Egypt’s Economy, the Nile Waters, Libya and the Military

If the Egyptian military has had a strategy entirely of its own apart from its concern over its economic pre-eminence within Egypt, it is securing Egypt’s borders as well as the waters of the Nile.

If Egypt has had a ‘cold peace’ with Israel, this has not been entirely the result of public emotion over the undemocratic nature of the treaties signed at Camp David. It is also due to the fact that the Egyptian military has continued to view Israel as Egypt’s main enemy. This was despite Mubarak’s cosy business relationship with the Israeli leadership. Irrespective of the prodding by the US to reconfigure its positions on the ground, the Egyptian military has insisted on keeping a structure that assumes that Israel may attack at any time: hence the ‘cold peace’. If everybody is wondering why when the Libyan Justice Minister and close confidant of Ghaddafi defected to the rebellion and then visited Egypt for help in structuring an offensive against Ghaddafi the Egyptian military refused, it is for this reason. The greatest danger in this period of instability is perceived as the possibility of a re-invasion of Sinai by Israel. Reconfiguring Egypt troop positions in this period was inconceivable. On the other hand, Mustapha Abdul Jalil did get what he wanted because it was the Egyptian military which pressured the Arab League to vote for a no fly zone (with the help of the US of course).

Which brings us to the matter of the Nile waters and the Mubarak era: Mubarak was funding a massive irrigation project in the North Sinai desert called the North Sinai Agricultural Development Project ( NSADP) which was going forward despite the severe warnings from an environmental impact study. Since 1987 this project had been diverting Nile water to agricultural development plots west of the Suez Canal. This water was supplied through two tunnels under the Suez Canal. When in 1996 Mubarak announced the opening of a third tunnel, it became clear that a final leg of the project would bring Nile water to just south of the North Sinai town of El Arish, only 40 km away from the border of the Gaza Strip at Rafah. There have been rumours, given the study of Israeli water expert Elisha Kally 1974 aimed at bringing Nile water to Israel, that the ultimate goal of the project was precisely this. Given Mubarak’s ‘ultra-cheap gas’ deal with Israel, it is not conceivable that a similar water deal might have been dreamt up by the corrupt regime of Mubarak for personal gain – at a massive cost for Egypt and indeed for Africa.

So what was Mubarak’s Nile water policy. How could he think that he could suddenly divert water not just to the desert of Sinai but ultimately to Israel? In respect of the lower Nile countries – he simply threatened them with military action if they interfered in any way with the current arrangement where Egypt uses 75% of the Nile water (55.5 billion cubic meters of water per annum), compared with 11% for Sudan and 1% for Ethiopia, and the remaining 13% amongst Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, and Uganda. Already Mubarak’s Tushka project in Southern Egypt was a huge drain on the river’s water. Perhaps Mubarak hoped that he and Israel could put together a punitive force which would blow these countries up if Israel received a share of the water. Certainly the US would never be able to object to such an ‘alliance’. This isn’t clear though – it is speculative.

But what is clear is that when the Agreement on the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework (CFA) amongst the countries south of the Sudan was proposed on April 13, 2010, DR Congo and Burundi didn’t sign the document like the others on May 14th. It was reported by AP on 12/07/2010 – 2:57 p.m. GMT that local Burundi newspapers carried allegations of the bribing of Burundi officials by Egypt. It is isn’t clear why DR Congo didn’t sign, but assuming similar reasons couldn’t be far off the truth. Burundi Minister Degratias N’Duimana has been on record saying that Egypt has regularly used divide and rule tactics, leveraging off the Burundi Muslim community to achieve its aims of reducing water consumption in the country.

As of 03/03/2011 – after the departure of Mubarak – Burundi has now signed the agreement, which involves a plan for a new dam in Ethiopia and various projects throughout the other countries. The current Assistant Foreign Minister for Foreign Affairs for Egypt – Mona Omar – has stated a new policy that eschews the violence and manipulation that was Mubarak’s principal modus operandi and instead embraces negotiation and compromise. This blog carried a piece earlier regarding Farouk el-Baz’s ‘superhighway’ built partially to use desert aquifers as a source of water. It is unlikely and unwise to consider such aquifers to be a panacea in respect of Egypt water needs. Nile water may also be needed for this project.

