Hussein Agha, a senior associate member of St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, is a co-author of “A Framework for a Palestinian National Security Doctrine.” Robert Malley is the Middle East program director at the International Crisis Group and was special assistant to President Bill Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs.
These very experienced hands see in In post-Mubarak Egypt, the rebirth of the Arab world
The problem they say is
The Arab leadership has proved passive and, when active, powerless. Where it once championed a string of lost causes – pan-Arab unity, defiance of the West, resistance to Israel – it now fights for nothing. There was more popular pride in yesterday’s setbacks than in today’s stupor.
Arab states suffer from a curse more debilitating than poverty or autocracy. They have become counterfeit, perceived by their own people as alien, pursuing policies hatched from afar. One cannot fully comprehend the actions of Egyptians, Tunisians, Jordanians and others without considering this deep-seated feeling that they have not been allowed to be themselves, that they have been robbed of their identities.
They go on to conclude,
For the United States, the popular upheaval lays bare the fallacy of an approach that relies on Arab leaders who mimic the West’s deeds and parrot its words, and that only succeeds in discrediting the regimes without helping Washington. The more the United States gave to the Mubarak regime, the more it lost Egypt. Arab leaders have been put on notice: A warm relationship with the United States and a peace deal with Israel will not save you in your hour of need.
Injecting economic assistance into faltering regimes will not work. The grievance Arab peoples feel is not principally material, and one of its main targets is over-reliance on the outside. U.S. calls for reform will likewise fall flat. A messenger who has backed the status quo for decades is a poor voice for change. Attempts to pressure regimes can backfire, allowing rulers to depict protests as Western-inspired and opposition leaders as foreign stooges.
Some policymakers in Western capitals have convinced themselves that seizing the moment to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will placate public opinion. This is to engage in both denial and wishful thinking. It ignores that Arabs have become estranged from current peace efforts; they believe that such endeavors reflect a foreign rather than a national agenda. And it presumes that a peace agreement acceptable to the West and to Arab leaders will be acceptable to the Arab public, when in truth, it is more likely to be seen as an unjust imposition and denounced as the liquidation of a cherished cause. A peace effort intended to salvage order will accelerate its demise.
The Arab world’s transition from old to new is rife with uncertainty about its pace and endpoint. When and where transitions take place, they will express a yearning for more assertiveness. Governments will have to change their spots; their publics will wish them to be more like Turkey and less like Egypt.
For decades, the Arab world has been drained of its sovereignty, its freedom, its pride. It has been drained of politics. Today marks politics’ revenge.