July 12, 2008
The Arab Moderate
The Financial Times' Roula Khalaf wrote an interesting item on former Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher's upcoming book, "The Arab Centre."
Khalaf's note is interesting in itself, and almost makes me want to buy Muasher's book, although I rather suspect in the end I'll learn rather little since I was hanging around in the area during Muasher's time.... The main item raised is what does "moderate" really mean when Westerners use the term vis-a-vis the Arab world. I think Khalaf and Muasher suffer from typical over-focus on one item the I-P conflict, but the point of the commentary, that moderate as a label really revolves around a core, that is accepting Israel.
I would add that speaking English (or French) well and wearing a western suit also gets one considered a moderate, or that is persons having the image of Westernisation are 'moderate.'
Some excerpts from ‘Arab centre’ needs introspection
For one thing, governments are like revolving doors, with many of the same faces moving from one portfolio to the other. As for leaders, well, most of them stay on for life, and so few have the chance or the time to write their memoirs. The history of the Arab world is therefore left to be written by outsiders. And that has become a prolific trend in recent years, judging by the number of Middle Eastern books that land on my desk.
I can't resist noting that it is perhaps less the number of memoirs, but the fact whether written in Arabic or English or French, said memoirs tend to say nothing.
At least nothing about domestic issues or internal politics, although whinging on about the foreigners is usually good business:
Now Marwan Muasher, Jordan’s former foreign minister, has broken the tradition of silence with an account of his time in office, written in English and soon to be translated into Arabic. His book, The Arab Centre, is shy on palace intrigue and short on direct criticism of Jordan itself.
Emphasis added: Ah who would have guessed....
.... One of its important contributions, however, is to question the meaning of an Arab “moderate” and the selective application of moderation to a single issue – the pursuit of a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
.... “The problem is that they didn’t solve the peace process. The Americans and the Israelis did not take their initiatives seriously. So they have nothing to show for their efforts.” To regain credibility, [Muasher] continued, “they have take the centre on all issues, on governance, on political diversity”.
These are indeed tough times for the pro-western states in the Arab world – particularly the trio of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan which has led the search for Middle East peace.
The Arab peace initiative of 2002, an excellent idea which was badly marketed, was ignored by the US and contested by Israel. The 2003 road map, which also originated in Arab diplomacy, went nowhere. Meanwhile, the regional rivals of the “Arab centre”, the forces which argue that only armed resistance can rid the Arabs of Israeli occupation, have been gaining ground. Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group is in control of the Gaza Strip, Hizbollah’s power is expanding in Lebanon, and Iraq after the 2003 war fell under the influence of Iran.
So while the “moderates” are celebrated as reasonable and pragmatic in the west, they are mocked in the region as ineffectual, their commitment to peace is seen as questionable, and their diplomatic efforts are viewed as a sign of embarrassing compromise.
Well, of course, the diplomatic efforts are embarrassing compromises, and the Egyptian regime is a vampire state propped up by the US for the sole purpose of securing a border for Israel. Jordan at least has undertaken something approaching reform in the economic area that, were its situation not so fundamentally economically marginal, would have some nice payoffs.
The closing obs:
.... A crisis of credibility, the radicalisation of society, and fragmentation of political establishments, are also a consequence of a lack of moderation on domestic politics, and a deep deficit of political reform.
“Arab governments cannot demand that Arabs accept relations with Israel, an enemy state for decades, while refusing to accept opposition parties in their own countries, and still be seen as credible by their publics,” writes Mr Muasher. If the “Arab centre” wants to keep power, he rightly concludes, “it must also share it”
Ah fine sentiments, but how?
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Meanwhile, the regional rivals of the “Arab centre”, the forces which argue that only armed resistance can rid the Arabs of Israeli occupation
This dichotomy is a false one. It's not about the good little pro-Israel Arabs vs. the wild-eyed warmongering ones. There are quite a few (yours truly included as you sure know by now) who don't necessarily want to pick a fight with Israel - you don't punch Mike Tyson if you know you're only going to get away with broken teeth and black eyes at best - but don't see the benefits in putting one's pants down on this issue (it's not like Egypt or Jordan, not to mention other Arab governments who have been flocking to beg for Israel's approval of conduct, became all candies and fun after having given away all options on the conflict).
Relationship with or wrath of the US in particular is often put in the balance for this, but I don't think that even if push comes to shove, this would be significantly affected if one knows how to slalom with their other interests. So, that the Arab proposals for peace were scorned is a welcome slap.
As stated recently elsewhere, I loathe the term moderate and use it only when forced and lecture others not to. It has a "good little ni**er" overtone.
Not many people want to be all that moderate about their identity or belief systems, regardless of where on a spectrum their position on specific issues related to their identity or belief may lie.
I heard some portion of Muasher speaking somewhere recently and he made alot of sense, particularly on the issue of lack of telling one's own story.
Posted by: matthew hogan at July 12, 2008 09:14 PM
I once for some reason attended the fringes of a conference for supposed MENA Liberals, brought together by various European organizations. Sure there were a few good people there, but center stage was taken by the Egyptian NDP (ruling) and Morocco's MP and UC (both of them thoroughly pro-system); also there were someone from Yemen's GPC (ruling), some Maronite ultras from Lebanon, plus a variety of other oddballs, including a Gulfie Islamist who had wiggled in for being an Arab woman and therefore "moderate" by definition. This bunch apparently qualified as Liberals by being vaguely in favor of a market economy (no, of Reform...) and, of course, for being Supportive Of The Peace Process. Although the expensive suits and English skills may have been as important.
m h -- As stated recently elsewhere, I loathe the term moderate and use it only when forced and lecture others not to. It has a "good little ni**er" overtone.
Heartily agreed. I think it's reason enough to be suspicious that the term can't ever be applied to the speakers' own nationalities or religions: what on earth is a "moderate American", and may the U.S. or Europan states promote "moderate Judaism" in Israel? I should hope not.
Actually, it's even worse when applied to Arabs than to Muslims, because Islam is at least a creed of some sort that could be seen in different levels of conviction. But a "moderate Arab"? A robber Sheikh only somewhat hook-nosed, swarthy and deceitful, who will suicide bomb with appropriate warning to bystanders? Or what? Ugly, ugly word.
Posted by: alle at July 13, 2008 01:24 PM
If anyone is interested: Marwan Muasher was grilled on BBC's Hardtalk yesterday. Best moment: when the host asked him if he and his Arab Moderates aren't best compared with a US pet dog that keeps coming back after being kicked and abused over and over. He did not think so.
Maybe it's online, and if not, I'm sure there's a rerun.
Posted by: alle at July 15, 2008 11:36 AM