Thus it is vital that the statement by Mona Omar should be expanded into a full-blown policy of economic development, free trade and free movement of capital and labour between all Nile countries in order to achieve economic balance all along the Nile and afford opportunities for Egyptians in African countries that have existing underutilised potential, while giving the Nilotic peoples all the opportunity of exploiting Egypt’s strategic location as well as its other commercial resources. The Egyptian military would also then be freed from the potential liability of having to plan for ridiculous potential punitive measures in deepest Africa. It would seem that from Egypt’s long term perspective that the end of the Mubarak era could not have come at a more crucial time in the country’s history.

Elsandanhouri

The Man With The Plan: El Baz’s Superhighway

There’s a development project planned for Egypt that could salvage its drowning economic condition, and it has been shelved for some twenty years waiting to see the light of day. It was created by Farouk El Baz, the well-known Egyptian-American geologist whose resume includes consulting on NASA’s Apollo mission and advising the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadaat, and if implemented, the project has the potential to help lift Egypt into a new socioeconomic era.

Soap In A Box had the privilege of speaking with El Baz and getting more insight into the plan. “People have been calculating satellite images to figure out how much of the land deposits at the Nile Valley and delta disappear every year, and it was found that 30, 000 acres of land of the fertile Nile and delta disappear under cement every year for the past 20 years,” said El Baz. “If this same rate goes unabated then all of the land of the Nile Valley and delta will disappear in 183 years – and we’re talking about a country with 5,000 years of history. I figured something could surely be done.”

The idea is to alleviate overpopulation in Cairo and in areas surrounding the Nile, by building new residences, schools and industrial zones in a 2,000 km flat strip of land chosen due to its strategic location and topographic characteristics, located west of Aswan to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s described as easy to pave and  devoid of east-west crossing valleys that are prone to flashfloods, which occur in the Eastern Desert. 

The plot of land is also located in proximity to large tracts of fertile soils that are amenable to reclamation, with potential for groundwater resources. “The region is endowed with plentiful sunlight and persistent northerly wind.  These conditions allow the use of renewable solar and wind energy in the future,” says El Baz’s report, which centers around the construction of a superhighway across the chosen land – west of the Nile from the Mediterranean Sea coastline to Lake Nasser – where the development of new communities, agriculture, industry, trade and tourism can be developed in the largely untapped Western Desert.

The project’s objectives are as follows:

  • Ending urban encroachment on agricultural land in the Nile Valley
  • Opening new land for desert reclamation and the production of food
  • Establishing new areas for urban and industrial growth near large cities
  • Creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs for Egyptian labor
  • Arresting environmental deterioration throughout the Nile Valley
  • Relieving the existing road network from heavy and dangerous transport
  • Initiating new ventures in tourism and eco-tourism in the Western Desert
  • Connecting the Tushka region and its projects with the rest of the country
  • Creating a physical environment for economic projects by the private sector
  • Involving the population at large in the development of the country
  • Giving people, particularly the young, some hope for a better future
  • Focusing people’s energy on productive and everlasting things to do

 Noble objectives, no doubt, and what better time for these than now? El Baz explained that whomever it is that takes over power on a permanent basis in Egypt, this project would be beneficial and would begin to reap benefits ten years down the line. Its long-term reward is primarily what kept it shelved for so long by the old guard of Mubarak’s regime, who couldn’t see the usefulness of implementing a plan with no quick returns or short-term profits and glory. The well-researched project however would do wonders to get the ball rolling on a more practical level in Egypt, and hopefully it can do so without getting dragged into a political mess, or perhaps better put, without being politicized or torn in between warring hands seeking power.

El Baz has been in touch with Nabil El Arabi and Essam Sharaf, and reiterated that whomever it is that takes control of the situation in Egypt, the plan itself stands ground as a worthwhile endeavour for the Egyptian labor force and economy. El Baz says he only created the plan and wants nothing to do with its supervision or implementation, but would rather see a varied board overseeing its execution, which would be funded by a bond open to the Egyptian public. This project is very much intended for the Egyptian people, El Baz says.

