Mar 02 2013
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The next 10 years will be crucial for the Middle East
Makki, in an exclusive interview with Ali Bluwi of Arab News, said the Arab Spring is a call for the restoration of human dignity and the national state which is not a dream but strategic fate we will never give up, though mechanisms and tools leading to that goal may vary.
Makki also analyzed developments in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia and Gulf region in light of the Arab Spring as well as the strategies of Turkey and Iran in the region.
Excerpts from the interview:
How do you see the Arab world two years after the Arab Spring, and after conservatives assuming power in the wake?
As regards the Arab Spring, there remains objective reasons which have contributed to the emergence of internal bottlenecks. There are external factors that have definitely paved the way to turn certain forces against each other. I strongly believe that the West, whatever power it has, cannot impose its will on human communities because it does not keep all sources of power in its hands and, luckily, we retain a major share of these sources.
Why has the Arab Spring developed into a bloody spring? Is it part of a foreign plot in your opinion?
The Arab Spring is a call for the restoration of human dignity, the national state and the law, down to full statehood, which is not a dream for us but constitutes a strategic fate we will never give up on. When things began to unravel, we found that we shared a common language, concerns, challenges and aspirations. We benefited from new technologies and communications and eradicated barriers. Moreover, we were empowered to coordinate, meet, group and lobby for our interests. The Arab Spring has rid citizens of their fear of speaking up and the citizen has therefore become an effective force in the course of such events. Even though certain parties have wrongly exploited or dominated these uprisings and protests, change will come in the long run. Indeed, many countries have become more responsive to the demands of their citizens and more compliant to laws and reforms.
Despite stern political differences between Yemenis, and despite the fact that Yemen is home to millions of weapons built by tribes, the Yemenis markedly preserved two important factors with the utmost consciousness and national unity, and those are not resorting to weaponry as a means to gain political ends and preserving strong-paced tolerance. The Zaidi sect in Yemen is tolerant and accepts the best solutions for the nation. Therefore, elements of tolerance have remained in the social and tribal communities of Yemen.
Yemen is a big country and has abundant resources. The Yemeni people are people of struggle and are knowledgeable of the principles of business and have a strong sense of Arabism. Their vision on reform and the Arab Spring is completely different. For years, they have suffered from political and developmental instability which had an adverse effect on the middle class that stands as an intermediary between the state and society. Today, Yemen is suffering from poor economic, developmental and financial infrastructure which is reflected in the poor control over some regions and that has paved the way for corruption to penetrate into all walks of life. Other powers, therefore, stand a good chance to fill this vacuum, notably Al-Qaeda, Houthis and Southerners. Unfortunately, the appearance of such forces has coincided with the weakness of state institutions and the emergence of regional interests in Yemen, especially the Iranian role and, to a less extent extent, Turkey's role. The assistance given to Houthis, Al-Qaeda or the southerners has contributed to fueling the instability and widening societal gaps in Yemen.
Is Yemen in need of Arab, regional and international assistance?
Yemen needs support of Yemenis themselves. They are staunch defenders of their country, its development and stand against foreign interference, whatever its nature. They do not trust forms of foreign interference and assistance, as they carry political agendas and objectives. The Yemenis consider themselves strategic incubators of the Gulf, which holds true. I think that international and Gulf assistance will play a big role in the realization of political stability in Yemen upon condition that assistance be part of a package of developmental programs that will benefit the whole community. This will also help the government impose security and protect civil peace and tranquility.
Iraq is undergoing a stage of the Arab Spring as protests are reported in Anbar and some Iraqi provinces. Which way is Iraq going today?
Today, Iraq is strenuously seeking to restore the glory of its national and civil state. Yet the Bremer Constitution and sectarian power-sharing supported effectively by Iran stands as the biggest challenge against unifying Iraq. Despite thousands of martyrs, bloodshed, brutal occupation by a super power outside the mandate of the United Nations and sectarian conflicts which threatened the unity and cohesion of Iraq and despite the fear that Iraq may be divided into three states, Shiites and Sunnis alike refuse to have a divided Iraq. Additionally, the United States contributed to the handing over of Iraq to Iran which in turn tightened its control over Iraq's resources and political processes. Iran is trying to shape Iraq's future and, of course, this will never happen.
What is happening in Anbar cannot be interpreted as merely economic demands by protesters or those who are looking for lost justice, but rather, a movement to correct the course of the political process which has carried seeds of discord since the beginning.
Let me assure you that the option of dealing with communities through security measures alone has failed. Countries that suffer from a weakness in development and financial corruption are prone to failure and can no longer face these challenges. Syria is no exception. Syria found a good chance to make history by affecting changes in the power structure. He repeatedly tried to do that, but traditional forces curtailed his plans in this regard. Syria suffered as a result of its presence in Lebanon, which came with its financial, political and security burdens. It also suffered from the fall of the political regime in Iraq. Syria has tried to enhance relations with other countries, yet its relation with Iran has distressed Arab States, especially owing to the fact that Iran's aims and aspirations were meant to build their influence in the region.
