June 10, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 520

The Moment of Opportunity for Arab Liberalism

June 10, 2003
Special Dispatch No. 520

In an article published in the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam, columnist Taufiq Abu Bakr expressed support for foreign intervention in countries where dictatorial regimes rule and change from within is not possible. In the article, [1] titled "The Arab Liberal Trend and Its Moment of Opportunity," Abu Bakr advocated exploiting the aftermath of the war in Iraq to revive the liberal movement in the Arab world. The following are excerpts from the article:

'Over Many Decades, The Trends of Nationalism, Socialism, and Islam Have Not Led to Democracy, Freedom, or Social Justice in the Arab World'

" I am still convinced that there are many dynamic opportunities for promoting liberal ideas in our countries, following the spectacular collapse of [all] the other political trends such as nationalism, socialism, and Islam. There is no doubt that these political streams will grasp at any straw before being swept away by the trend opposing them – that is, the trend of revival, realism, and belief in knowledge, rationality, and balanced judgment."

"That is why these [former] political trends are now setting out on their last road, [with displays of] extraordinary brutality. They accuse… anyone opposed to their worldview of treason, [calling him] an imperialist agent, an infidel, or a heretic, as per the Islamist lexicon. Anyone reading their newspapers, listening to their media, or watching and taking heed of the tone of voice on [the Arab] satellite channels notices their amazing nervous breakdown following the total collapse of their ideological structure."

"Over many decades, these political trends have not managed to realize a single one of their ideas such as [Arab] unity, democracy, freedom, or social justice. Moreover, they have proven that when in power they turn into a hedonistic [social] echelon, leading a life of comfort and luxury, and suppressing the people in inconceivable ways."

"Who could believe the stories about what had been going on in Iraq for decades – about the mass graves, the cold-blooded slaughter of anyone who let himself be seduced into criticizing the regime or [anyone] lagging behind in enthusiastic support of every move it made?"

'The Arab Liberal Movement was Buried While Still in its Cradle'

"During the 1950s, when the [Arab] nationalists arrived on tank treads, their first [radio] announcement spoke of the liberation of Palestine. T hroughout the decades of their rule, the Palestinian territories, which were still [under Arab sovereignty 1948-1967], were lost. Also lost were Arab territories, which totaled three times the size of Palestine."

"In their attempt to skip over gradual [development, these nationalists] stopped the natural development of their Arab societies. [Now], the [Arab] public mourns the parliaments and parties that were the modest beginnings of the liberal movement. [This movement] was buried while [still] in its cradle in favor of revolutionary ideas, which could not possibility come to fruition."

"For half of a century, [these nationalists] rebuked their peoples with the well-known slogan, 'No voice may be louder than the voice of the battle' with Israel and imperialism – as if victory could be attained with a bundle of explosives, and without democracy that would bring about the liberation of the human potential within [the people]."

"When the eastern socialist bloc collapsed, and we told the leftist parties in our countries that we have no alternative but to learn our lesson, the renowned Egyptian thinker Dr. Fuad Zakaria told me: 'Do not be optimistic. In our country, no one ever learns lessons…' And that is exactly what happened."

"The intensive presence of fundamentalist forces in our countries does not stem from any achievement by these forces, for they are incapable of that. The source of [this presence] is the huge political vacuum that they had begun to fill since the other political trends are no longer active. They have not renewed their political platforms and leaderships, and they still feed on past [glory]."

"We have among us parties that will never change. Thus, when a secretary - general in his 90s still heads the party they tell you – dismissing any logic – that he is still capable of contributing. When national and Islamic conferences began convening, we saw the same faces with no change, and we listened to the same speeches against change."

"We must revive a new liberal trend, whose leaders will be undeterred by accusations that they are too close to the Western [liberal] experience and who will not tremble at the shouters, who are addicted to hatred of the other."

'Had It Not Been for the Iraq War, the Sons of 'Uday and Qusay Hussein Would be in Power into the Next Century'

"[Lately], an opinion poll by Faisal Al-Qassem on his show on Al-Jazeera television caught my attention… 80% [of respondents] said they preferred [Western] imperialism to nationalist Arab regimes. This is a message to the shouters – the public will no longer be scared by hostile slogans against the other or any other obsolete slogans. I call on these people to go to Iraq's towns and talk to the ordinary people, away from the cameras. The latter will tell them that being rid of a regime that ruined the country, [trampled] its inhabitants, and annihilated its flora and fauna should be considered an enormous achievement that could never have been attained otherwise."

"Although no one likes to see foreign soldiers in his country, there's a difference between bad and worse. Had it not been for what took place [recently in Iraq], the sons of 'Uday and Qusay [Hussein] would still be in power into the next century."

'The Idea of International Humanitarian Intervention Must be Developed'

"The idea of 'international humanitarian intervention' must be developed, following in-depth study and with precise control mechanisms, to rescue peoples who cannot, on their own, escape the grip of savage rulers who suppress any opposing voice… This is why I have made a proposal within the framework of the international human rights movement, because these savage rulers suppress any voice of opposition."

"I have heard leaders of despotic Arab regimes at the world conference on human rights in Vienna. They [all] talked of national sovereignty and the rejection of all intervention in a state's national agenda, so that they could remain the sole rulers of their peoples without [any] global supervision. And this is exactly what happened."

"If a barbaric savage on an isolated island subjugated you and people came to your aid, wouldn't you welcome it? If the U.S. was forcing Israel to retreat from the Palestinian territories, as it [forced it to retreat from] Sinai in 1956, wouldn't you welcome it?"

"Who told you the crimes of Saddam Hussein's regime were less horrible than the deeds perpetrated by the [Israeli] occupation? I lived under the 1967 [Israeli] occupation and I lived under the [Iraqi] occupation of Kuwait in 1991. [In all] my writing, I have refrained from comparing the two occupations, because the result would have disgraced and shamed [the Arabs]."

'We Need a Revival of Enlightenment in the Arab World'

"We [the Arabs] are in need of a revival of enlightenment, away from the revolutionary [ideas]… for which our peoples paid a high price. Only a few decades ago, we were the equals of many peoples: in human growth, in social justice, and in welfare achievements. Now they have all surpassed us."

"We are at the bottom of [the global] scale in our ability to assist our people, and we head [the global] scale in human rights violations, and in every area – as referred to by United Nations reports and the UNDP report on Arab human growth. And it is my wish that this report would be known by all the people, so we all know what these revolutionaries have done…"

"We are still distant from the information revolution, and only the liberal trend can bring such a revolution about. The parties of the past are afraid of information, because they deal in general slogans and discuss purely theoretical problems. They do not believe in information, numbers, or statistics… they are hostile to the information revolution, to technology, and to communication with the other… They are hostile to mutual cultural [cooperation]; they refuse to benefit from the huge technological advances and they refuse to absorb the lessons of the astounding developments in our world…"

"Only the liberal trend can fight the idea [that some element] has a monopoly over truth, can revise old ideas, and can advance in confidence, stage by stage, without the skipping [of stages] for which the people pay the price in the form of barbarism and savagery… We will not enter the stage of revival and enlightenment as long as we do not shake up the conventions and as long as we do not thoroughly investigate our convictions. This was the way towards the Renaissance in Europe, and we have no other."

[1] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), May 28, 2003.

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