Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In Focus: Union of Dictatorships

Khalil Al-Anani
Daily News-Arab media

Why are most conflicts concentrated in the Middle East? Why is the Arab world experiencing the highest rates of religious, sectarian and social violence? There are two answers: the first is direct, that is, because of the religious and political differences between countries and groups in this region; and the second is indirect, related to the strong interrelationship between political tyranny and social injustice.

A country may be authoritarian, like the case of China, but has a just economic system that can defuse social tension, give its government a degree of popular dissatisfaction to reduce chances of internal friction and violence, and grants it a degree of stability and legitimacy.

But the Arab totalitarian regimes practice political arrogance, economic injustice and social oppression, thus leading to tension between different classes and increasing rates of instability.

Ironically, in spite of the rise daily income in the Arab oil-exporting states (whose revenues of oil exports have reached $9 billion a day; $1.7 of which go for Saudi Arabia), almost 70 million Arabs live under the poverty line, i.e. no less than one dollar per day.

According to the latest United Nations Human Development Report (HDR), there are about 14 million people living under the poverty line in Egypt, four million of whom do not earn their daily bread, at a time when 20 percent of Egyptians own nearly 80 percent of the wealth.

It is therefore logical that Egypt is witnessing sharp social tensions, not only because of the blocked channels of political expression and lack of opportunities for calm community dialogue, but also because of a feeling of economic injustice, lack of criteria for social justice, and rampant corruption to the extent that it has become typical behavior in all public and private institutions.

It is the same case in many Arab countries, such as Yemen, Algeria, Morocco and Syria. They are all economically poor countries yet politically authoritarian.

Unfortunately, the only instrument with which Arab authoritarian regimes are addressing any manifestations of communal tension and objections is the police to silence opponents and suppress protesters.

This happened recently in Morocco when the police arrested dozens of poor demonstrators, while around 60 percent of Morocco's population is poor.

In the absence of institutions and standards for transparency and accountability, oppression and tyranny practiced by Arab totalitarian regimes against their citizens is intensified in order to protect their accomplices who are involved in corruption.

Democratic nations do not fight each other, but the peoples and communities that live under the rule of authoritarian regimes do.
So the emergence of violent religious and social groups which call for political equality and social-economic justice is thus expected in the Arab world.

To get rid of the current tragic situation I suggest the formation of a union of despotic states especially in the Arab world, in order to isolate them internationally on the grounds that they represent a real threat to international peace and stability and violate the development of human civilization.

Khalil Al-Anani is an expert on political Islam and Democratization in the Middle East and is a visiting fellow at Brookings Institution. E-mail:

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