For more information on El Baz, and his superhighway and development corridor, visit: http://faroukelbaz.com/

– Love In a Box

Egypt, Freedom and the Military

On March 19 2011 45 million people voted to change the constitution of Egypt and it looks like 65% voted yes: is this the end of militarism in Arab society? Let’s take a quick look at the cultural history of military rule across the region. Ever since the social model that the advent of the Mongols and the Mamlūks ushered into the region, which the Ottomans developed and extended, Middle-East society in general has been ruled by castes that were seen as either racially or class-distinct. The justification for rule was either, implicitly or explicitly, force, in contravention of the principles that Islamic society – which was racially tolerant and highly law-based at the time, had followed until the13th century.

The Turks, with the advent of Gul , Erdogan and the AKP have used the democratic process, which existed but was a junior partner to militarism in Attaturk’s new Turkey, to subjugate the military to civil law. The Iranians, in a struggle for power in our region with the Americans and Israel, as well as with Gulf States particularly in the 70s and 80s, have witnessed a reinforcing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Egypt was there once, with Nasser, but Nasser didn’t have the resources, the cadres, and the know-how to engage in a successful power struggle with the Americans and Israel. Sadat eventually succumbed to a humiliating peace deal with Israel which the people rejected, and has been the cause of considerable discontent ever since as well as the origin of the national emotions that ultimately led to the current revolution.

The Tunisians showed the Arabs the way. The Tunisians have a strong labour movement, compared with Egypt whose labour movement was always persecuted by the Egyptian military. This helped them and will define their future. But the military in Egypt is much more powerful, and I cannot help but feel that despite the ‘secular’ nature of the Egyptian revolution, there is long term unfinished business between the Islamic nature of Egyptian society – led now by the Muslim brotherhood – and the military.

The reason the military did nothing during the revolution and thus allowed the fall of Mubarak was because of two factors. Firstly, Egypt has conscription and the people are very much part of the institution. The bloodbath in Libya is due to fact that Ghaddafi is a true Mamlūk in that he has kept a distinct ethnicity as the basis of the armed forces. Secondly, Muhammad Hussein Tantawi was appointed to his post as chief of armed forces by Mubarak because he is a retiring unaggressive person. Mubarak wasn’t going to appoint a man like Abdel-Hakim Amer – who was forced to take his own life by Nasser – or like the hero of the 1973 war against Israel, Muhammad Abd al-Halim Abu Ghazala, who had equal standing with Mubarak at the beginning of Mubarak’s rule, and who Mubarak managed to sideline with the help of the Americans.

But can we now say that militarism has ended in Egypt? The constitutional amendments have been controversial. There were calls for the referendum to be postponed or cancelled, from presidential candidates Amr Moussa, former head of the Arab League, and Mohamed El-Baradei, former chief of the UN nuclear watchdog, who say it is not enough merely to fiddle with the constitution. The youth activists, who spearheaded the pro-democracy revolution, called for a “no” vote on constitutional reform. Shadi al-Ghazali Harb, a member of the youth coalition that helped overthrow Mubarak, said he wanted a new constitution and an extension of the transitional period with the formation of a presidential council. The same reservations were voiced by the Al-Wafd, Tagammu, the Democratic Front and the Nasserist parties. Human rights organisations, judges, constitutional experts and activists have all expressed their disapproval of the amendments, stressing they did not limit the powers of the president. In an article on Counterpunch by Tamer Bahgat and Khalid el-Sherif entitled ‘Egypt Votes’, a clear argument was set out in regard to the need for further changes in the constitution. Ayman Nour, the potential presidential candidate and the founder of el-Ghad Party agrees with all this – saying that the will for change amongst the Egyptian people could not be compromised. He states that the Muslim Brotherhood back the changes because of their power and readiness. The only other sections of society backing the constitutional amendments are the remnants of the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) once headed by Mubarak.

