Friday, February 18, 2011

Stuck between mosque and military

This is based on a comment I made here.

The Arab world remains caught between mosque and military as their only sources of organised political power, since their sustained economic failure means there is a lack of the social bases that led to the liberal democracies of the West. They have huge youth bulges, have mostly been going backward economically, are technologically parasitic on the West, with poor levels of literacy. A combination of factors James Lacey makes much of in what he calls the impending collapse of Arab civilisation.

This combination of factors, as we have been seeing, creates revolutionary pressures. But having revolutionary results then lead to the slow, grinding work of turning their economies and societies around is another matter. Within the Arab world, the traditional monarchies (I do not regard the al-Saud theocracy as a traditional monarchy) have mostly done better as societies — and the Gulf monarchies are broadly economically successful, but they are not where the numbers are. These revolutionary outbreaks may break various regime-logjams but those regimes are a long way from being the fundamental problem: they are as much effect as cause.

As for how the revolutionary surge will reach, the Middle Eastern regimes with the combination of self-belief and brutality — Qaddafi’s totalitarian state, Alawite-dominated Syria, the Iranian mullahocracy — can likely ride things out. They have what ibn Khaldun would call asabiyya, common feeling or social solidarity.

Who has that in Egypt? The Muslim Brotherhood and the military. Neither has remotely any solutions for Egypt’s problems, just different techniques for ruling and perpetuating them.

ADDENDA This post has been cleaned up slightly to improve clarity (but not change the argument). This piece on how Arab democracy leads to Islamist outcomes is another way of looking at the same point: the lack of alternative organised sources of political power other than mosque or military. The author's depiction of how things are going in Tunisia -- as the author points out the most educated, non-oil prosperous and secular of the Arab countries -- just emphasizes the point.

1 comment:

  1. We tend to exaggerate our own effect on Arab cultures, but one way in which we do tend to make things worse is when we capitulate to Muslim fundamentalism. This is because this hands the Arab societies the only successes they ever achieve, and given their overall failure, this strongly inspires them to repeat the attempts at intimidation. This increases the prestige of the mosque if we were intimidated by street protests, of the military if we were intimidatd by military threats. In either case it is very, very bad: both for ourselves and for the future of that Arab polity. This path often ends in the devastation of the Arab state in a war that they start in the process of the next attempt at intimidation.