Sunday, March 1, 2009

Upcoming Lebanese Elections: A Microcosm of the Political Forces in the Arab World

Most of the nation states of the Arab world are, in their present forms, about half a century old; Kuwait was the first to win its independence in 1961. Obviously the current borders for Gulf states were drawn for the first time ever by the British whose protection of the “trucial states” and its various tribes started as far back as the early 19th century. But after WWII the British had already agreed to Indian independence and so the geopolitical needs for protecting the flank of the Indian subcontinent ceased to be applicable. As for the other main countries of the region, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia they came into their present form as a consequence of the defeat of the Ottomans; the sick man of Europe; as detailed essentially in the Sykes-Picot accords. Iraq became independent in 1932, soon to be followed by the independence of Lebanon in 1943, Syria and Transjordan followed suit in 1946. No one knows the exact length of time that is required for the inhabitants of a newly formed nation state to develop and acquire a distinctive identity as a people united by a sense of purpose and a common bond. But definitely as time goes on that special bond gains strength at the expense of the traditional racial, linguistic and cultural conditions that existed under the reign of empires.
The relative “youth” of these nation states in the Arab world is a major factor in their respective inability to develop stable democratic regimes. Democracy, after all, is a new idea that has no roots in the history of the region and the inhabitants are not used to the idea of offering allegiance to an abstract concept such as freedom and human rights. Instead loyalty is usually given to tribal chiefs and religious leaders.
To the dismay of Pan Arabism the passage of time has helped cement the concepts of statehood and national sovereignty .Even the term citizenship, with all the responsibilities associated with it, have begun to blossom and to play a seminal role in establishing civil rights and democratic practices, albeit at an early and yet unsophisticated stage. As a result it appears that the Arab region is at a cross roads where the forces of statehood , sovereignty, modernity and democracy are becoming more ingrained but are still at odds with the old traditional forces that do not recognize modern state borders or democratic ideas as helpful. These traditionalists are intent on regaining the days of “glory” of the Arab empire of a thousand years ago by reestablishing the purity of the social and political conditions that prevailed then.
Lebanon and its upcoming elections on June 7 2009 is being presented essentially with a choice between those that value and cherish an independent, diverse, vibrant , democratic and modern state and those that have their primary allegiance to powers beyond the borders of the state and who are driven by a vision of narrow interests and reactionary bankrupt structures. The upcoming Lebanese election is in a sense a microcosm of the politics in the Arab world. Lebanon might be less authoritarian and less autocratic than most but a victory for the forces of modernity, moderation and state identity will be a victory for all the other Arabs who share such aspirations. History is by definition forward looking and as such the prospects for peace and the rule of law in the Lebanon as well as the rest of the Arab world are bright.

No comments:


Free Blog Counter