What does this mean? That the political process will be hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood- leaving everybody else behind? The Muslim Brotherhood has learned much from events in Turkey, and I continue to make comparisons to Turkey because of the ways in which it’s experience has reflected lessons across the region, and which Egypt can continue to learn from in terms of balancing military influence. The struggle of the Turks to subjugate the ‘westernised elite’ which existed in virtue of the power of the military has been fierce. The political struggle in elections and in the courts has been long. The success of the AKP at uncovering plots and conspiracies by the military to overturn progress towards civilian rule has even recently led to a speight of suicides in the top echelons of the military. Turning Turkey from a corrupt military state to a true nation of the people has not been easy, and it has taken the power of the AKP on the street to do this.

The attack on al-Baradei at the polling booth was blamed in the media variously on ‘islamists’ or on rump ‘NDP’ goons. It could have been caused by either due largely to his loud calls for voting ‘no’ to the referendum. One cannot tell, because the Egyptian populace is still ferociously ignorant at its lower levels. The Muslim Brotherhood’s condemnation of this attack and their call for ‘unity’ of Egyptians and ‘peaceful politics’ was also evident in the attack of a Christian Church a few weeks ago – which they have vowed to rebuild. Technically the Muslim Brotherhood back the constitutional amendments because they want to get the political process out into the open soon and not see further delays, which could lead to any outcome – and fears remain that it may lead to a largely unfavorable one that surpasses the people and the revolution’s demands.

They insist that the constitution is open to further amendment in the future. Clearly, Nour’s argument stands in their favour, but we have to ask ourselves – looking at the process that has taken place in Turkey and the ignorance at the base of the Egyptian Street – whether we should trust our idealistic impulses and believe that immediate democracy is possible now, or whether it has to be gained for us by a powerful political group that has power over the Egyptian street and can match the Egyptian military. The Egyptian military dominate the Egyptian economy: no finance minister has ever had the power to look at the accounts of the military, or to interfere in those businesses which the military runs for its own account. So there is a factor other than democracy at stake – economic competition and opportunity – which the Turks have taught us is necessary to become an economy like theirs; an economy which is four times the size of Egypt and with the same population. There are many currents in Egyptian society which have to surface from days of darkness. Despite short-term problems and potential setbacks, Egypt is on the road to becoming a flowering society and nation, and to regaining its position at the centre of the world events. A position it had lost a long time ago.

Elsandanhouri

Where Have All The Ideals Gone?

I’ve been consistently accused of harboring a ceaseless idealism by my most beloved, and as the years go by, increased accusations seem to reflect a growing fervor within myself for the ‘bad habit of setting myself up for a fall’, or better yet, of being ‘slightly delusional’. Rationality, it seems, means embracing the reality of flawed characteristics dominating collective behaviors, especially on the part of state actors who exercise policies that serve their best interests – propagating a global political (and consequentially, economic and social) atmosphere defined by ‘free-riding’ principles; self-serving, greed-riddled, power-hungry, money-seeking ends which permit a world of amorality to emerge and thrive. To such logicians of gothic advocacy, I say, how rational could it possibly be to accept a world of unabashed and unopposed sadism?

Over a lush serving of the finest beverages and platters of rolled-up fishy, cheesy delicacies, and with a spectacular night-time view of Dubai’s burgeoning skyline, I had a lively conversation last weekend with a group of young, educated professionals working in the finance sector. We spoke of politics mainly, our conversation inspired by the revolutionary times we’re living in. We reminisced over the days of nationalism and the upholding of causes such as Nasserism, Pan-Arabism, a free Palestine and the bringing of justice to those robbed of it (a displaced reminiscence perhaps, given that all of us at the table didn’t exist during those days – still, our parents’ generation have been so imbued with disappointment over the loss of those days that we reserve a second-degree connection to such experiences, and a first-degree hopelessness which I believe has enabled the construction of Machiavellian mindsets – but more on that later).

As I spoke with the voice of an excited child about the emboldened youth movement in Egypt taking to the street, the empowered Libyans and their megalomaniac (former) ruler, and the frayed hopes of poverty-stricken Tunisians led in despair to suicide revolts, my company at the table smirked politely, perhaps even jeeringly. “I believe its organic, I believe the people have reached their threshold and the tipping point has led to genuine regional uprisings which .. yada yada yada”, I said, my voice slowly mutating into muttering as I observed the facial expressions of my audience. One of the women at the table who works for an international bank, and another young woman in PR for a leading global corporate consulting firm, assured me with cool conviction that everything had surely been staged. They assured me that America was arming the Libyan rebels and leveraging their grievances for their own lucrative purposes from the start, that the British government outsourced agents to manipulate policy shifts and demonstrations in Egypt, and that nothing authentic could ever come out of the Middle East because it would forever linger in the abyss of an endless colonial existence, like a broken record stuck on the word bitch.

