The Arab Spring’s summersault

The International Herald Tribune Daily News

May 30  2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: Take stock. Egypt’s democratic dream hangs by a thread. Libya’s death throes and Syria’s killing fields are civil war nightmares. Yemen is a chimera, Bahrain has been bludgeoning and Tunisia is a memory. Scorching rays overwhelm the Arab spring’s refreshing breezes. Which way should we look for the revolution’s resolution?

Are we in an interregnum, a temporary freedom, or an antebellum, a period preceding more bloodshed? The raging undercurrent swirls groping for an identity that responds to a sense of Islamic belonging while respecting other faiths and global concerns. Pluralism necessitates compromises, which riles zealots, branded bigots.

Take a wider view. The G8 Summit in Deauville last week offered Egypt respite if promises to democratize are fulfilled. Others weighed in with billion-dollar boons. The International Monetary Fund said MENA’s non-oil countries need $160 billion injected in the next three years. The region needs to prepare for a fundamental transformation of its economic model.

Egypt could become the breadbasket of the Middle East, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s Jonathan Charles said. The woefully undeveloped agricultural industry employing 30 percent of the population only yields 16 percent of production. Agriculture is ripe for reconstruction.

Take heart. History’s lantern illuminates visionaries’ solutions. Let’s look closer at Europe, remembering that World War II took 60 million lives, ended uncertainly and yet today reaches accord on baffling, discordant matters.

Who would have thought it? European nations tried to shuck off their suzerains in the 19th century. The French turfed out Louis Philippe. Germany, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Spain, Romania, and Belgium underwent revolutions.

But, as the historian A.J.P. Taylor reflected, history reached a turning point and failed to turn. The revolutions mostly failed. In Italy, the monarchy returned. The French ended up with a dictator, Louis-Napoleon after a coup d’état in 1851. German states’ unity failed. Austria returned to rule Hungary. Other revolutions lost their luster and died out.

A hundred years later after World War II culminated in 60 million deaths, Europe was ready to begin an arduous journey to resolve their differences amicably. Their thinking was based on ideas promulgated by Count Richard Nikolaus Graf Coudenhove-Kalergi the son of an Austro-Hungarian diplomat and a Japanese mother.

He’d mooted Pan-Europa, political, economic and social cooperation, arguing that the constitution of a wide market with a stable currency was the vehicle for Europe to reconstruct its potential. He, like Jean Monet, the father of European unity, never sought public office.

Monet’s vision of European cooperation was based on a new economic order. During a meeting in Algiers in 1943 Money declared: There will be no peace in Europe if the states are reconstituted on the basis of national sovereignty. The countries of Europe are too small to guarantee their peoples the necessary prosperity and social development. The European states should constitute themselves into a federation, Monet said.

France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands formed the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 making it practically impossible for France and Germany to go to war.

Production of coal and steel as a whole was placed under a common authority. No more fighting over the rich Ruhr region. The benefits enjoyed by one part of Europe would be distributed across the whole.

The treaty establishing the European Economic Community followed six years later. Since then eight treaties have expanded the renamed European Union’s governance, the last at Lisbon in 2007, affirming the EU’s three pillars of cooperation over economic, social and foreign policy.

These monumental agreements have grown an economy to $18 trillion by the 500 million people in 27 countries of the EU, bigger than the USA’s 307 million people’s $14 trillion and compares with MENA’s 460 million people’s meager $2 trillion – the latter in spite of holding about a third of the world’s energy resources.

Visionaries aren’t guiding the pacesetters in the rerum mutatio, the hiatus between revolution and new order. Pragmatic tinkerers hold the line.
Where is the bold, valiant sage with the farsightedness to unite the Middle East in a modern Khilafah, unified in one polity? The region shares history, culture, and language. The same or similar books, newspapers and magazines are read. Mostly they watch the same TV programs and movies.

Since 1945 the more than 20 members of the Arab League, at least on paper, recognize each is a part of an Arab nation, the Ummah Arabiyyah. Yet they remain divided politically and economically. The Middle East economies are more competitive than complementary.

Dr. Hani Fakhouri, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan, says practicing dangerous demagoguery has led the Arab League in particular and the political leaderships of the Arab world nowhere. Over six decades of agreements covering the Arab economic market, defense, employment, education and water and food security have yielded not one result of significance, he says. Free trade among Arab states amounts to only 5 percent of all Arab states’ trades.

Authoritarian, corrupt regimes in the Arab world are the obstacles to meaningful, constructive progress that will enable the region to catch up with the rest of the world, Fakhouri says.

The three great ancient civilizations: the Chinese Qing dynasty, the Indian Mughal empire and the Ottoman empire in the Middle East were overtaken by European hegemony. The resurgence of China and India is apparent. Unfortunately the Middle East languishes in unfulfilled aspiration more than half a century after achieving independence.

None of the countries embroiled in revolution and those contemplating change can expect to emerge into a successful new era without unseating the tyrants. But that’s only half the job. To satisfy the revolutionary calls across the region, a new union is required that demolishes borders to permit the free movement of people, goods and capital and the bureaucracies that thrive on nitpicking national regulations.

That will radically reduce the cost of goods and services, eliminate the hundreds of thousands of officials pickpocketing the public’s purse and entice global investment into the region rather than scatterings of consumers.

The 1.4 million-strong militias in the region’s 22 countries need streamlining into a force whose mission exceeds protecting themselves from themselves.

Above all, leaders should spend their time developing the potential of its young people rather than finagling ways to choke the craving for manumission, freedom from servitude.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at or twittered @mohendessin.


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