Syria differs from Libya and Egypt in terms of geo-politics. Yet all efforts have failed to bring a peaceful solution in the country. Despite more than 80,000 deaths and the destruction of Syrian cities and the economy, the Syrian army still remains a source of power and the regime continues to survive regardless of the imbalance in its political and security structure. In addition, the opposition is still active and in the meantime, Russian, Chinese and Iranians are extending support to the Syrian regime while Security Council members are unable to make a decision over whether to intervene in Syria. Alawites, especially, would not support intervention.
You recently met with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and the Ennahda Party leader, Rachid Ghannouchi. How do you view the political scene in that country?
All countries that have witnessed political transformation need a long time to restore political and economic stability. This transitional period normally undergoes unstable conditions until it settles down or slips into one of two dangerous situations: either elimination of the civil state or the practice of the exclusion and marginalization of others. Perhaps we have two examples in Tunisia and Egypt which are suffering from similar situations. The state, in both cases, means all Tunisians and Egyptians while the party denotes the Muslim Brotherhood or the Ennahda exclusively. The "brotherization" of the state, institutions and community by force is not possible since elections were based on a civil and national program with an Islamic twist. It is worth mentioning that Tunisian and Egyptian streets now feel distrust toward the conservatives. Unfortunately, the brotherhood has rowdily grabbed power in a bid to tailor it with their agenda. This policy will not lead to achieving balance or political stability in the community.
How do you assess situation in the Gulf in light of the Arab Spring?
In political analysis, no factor can be ignored, even if it seems minor. For example, the West is critical of the political behavior of the Ennahdah Party in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as both countries are witnessing popular protest, dominance and "brotherization" of power, with a restrain on freedom of expression and the birth of religious, "Godly" regimes. True fear has emerged among social, religious and political forces in these countries towards this policy.
Meanwhile, governments have shown no sincere interest over citizens' economic, developmental and living conditions. In their view, Mubarak's rule does not differ so much from Mursi's. Therefore, if people do not feel any positive change, they will, of course, distance themselves from such regimes and work against them.
I believe that the societies of Gulf states, on the other hand, enjoy economic stability that does not exist in other Arab countries. They also have political stability, whatever the nature of those systems, an improvement in education and university systems and progress in socio-economic, cultural and knowledge fields brought about by technological globalization and new media.
Gulf States are working on two premises. Firstly, supporting security and stability in order to achieve Gulf unity and, secondly, changing its internal structure through a package of political reforms, thus expanding participation in decision-making.
There is an Iranian-Turkish run for a foothold in the region, though projects may differ on how to achieve this. How do you assess this?
All nations have their own interests; some of them are legitimate that are respected while others are to be refuted. Imposition of power is unacceptable, whether from Iran, Turkey or any other country. Though part of this is theoretical, reality solemnly bares witness to the history of interference. Perhaps Iranian interference is clear-cut because it is based on a long-term strategy and takes the form of sectarianism (Shiite) to justify interference. Iran is just working to serve its national interests and is not really concerned for Arab Shiites. While it is true that Iran has influence in some countries, Tehran is trying to sway political arrangements in the region in its favor in order to meet internal developments looming ahead.
With regards to Turkey, it certainly has economic interests in the region and future regional aspirations but without sectarian objectives. Its interests are similar to those of the Iranians. However, Turkey, like Iran, is vulnerable to lose its clout if it thinks that it can restore its Ottoman legacy. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan disclosed his negative stance toward Arabs despite the courtesy appearances that he used to make.
Additionally, Turkey's relations with hardliners are not clearcut and not at the level that makes Ankara play an influential role. Conservative experience in Turkey is very different from what is found in Arab countries and can't be generalized because each community has its own specialty, identity and objectives.
What can you tell us about the US role in the region and how do you analyze political decline in the Middle East?
The US is a superpower country by various standards but points and distribution of power vary from time to time. According to strategic analysis, the super power does not always remain at the same level in some locations, places and circumstances. The US was kicked out of Vietnam and Somalia where people have nothing to eat but are determined to defy the will of America. It was also defeated in Iraq by armed resistance and the US easily handed Iraq over to Iran on a gold plate. The US also paid high costs in Afghanistan.
The Arab Spring exposed the weakness of the US role in the region and it eroded its credibility with respect to the subject of a two-state solution (in occupied Palestine).
I think the next 10 years will be very different in the Middle East in which policies of fragmentation will fail whereas factors of convergence and unity will grow. American citizens are no longer absent from what is happening in the world and opinion polls show how much US parties and the Zionist lobbies are suffering due to the existence of many sources of news and information despite the ongoing dominance of US and Israeli sources. The Arab, Palestinian and Islamic causes are gaining wider attention at individual or communal levels in America.
The world is not the West, as Henry Kissinger once put it. We share a common culture and heritage with Asian countries, especially India and China. Also, we, as Arabs, must lean strategically on India due to the existence of a common political and historic rhythm, in addition to bridges of social bonds which we must rekindle.
© Arab News 2013
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