“We know how business works,” one said, “we write the press releases,” another said, all of them tooting the horn for the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism which they argued rules global propaganda, owning all access routes to the information industry that manipulates the minds of the masses into believing whatever it is that “they” want the poor, incapable, mindless masses to believe. Okay, I said, so who are “they”. Some said they are Masonites, others pointed to the American-Zionist congress, and some argued they were simply the abstract flow of global capital ebbed by Big Business and shored by the most powerful governments disguised as torch-bearers of democracy, with a warmonger’s heart beneath that veneer.

I do believe there’s truth to their claims. It’s the acquiescence behind their claims that unnerves me. It’s the melting into decadence that enrages me, and it’s that same defeatism which has cast millions of people into a state of financial, mental and spiritual poverty and has reinvigorated an institutionalized racism and volatile sense of religion that has both given birth to the need for the revolutions which we are witnessing today, and has sown a rotting and unsustainably polluted way of being. This way of being is the lynchpin upon which the Endless War theory is brought to fruition – this way of being is the scarred and blackened soil within which mercenaries hibernate and collect energy for war. This way of being is multiplied by arguments of a fixed nature; arguments assuming that humankind is genealogically predisposed to feed off of rational-utility-maximization – the idea that the world is anarchy, that each individual and each individual state protect their vulnerability to that anarchy by amassing the most material capabilities and imbedding fear in the hearts of the less fortunate to maintain their power. “It’s just the way it is”, the argument goes. We are all assholes, and we cant help it.

Oh please. We have choices. We have the power to construct.

Neorealism argues similarly, stating that power of balance is all that matters in this world. This way of thought goes all the way back to Hobbesian philosophy, and even further back before predicates to modernity. Steven Levitt’s  Freakonomics is a beautifully written and well researched work on the deeply coercive role the most powerful governments and businesses play in determining the fate of our world. It’s all out there for us to read, even on WikiLeaks. And because of apathy, it can be out there for all to read and do absolutely nothing but chuckle at those who have the audacity to believe in another way of being. Perhaps its too painful. But how painful is it to sit by and watch our world burn slowly, slowly down?

Change has to come in the mind first.

– Love In a Box

The Big Bad Brotherhood

After watching Alan Derschowitz on CNN wax Zionist about the Big Bad Brotherhood in Egypt and the misguided fears of a mass of veiled and burqa-clad women descending upon the streets of Egypt post-Mubarak like a swarm of locusts, I couldn’t help but wonder in agony about how exactly we have gotten to this point of such blatant institutionalized racism in this current day and age. (You can also imagine my bewilderment then over how Derschowitz can still be a law professor at Harvard Law School.)

Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly at all, during the first few days and weeks of the Egyptian Revolution, leading American politicians, such as House speaker John Boehner, threw their lot behind Hosni Mubarak in fear of the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged takeover of power. As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians from different walks of life, faith, political affiliations and socioeconomic backgrounds descended upon Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand their inalienable rights as citizens and human beings, Western politicians and neoliberal political pundits audaciously dismissed the Egyptian people’s fight for freedom by focusing instead on their fears of an Islamist party takeover.

However, as a New York Times (NYT) article detailed, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood would only muster up a mere 20-30% support base among Egyptians. Since the organization’s founding in 1928, the Brotherhood’s appeal has been its offering of a space wherein grievances – political and otherwise – could be expressed and shared. What this has essentially meant is that, for the most part, the Brotherhood has offered up the only true democratic alternative to Mubarak’s corrupt National Democratic Party (NDP).  For decades, from King Farouk, to Gamal Abdel Nasser, to Anwar Sadat and Mubarak, all opposition groups have been imprisoned, outlawed, or silenced. The Brotherhood’s ideological backbone gave Egyptians, frustrated with their lack of a political voice, an arena and space where they could be heard. As newspaper editor and human rights activist, Hisham Kaseem, stated in the very same NYT article: “If people met in a café and talked about things the regime didn’t like, he would just shut down the café and arrest us […] But you can’t close mosques, so the Brotherhood survived.”

