Hisham Melhem’s brilliant and profoundly significant cri de coeur about the collapse of “Arab civilization”has reverberated powerfully throughout the Middle East commentariat, says a leading analyst. Surveying the wreckage of Arab culture and civilization, Melhem conducts an unflinching, overdue and merciless autopsy of what he declares to be a social, economic and political corpse, notes Hussein Ibish (left).
But it’s not true that there are no other social, political or religious visions in the Arab world, he writes for Now Lebanon. Indeed, predictions that post-dictatorship Arab societies would inevitably produce elected Islamist governments proved wrong, because even though most Arabs are devout Muslims, they are not Islamists. They might well be willing to accept Islamists in government if they are responsible, effective and accountable. But those Islamists who got the chance in government to show what they are truly made of – particularly the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – proved nothing of the kind….
At a certain level, there’s no question that Melhem is basically right. A real Arab “recovery” won’t happen in his lifetime, or in mine. Some of the issues are so deep-rooted and structural that they really will take “decades and generations” to completely transform. But hope need not, indeed cannot, be vested only in such a thoroughgoing transformation. …
The first thing to bear in mind is how radically different things looked, even for what amounts to a fleeting political moment, at the beginning of the so-called “Arab Spring.” It was not a mirage. Millions of Arabs in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere really did take to the streets demanding reform, accountability and good governance. It was a genuine and spontaneous expression of “people power” and revealed a real appetite for greater openness and at least some version of democracy…..There is, we can say with absolute confidence, indeed a mass Arab constituency for pluralism, tolerance, good governance and accountability.
Second, let us recall that when societies transform, they frequently do so with stunning rapidity. Particularly in the modern era, change can be, and often is, sudden, dramatic and swift. If three-and-a-half years ago was a period of brief but irrational exuberance about the rise of an empowered Arab citizenry demanding its rights and asserting its responsibilities, we should be open to the possibility that the present impulse towards despair might also prove to be exaggerated.
All across the region, from courageous individuals to small groups that are doing good in their own small spheres of activity and influence, to strategic realignments at the state and regional level (such as the important new international coalition to combat ISIS), the basis for hope for a better Arab future can indeed be identified if you start looking for it….
As bad as things are in the Arab world today, the grounds for such hope are genuine. The task is to first identify the bases for improvement, and then to act on them.