Arabs heal yourself!

Samir Rihani
February 2020

It has been several years since I published an article on my website. This was not due to laziness on my part. It was more the result of disenchantment and hopelessness about the state of the global political economy in general and the awful conditions that people in the Middle East and North Africa are enduring and have endured for far too long.

I can’t keep quiet anymore!

I was driven to write again by disappointment with articles written by Arab commentators that land continually in the inbox of my email addresses. It would seem that the whole world is in a giant conspiracy against this region. Pick any article and you might see references to the Sykes-Picot secret agreement of 1916; over a century ago, between Britain and France to divide the region into dependent statelets. Other more up to date writers blame the State of Israel that came into being in 1948, over half a century ago. Surprise surprise; it would seem that those in charge of Israel decided to fragment the Arabs and keep them disunited and at war with each other.

Other writers lament certain events that added to the burdens falling on the Arabs. So there was the 1958 army takeover in Iraq. It is interesting to read now that leaders and governments in Iraq up to that point were not too bad and in fact might have been quite good and patriotic. By the same logic, it now seems that Gaddafi might have been slightly odd but he was not that bad. There are even articles that suggest Saddam was much better than what came after him. That applies especially to present leaders who we are told owe allegiance to Iran rather than Iraq.

Horrors continue

Commentators in recent years focus on the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the USA and its allies. They also highlight the civil war in Syria and Yemen, the turmoil in Libya, and the dreaded Islamic State, as well as other extremist groups that came before and after it. All these injustices we are told were visited on the Arab world by nasty outsiders. The message is quite clear: is it any wonder Arabs are faced by insurmountable hurdles that are virtually impossible to tackle. Basically, it is not our fault and we need some external power (the USA, China, Russia, Iran…take your pick) to save from this nightmare.

So we are not to blame?

The above scenario sounds plausible. It also reliefs the Arabs from any burden to take charge of their affairs. It ignores an ancient proverb that has been shown to be correct for several millennia: ‘physician heal yourself’. In truth there are no fairy tail solutions. This sounds disappointing and I offer sincere apologies for being such a spoil sport.

Are there examples to show that ‘healing yourself’ is not only possible but it is the only way to move on? Such instances are all round us but it is easier to ignore them. Choosing that course of lack of action means no progress is possible.

Vietnam is a good example

Let me take Vietnam as one striking example. It has suffered at the hands of European and American powers extreme and lengthy agonies. The French occupied Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia towards the end of the nineteenth century. These nations were exploited harshly in the name of France’s ‘civilising mission’. The misery went on until the mid-1960s when France withdrew and the USA took over. By the end of the Vietnam war in 1975 some two million civilian Vietnamese had been killed in addition to over a million fighters. The country was sprayed liberally with Agent Orange; a toxin that is in many ways as damaging as depleted uranium.

What happened to Vietnam since? It is now a leading industrial and tourism area with thriving economy in almost every respect. What do the Vietnamese think of the French and Americans? They welcome them as sources of economic benefit. There is hardly any animosity to be detected. This is not because the Vietnamese are ignorant or angelic. They have simply decided to focus on the job of building their country. The ‘communist’ forces from the north defeated the ‘capitalist’ forces in the south together with their American allies. Did the country become communist? Nothing of the sort. They quickly instituted reforms that took the best from the different political economic schools of thought. Their philosophy was simple: adapt and adopt what works.

Is Vietnam unique?

Vietnam is just one example amongst many. Russia lost the Cold War and with it the whole of the USSR and its vast empire. Did the Russians go into a corners and sulk? Not at all. There was much to be done. Russia is now a major economic and military power in its own right. The same could be said of China but on a much larger scale. Despite many setbacks (remember Mao’s dreadful Cultural Revolution that began in 1966?) leaders appeared who managed to transform China into a leading world power that could deal with the USA as an unequal. More impressive, the mighty USA, and its allies in Europe, are concerned about how far Chinese development will go.

Other examples could be presented (for instance Poland and states that emerged after the break up of Yugoslavia) but there is no need to labour the point. These countries ‘healed themselves’.

Is it not time for the Arabs to turn the page?

Now why is it not possible for Arabs, as separate states or one state, do the same? That is a question I pose for writers and commentators who keep sending me their thoughts on the current situation and on Arab development. Please do not mention bad and corrupt leaders. Present disappointing leaders in the Arab world are mere amateurs when compared to notables like Mao, Stalin, Ceausescu and their ilk.

And finally (added in response to helpful comments)

Change for nations takes a very long time. Nothing happens in a hurry and even less happens according to a precise plan and timetable (see articles on complex systems on this website).

Although conditions are simply atrocious at the moment there is no doubt they will improve. In what way and what direction is somewhat unknown. However, they will improve and all the dark fears (for example split up of Iraq, etc.) when looked at many decades from now will seem exaggerated. Focus on political action and little else is not useful. Arabs will do much better if they were to concentrate on simpler, more achievable aims in the short term, such as education, art, health, social cohesion, and so on. Political achievements will inevitably follow. That is what others have found.