Watching what’s happening across the Arab World; it’s really simple-minded to call it a spreading virus. This is a change in consciousness; and these changes can be identified clearly throughout history. The Information age has provided a perfect vessel for an accelerating change in thought and awareness the Arab World & the World in general is experiencing. Almost all Arab countries are kingdoms of one sort or the other; even those disguised as republics. Even the so-called democracies, Iraq & Lebanon are in a way confederations of sectarian kingdoms. Witnessing how the ruling elite are reacting to these sudden changes is mesmerizing; the revelation being shown to the whole world is that the simple men & women in the street appear to be more modern and more human than their medieval rulers and the stereotypes built over the years. The Arab street is not only revolting against rulers; it’s also revolting against fixed ideologies and doctrines. This process, as in any shift in consciousness, will of course take time to materialize and stabilize. The current motion in the Arab Street is not driven by hunger, or for better economic status, it’s for dignity Period.
There has always been this fascination with royalty & aristocracy; from Children’s fairy tales & Disney movies, to Shakespeare’s novels & modern-day tabloids. Some of Europe’s royalty & aristocracy are as old as the 11th & 12th centuries; they managed to survive domestic turmoil and full-scale wars across centuries. Survival mechanisms included: oppression and pragmatism on the domestic scale; and building powerful & united independent nations militarily, scientifically & economically. Royal families that couldn’t sustain this simply faded away like the House of Bourbon in France, the Romanovs in Russia, & the Habsburgs in Austria & Hungary. 500 years ago, Europe picked up the torch of human consciousness left by the Arabs; and the surviving royal families learnt to adapt with the rapid changes in that developing human consciousness. Royal families relinquished their executive powers little by little in the past 200 years. Through vast wealth accumulated and robust connections with the high echelons of society, with limited but valuable constitutional powers, the ceremonial status didn’t stop Royalty from influencing events behind the curtains and defining the bold lines of recent history. This alleviated discontent and criticism and at the same time provided people with freedom of speech and a satisfactory margin of influence, which consequently guaranteed stability and prosperity for their countries. Even in the US, there are a number of families that had great influence and power for decades, and still do.
Anyone watching the events in the past 3 months can easily conclude that the Arab ruling elite are out-dated and completely out-of-touch with reality. It’s not only the autocrats who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder but also their families and the elite surrounding them with few exceptions of course. There are many differences between Europe’s 17-18-19th century autocrats & those in the Arab World today. One main difference is Arabs ruling elite’s dependence on the west, politically, economically or militarily or a combination of which. Another one that follows is lack of interest in building powerful nations (Arab World spends fractions of what other countries spend on R&D, while spending billions on internal security, other than the billions stashed in foreign banks). Therefore, the citizen is deprived of a proud patriotic feeling, and at the same time treated as a subject with little freedoms. Another difference is lack of pragmatism, to actually provide the people with meaningful reforms in the right time that could calm the street. The notion that “my country is not like that country” really tells a lot of how the ruling elite are in extreme denial. Many of those revolutions could’ve been avoided easily, had the rulers carried out simple reforms that would only limit the mounting levels of corruption, and allow some freedom and participation. However, the lesson doesn’t seem to get across. The God-like status of those ruling elite doesn’t seem to allow them to relinquish any of their “Godly” powers. I remember a few years ago, I was astonished to see Ala’a Mubarak reading a poem in an NDP forum, where he simply replaced God with his father in one of Quran’s most recited verses that defines monotheism in Islam; only difference was God in Islam bears no children, while Mubarak has children, with God-complex obviously.
What’s also interesting is that King in Arabic is derived from the Arabic word “to own”; and this is exactly how it’s perceived: Ownership. And exactly like a child who thinks he can smash his toy, the ruling elite are willing to destroy their countries by any means necessary just to retain power or some of it rather than actually offer compromise that would render them “weak”. Nothing can be more applicable here than “Power corrupts, & absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Here are some of the examples of how the Ruling Elite don’t have the will, the capacity, or even the mere apprehension of what’s going on down there; and only seem to draw more anger at them:
1- After some figures signed petitions to push for more democratic reforms, a female ruling elite figure threatened her citizens that there will be civil war & said she wishes to become a commoner in order to receive a fraction of the royal gifts. She also said reformists should be crucified and simply blamed unemployment on laziness to apply for jobs.
2- A prince was calling more than half his citizens stupid people with low IQs while they were in the middle of an uprising fueled by decades of injustice and an irresponsible massacre committed by his family’s regime. He was basically inciting his family’s loyalists against the protesters.
3- Another prince was expressing interest in the uprising in Syria, because if it succeeds, it would weaken Hizbollah, and somehow would convince Israel to accept peace, and as a result this would pave way for a gas/oil pipeline extending from his country and through Israel; all this wishful thinking while his country was in political & economic turmoil and under martial law and people are being killed or detained because they wanted real reform. Of course, needless to point the irresponsibility and lack of political maturity here.
4- A female ruling elite figure responded to her countrywomen’s demands for more rights, by simply telling them to stop messing around and asking for rights that will turn to “burdens”, and somehow she related the cause of Islamophobia abroad to people in her country using liberal & secular rhetoric and terminology.
5- A prince calls a religious channel asking the clerk for a fatwa that would dictate a harsher treatment for a religious minority, he considers infidel, rebellious and ungrateful.
6- Many of the ruling elite point out to ungratefulness of people, who they built schools, roads, hospitals, etc for, like these are gifts and not very basic rights.
Examples of excesses:
1- Ruling Elite families taxing businesses; some cases it could reach 50% of profit, and could range from factories to coffee-shops.
2- Stealing directly from the treasury.
3- Bribes and corruption in contracting and sub-contracting.
4- Waste of natural resources to fill pockets already full.
5- Large amounts of money spent on luxuries abroad or even gifts to foreign businessmen and politicians.
This is not to mention hateful propaganda against their people, calling them traitors, foreign agents, extremists, terrorists, vandals, infidels, drug-users, drug-dealers, etc. Add to that total disregard to their citizens’ lives, and importing foreigners to torture and kill their own citizens just like colonial powers used to do with occupied territory. It seems most of their actions and words only increase hate and anger towards them. The levels of corruption in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt & elsewhere only demonstrate how their rulers consider them their own personal farms. Ruling Elites are willing to divide their societies or even their countries, halt development, jeopardize their economies, risk civil war, enslave themselves to more imperialism, allow foreign intervention or undermine their sovereignty just to try to cling to absolute power and not give up to the insignificant “peasants” down there; not even a little. I wish those ruling elite would pick up a Machiavelli book and learn how to prolong their rule for generations to come and empower their countries while retaining significant amount of power.