Although a seeming thorn in the regime’s side, the Muslim Brotherhood was in fact Mubarak’s saving grace as it gave him just another pathetic excuse to offer up to the people: “Stick with me, the other guys are radical extremists who will cover up your women and take away your freedoms.” Likewise, the more corrupt and oppressive the regime became, the more the Brotherhood gained in strength and support. They almost seem like the best of friends, or unwilling collaborators…

Recently, during a phone conversation with an Egyptian friend of mine who lives in Cairo, he expressed these same fears that have been propagated by Mubarak’s regime for decades about the scary extremist Brotherhood taking over.

My only response was, “So what are you going to do about it?”

My friend’s misplaced fears were exasperating at worst, and ironically reassuring at best. Exasperating in its lack of a realistic and logical grounding, and reassuring in the spaces it left for some much needed facts filling.  His expressed concerns only confirmed what I have been thinking, and trying to relay, for some time now. It is not the Brotherhood, who only got an approval rating of 15% after the fall of Mubarak, that people like my friend should be worried about, it is the remaining sector of Egyptian society that has lain dormant for 30+ years.

It isn’t the Big Bad Brotherhood we should be worried about; it’s the silence and inaction of the remaining 80% majority or so that should have us shaking in our boots.

There are no more excuses and no more chances. Now is the time for active engagement, civic participation, and informed decision-making. The only question remains: Is the 80% up for the challenge?

– Change in a Box

Viral Threads Rear Their Heads Again

The Saudi-US Axis and its tethering of self-determination

Saudi Arabia today issued a ban against public marches and protests, claiming that such acts are anti-Islamic. It’s obvious that their preemption of anti-government sentiment in response to revolutions taking place across the region remains the central reason behind their ban. They have reason to be afraid, and their fear underscores the contradictions between the majority of the people’s will, the monarchy’s rhetoric of upholding Islamic values, and the monarchy’s foreign policy. Such a contradiction, although profitable for the elite in control of various lobbies – namely the arms and oil lobbies – has bred a viral thread throughout the region (and arguably, throughout the sphere of global security) primarily since the 1970s, when the United States and Saudi Arabia incited a form of Islam which they today accuse of being the target and instigator of the War on Terror. The truth is that the viral thread, simply put, is the encouragement of delusion; as opposed to being honest with the people, the Saudi government, due to its contradicting stances and the lack of alignment between its stated values and policies, actively coerces the masses. This trend has existed throughout the Middle East though in varying forms, and seems to be the foundational reason behind the revolutions taking place.

What happens in Saudi is important. Saudi is the US’s second-largest military client, coming second only to Israel, which on the surface of things seems to be the monarchy’s archenemy. Isn’t it funny how that works? The country defined as the nest from which Islamic extremism has taken flight, is the same country that produces the largest amount of oil in the world, which the United States pays for with military hardware. Just last year, the US and Saudi Arabia signed a 20-year plan worth over 60 billion US dollars, and reports have said that the deal is one of the largest ever made by the United States to one country. Surely it secures Saudi reliance on the United States for protection against the monarchy’s vulnerability to Iran , as well as to upheavals in Yemen which could threaten an influx of migrations at the border, and emphatically, to the US’s reach on Saudi’s control over the current of political Islamic extremism. If we just pause for a second and take a look back into history – the very same Al Qaeda which the US claims to be the target to its War on Terror – was created by US-Saudi policy makers who armed mujahideen in the 1970s against communist forces during the Cold War. Another pause for thought: to control extremism in one country by ensuring its government’s militarization and reliance on the United States, is to strip that government of credibility in the eyes of its people; to strip it of the promises it made to its people – promises of dignity in the form of upholding Islamic principles, and promises of those Islamic principles being the highest priority.  Extremism of any kind is often reactive, and is constructed by elements in society who feel degenerated by their governments due to the reality that their leaders care more about their relationship to powerful foreign elements – the United States – than they do about the people’s struggle to understand their own identity. Saudi Arabia is a large country with varying ethnic, sectarian and geographical landscapes, and no elected parliamentary body to represent them.

