Across the Bay

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Finally, it's Local Politics

One of the most important pre-requisites for change in the ME is for the people to return to focusing on local politics, as opposed to being suckered by trans-national ideologies. The Arab regimes and "revolutionary movements" have spent over half a century trying to prevent that. The entire history of the region, and indeed of Arab nationalism, shows how such "causes" were used in order to deflect attention from the interior. E.g., note Syria's sounding the call for war with Israel in 1948 in order to safeguard against King Abdullahs plans and to sidestep local weaknesses (see Josh Landis' excellent article on this. Elie Kedourie made similar claims before him.).

In Lebanon, my peers began talking and thinking like that when Syrian domination of Lebanese politics was at its peak, i.e., when there was no local political life. Also, Syria made Hizbullah's rhetoric mainstream and Arab nationalist historiography the norm. All of a sudden, things that were either contested or considered extreme were the only acceptable discourse. Hizbullah's now struggling to keep the revolutionary rhetoric alive and meaningful, and throwing around accusations of treason and such, but it has become an empty (highly sectarian) game, which is what it always was. We were just made to think otherwise.

In Egypt, Mona Tahawi tells us, local politics now dominate conversations:

There were no arguments over the United States, Israel, Palestine, Iraq or any of the other "hot spots" that used to dominate every meal and spill over into tea, coffee and dessert. This time, all conversations were about a small but active opposition movement in Egypt that since December has focused on ending the dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak.

I have never heard so many relatives and friends take such an interest in Egyptian politics or -- more important -- feel that they had a stake in them.

In other words, things are finally (hopefully) being put back in their proper context. Now if only Western ME experts would take note.