Across the Bay

Monday, June 07, 2004

Dictating to Dictators

I mentioned yesterday that there was a panel discussion in Beirut with Michael Young, Farid el-Khazen and Chibli Mallat that discussed Arab reforms.

The Daily Star published a report on it today. I quoted Chibli Mallat as having said that "there can be no change out here until there is regime change." The Star quotes him differently:

""unless you have a regular transfer of executive power in a peaceful manner - you routinely change the kings and presidents through political means - nothing will happen that is serious.""

It could be that my source paraphrased him, or that he made two statements, one more qualified than the other. It's just as well, since I was going to qualify it myself. I was going to say effectively what Mallat has already said, and that is that "regime change" doesn't have to necessarily be through war or coups d'├ętat. It could be through peaceful means and elections, which, after all, are common things in democracies. This however doesn't alleviate the danger of Islamists, who, as I have argued here before, have no problem using those democratic means in order to undermine them after reaching power.

The Star's report has revealed yet another pleasant surprise. It turns out that Michael Young and I have agreed, almost verbatim, on the issue of economic reform:

"Criticizing the vagueness of the revised plan, he said, "My problem is not that it wants to impose the Western version (of democracy) on the Arab world, but that it is not doing that at all." He expressed concern that since the "(US) State Department has always been a preserver of the status quo," in the end no democratic reform will take place, and the plan adds up to little more than an effort to increase the economic efficiency of Arab societies. He also noted that many Arab countries are virtual experts in liberalizing their economies and political sectors under pressure, without achieving any fundamental change in power." (Emphasis added)

That's almost exactly what I said about Bashar (seeking prosperity rather than reform) in Saturday's post.

Furthermore, Farid el-Khazen (who wrote a spectacular book on Lebanon entitled The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon) had this to say on the issue of the need for reform to be "from within":

"Khazen tried to diffuse the common objections to the plan with reference to historical examples of reform, pointing out that the Tanzimat reforms implemented by the Ottoman Empire in the 1840s came as a reaction to the modernization process in Europe. "The incentive (to reform) always came from the outside," he said, adding that some eras of Arab reform coincided with liberalization and modernization in other pats of the world, whether the Western world or the developing South."

And on the Palestinian excuse, he said:

""It can't be that the Arab World should be frozen forever just because there is a problem with Israel. ... Even if the conflict has been settled, there would still be resistance to change from the Arab regimes.""

As for the EU tampering with the US initiative, all three panelists expressed disdain over it. Young reportedly said the following:

"In the new version all critical analysis is eliminated, he said, reducing it to a mere wish list, and options to achieve reform include a new array of institutions and forums in economic, political and social fields. Most importantly, the main reason for promoting Arab reform is no longer explicitly mentioned as the desire to prevent terror and enhance the US' security."

Young had previously written a piece discussing the leaking of the initial US plan by Germany who wanted to undermine it, and apparently succeeded. Mallat called the new EU-contaminated initiative "not particularly useful."

Enough said.