, and matched by transparency in governments that believe in their people as their ultimate national strength. To affect real and lasting change, a plan similar to the Marshall Plan in its ambition must be undertaken and tailored to fit the tribal and feudal mindsets that are prevalent in the region.  

The Start of the Journey
The road to cultural emergence in the Middle East is filled with so many false starts initiated by leaders who used their charisma and Iron fists to overcompensate for the lack of complexity or a developmental roadmap for their countries. Today, the long awaited battle for self-determination has begun. This revolution is led by a globalized Arab youth who have answered the call while being fully aware of the consequences. Thus the Hero sets out on a path filled with hope, and all the perils that a culture has to experience on such a mythological journey.