Ever since the unexpected development of the optimistically misnamed “Arab Spring”, it has become fashionable to insist that it would be foolish to try to predict how the events that shook the Middle East over the past year would pan out.
In today’s Ha’aretz, the always insightful Moshe Arens defies the councils of caution (and political correctness) and confidently states that while the “toppling of the Arab dictators was inevitable […] just as inevitable is what is going to follow their overthrow. It looks like it is going to be [a] long Arab Winter.”
As Arens’s analysis suggests, it will be a long winter of discontent because the Islamist groups that are now gaining power in the region will merely “replace secular dictatorships with Islamic ones” and the “deeply rooted shortcomings” that the UN’s Arab Human Development reports first diagnosed almost 10 years ago will continue to hamper meaningful progress in the Arab world.
Back in 2002, the Economist headlined its commentary on the UN’s first report on the Arab world with the brutally honest verdict “Self-doomed to failure.” Emphasizing the conclusion of the UN report, the Economist noted:
“The barrier to better Arab performance is not a lack of resources […] but the lamentable shortage of three essentials: freedom, knowledge and womanpower. Not having enough of these amounts to what the authors call the region’s three ‘deficits’. It is these deficits, they argue, that hold the frustrated Arabs back from reaching their potential—and allow the rest of the world both to despise and to fear a deadly combination of wealth and backwardness.”
Does anyone really believe that Islamist regimes will work hard to increase “freedom, knowledge and womanpower”?
We now get to hear a lot about how wonderfully “moderate” most of the Islamists vying for power really are, and we are told all the time that Arab Islamists will follow the “Turkish model”.
But let’s not have too many illusions about what following the “Turkish model” would mean for freedom: Turkey is currently the world’s number one when it comes to imprisoning journalists, and for years, its Islamist government has been prosecuting hundreds of Turkish citizens who, on the basis of flimsy and fabricated evidence, are accused of anti-regime conspiracies.
Arguably, the pundits who wax lyrically about the “Turkish model” don’t realize that there is a solid case for concluding that Turkish Islamists are following the “Arab model.”
Consider this recent piece by Egyptian-born André Aciman, who wrote in The New York Times:
“Rather than see things for what they are, Egyptians, from their leaders on down, have always preferred the blame game — and with good reason. Blaming some insidious clandestine villain for anything invariably works in a country where hearsay passes for truth and paranoia for knowledge.
Sometimes those hidden hands are called Langley [i.e. the CIA], or the West, or, all else failing, of course, the Mossad. […]
False rumor, which is the opiate of the Egyptian masses and the bread and butter of political discourse in the Arab world, trumps clarity, reason and the will to tolerate a different opinion, let alone a different religion or the spirit of open discourse.”
Nothing that has happened since the media cheered the “Arab spring” suggests that forces able to tackle the Arab world’s deficits in “freedom, knowledge and womanpower” are being empowered.
And here is a thought: a genuine Arab spring will perhaps only be possible when Arabs are willing to look honestly at their societies and their history and acknowledge that, instead of blaming Israel for whatever is wrong with the region, they would be much better off accepting and emulating the Jewish state.