Patriarchal shows of generosity will not appease the Arab people

Arab regimes' attempts to buy off their people only highlight their duplicity, argues Mohammed Hussainy
Mohammed Hussainy
28 January 2011

In dealing with the repercussions of the events in Tunisia, most pan-Arab regimes have opted for the provision of direct economic support such as handing out cash assistance, reducing prices or re-introducing subsidies. Such procedures cannot be interpreted save within the context of the regimes’ attempts to dispel popular outrage at economic conditions in the majority of Arab states. It should also be emphasized that these procedures would not have materialized had it not been for the fear of a Tunisian encore.

That the regimes' reactions have been restricted to taking economic precautions is saddening. No such regime can bear to think of introducing economic reforms in tandem with genuine, drastic political reform. It seems that genuine reform is the last thing the Arab regimes have on their mind – hence, they have learned nothing from the Tunisian example.

The disaster that strikes one here is as follows: Arab regimes are still preoccupied with the notion that the role of the ruler alone is to bestow the people with gifts or bounties. The idea is a reflection of the concept of the shepherd and the flock, or a household and its head. The Arab ruler becomes a surrogate head of household, shouldering responsibilities big and small, since its members are still minors and incapable of making decisions; it follows that succumbing to the demands of these minors should be based on the notion of a gift endowed upon them by their bread-winner.

It is also shameful that the same pattern of thinking is being applied to sit-ins and mass demonstrations. The regimes try to send a message to their peoples to the effect that such demonstrations are taking place only because the authorities have allowed it, while trying to present themselves as democratic regimes showing sympathy to their peoples. These regimes do not forget the practice of direct and indirect suppression once they feel that things are getting out of control. We have all seen the way Egyptian security forces have dealt with some demonstrations, blocked access to the internet and intentionally disrupted mobile phone services to prevent people from communicating with each other. In the mean time, officials in Jordan have insinuated that certain entities have their own malicious hidden agendas behind supporting sit-ins and demonstrations.

Talk about economic and political reform is no longer restricted to the chit chat of off-limit political forums. It is likewise no longer limited to the political elites that make up the leaders of the opposition. Rather reform is now a basic demand for laymen who are sick of the status quo. They have grown even more disgusted at the fake promises and procrastination as well as the make-shift scarecrows the regimes have erected to fend off reform, the foremost being the fear that Islamic and radical factions will gain power. Other such false pretexts include having to put off everything until the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved; yet these arguments are no longer convincing nor can they be used as a screen behind which regimes can hide every time talk about the need for reform surfaces.

Pan-Arab regimes are in a race against time; whatever their response, it is a race they cannot win. The same applies to the traditional opposition forces that find themselves trailing behind the momentum of the people instead of leading the process. Both the regimes and traditional opposition were caught very much by surprise by the speed of events and the citizen's capacity for spontaneous self-organization. No-one is willing to wait and see what timid proposals the regime or traditional opposition put forward.  

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