Such militarization enables US clout in Saudi Arabia, strengthens their relationship financially, and makes it more difficult to give incentive for the monarchy to listen to its people’s needs because at best, the people’s needs would bring the contradictory structure right to its knees, and a weakened Saudi Arabia is truly in no one’s interest. However, a strong Saudi Arabia, one that need not give money to its people to ensure their contentment – as Saudi Arabia has just done to quell the possibility of an uprising – would mean facing the virus, and locating its antidote. Relationships are certainly complex things, and the US-Saudi  rendezvous is no exception, however, what message are the masses in the Middle East meant to receive when the beacon of democracy symbolized by the United States, stages “core theatre wars” in some country’s in the name of democracy, and does businesses with others who blatantly have no interest in democracy. Forget democracy and theory for now, for one second, and lets talk simple math: If you want to stop the anger, you’ve gotta find out why it’s there. And you’ve gotta listen.

The people are no longer willing not to be heard. That’s been made very clear.

– Love in a Box

A Lesson in Democracy

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.

Ever since an educated fruit seller from a small town in Tunisia set himself on fire in protest over unemployment, poverty and corruption, the embers of that singular act have fanned revolutionary flames of protest and civic action like no other time in our recent history. Tunisia, Egypt and now Algeria, Bahrain and Libya are feeling the popular heat and collective fervor for freedom, equality, the pursuit of opportunity and happiness, and the unequivocal demand for self-determination.

Amidst the jubilation and awe at the current shows of popular civic activism, there has been underlying cynicism and skepticism from the usual lineup of nay-saying suspects. These polemicists spout the same negativity that has been recited time and again to delay reform and democratic self-actualization. Only now, after years of oppression and mindless obedience, has the Arab population come to the realization that it is the individual that makes up the collective. And that it is through singular actions of individuals that movements and revolutions are made.

Recently, while stuck in traffic in a taxi in downtown Amman, Jordan, my driver turned around and asked me:

“Do you believe in democracy?”

I stopped for a minute, and then resoundingly answered, “Yes, I do.”

He then asked, “But doesn’t freedom have its limits? Doesn’t the West constantly try to implement its version of democracy on us? All they want is for us to be like them, to give women more rights so that they can start to rule and control us men”.

I stopped for a minute to absorb what he was saying, although every fiber of my being was screaming to throw his words back in his face with some well-worded Western-constructed argument about gender equality and human rights – courtesy of my years spent in schools and universities in the West. Instead, I looked at him and very calmly and with almost equal conviction replied:

“You know, you are right. You are absolutely right.”

What this outspoken taxi driver in downtown Amman made me realize, or rather confirm, is that yes, democracy is not the answer – at least not in its current mutated form. Democracy, as we have come to know and understand it, is a Western imposed system that spouts seemingly foreign and hypocritical concepts. There is no need to mention the scores of democratic elections that have taken place around the world, only to be made obsolete and void because of Western dissatisfaction with the people’s choice – insert here Hamas in Gaza 2006, Salvador Allende in Chile 1973, Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran 1953… The list goes on and on…

What my short taxi ride didn’t allow, however, was a chance for me to explain to this wise, cynical, yet understandably misguided old man, was that the democratic ideal has in fact been hijacked and held hostage by the West. It has been snatched away from the very constituency – us the people – that it is meant to protect, by those who purport to uphold it. What I didn’t have a chance to explain is that real and true democracy does not come from lands far away, from presidents and prime ministers who spew words of freedom on the one hand, and scheme and support local dictators on the other. Democracy is an action, a practice, something that you do rather than something that you are. Democracy is a mutable structure made up of smaller vital, popularly supported components: civic participation, civic action, open dialogue, informed choice, and equal opportunity… What I didn’t get a chance to tell the taxi driver was that democracy was in fact just practiced in the very taxi we were sitting in!

– Change in a Box