The Arab world has been unable until this moment to produce its own integrated intellectual, cultural and pragmatic project that can understand the language of the future and the rapidly increasing knowledge and bring people together. In case that happens, it will have the rug pulled out from under those who raise religious and nationalistic slogans, writes Ebtesam al-Ketbi, President of the Emirates Policy Centre.
The “Arab Spring” was an event or a stage that was full of complications. This event has brought new shifts, realities and major dynamics at the regional level. The “Arab Spring” events did not strengthen the national, regional or sub-regional social fabric (GCC for instance). Conflicting ideologies in Arab countries have not produced attractive and profound alternatives and solutions. Therefore, the concern is that lessons learned from that experience were not good enough to make a strong rebound; you might pay the price without learning lessons.
Emirati disaffection with transnational ideologies and parties in the Arab world, such as Nasserism and Baathism is old. This shows an Emirati assessment that sensitivity is in fact aimed at all militant transnational ideas and radical ideologies that view with suspicion the nation-state in the Arab world, as a “field” to pursue cross-boundary partisan agendas or as part of projects for regional hegemony. According to former Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash: “The revolutions and radical and sudden changes in power evoked a sense of optimism and enthusiasm among observers from outside the region, but their outcomes are alarming, painful and dangerous for those who live and feel their impact, and most of the time they lead to strengthening the thorn of extremism and fueling internal conflicts.”
Nationalist and Islamist ideologies tend to be exclusionary. They are not a guarantee for fundamental national components such as Christians and Kurds or those of different sect, religion and ethnicity. In the wake of the huge devastation caused by ISIS and al-Qaeda, many also bet on the (self-decline of the religious zeal in light of political Islam’s failure, i.e., the ideologized Islamic movements which entered politics directly in the past 10 years after the Arab Spring. The religious zeal with doctrinal-ideological dimension has only grown in the early 1970s due to the temptations of utopian promises that promised to overcome the miserable reality: the reality of backwardness, degradation and crushing and successive military defeats. And after Islamists have also proved their failure, albeit with various degrees, in Sudan, Iran, Egypt, Tunisia and Iraq, there has been a decline in temptations of religiosity, in general, and ideologized religiosity, in particular.
The fundamentalist dream, which raises the slogan of “Islam is the solution”, is no longer valid for the new generations; which means that the conviction in the religious solution for civil issues has retreated considerably. Religiosity by those convinced in it after all these shocks and the opening of the horizons of unlimited cultural interaction no longer exceeds the personal spiritual experience and personal family affairs), according to some researchers.
The stalemate in political participation, rampant corruption, and poor governance in the region as well as the failure of the national development plans provide a breeding ground for various forms of recurrent anger and protest waves. This will leave open the possibility of seeing new forms of radical movements that use violence as a way to enable their voice to be heard, and take advantage of the highly tensed social environment there.
What lessons should we draw from the Arab Spring?
The idea of equal citizenship and the civilian nation-state that represents all social components on its soil is the only solution to the identity crisis in the Arab region. It is also the only guarantee for the unity of its people, lands, institutions, the rule of law and preservation of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Any ideological project that does not advocate the existence of a nation-state, nor does it improve development, enhance stability and moderation, and open up to the modern world and scientific advances, is doomed to failure. This is quite true even if that project uses religious, and nationalistic or ideological slogans to cover up its reality. To live in freedom, dignity, and equality with others is more important than dealing in slogans and adopting transnational ideological and political projects. Nobody should monopolize the right to represent religion or patriotism, and use them in competition over power and political influence.
Adopting a progressive and calm approach to reform is better than achieving sudden and dramatic reform agendas. Therefore, maintaining stability with incremental and gradual reforms is better than bringing about radical and sudden reforms that can lead to chaos and the disintegration of state institutions. The first problem with this national choice – or let’s say – its first basic weakness in the Arab world is that the region has been unable until this moment to produce its own integrated intellectual, cultural and pragmatic project that can understand the language of the future and the rapidly increasing knowledge and bring people together. In case that happens, it will have the rug pulled out from under those who raise religious and nationalistic slogans. The second weakness is the fact that the region otherwise – and is as currently the case – is ruled by authoritarian and monopolistic regimes (monopolies of power and wealth) in a way or another. Finally, it is extremely important that any sustainable reforms should be horizontal not only vertical.