Archive for Burhan Ghalioun
War on Lebanon – major players Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Israel and USA
written by: Hichem Karoui, 23-Aug-06
|“We may say that many interests have gathered behind the war”|
This newsletter addresses the following major topics:
- US-Europe and Arab Interests Behind the War in Lebanon
- Syria Living Without Perspective
- No Progress For Democracy in War Environment
- You Cannot Join the Democratic Club Without its Members’ Agreement
- Democracy Is Not The Exception : Despotism Is
- The Arab World Believes in the USA
- The Arabs Cannot Build Democracy Without External Support
Abstract : We went to this interview with professor Burhan Ghalioun carrying two kinds of questions : the first was in direct connection with the ongoing war in Lebanon; and the second is more related to local issues, such as democracy and a diagnostic of the situation in Syria and other Arab States. M. Ghalioun is a French-Syrian professor of political sociology at the Sorbonne University (Paris III); he is also director of the Sorbonne’s CEAOC (Center of Arab Studies and Contemporary Orient) and the CEMAOC (Center of Arab World Studies and Contemporary Orient). He has published more than 30 books about the Arabs, the Muslims, and the struggles of the modern times. He is a recognized authority in this respect.
This exclusive WSN interview was conducted by Hichem Karoui, WSN Editor France.
The war in Lebanon
WSN - Let us start from this war on Lebanon. What if Israel were encouraged by the known fact that the Arab States are impotent and will not react?
B.Ghalioun : I think Israel did not accord any thought to the Arab States and much less to any of their reactions. The War project has been likely discussed between Washington and Tel Aviv; with the objective of carrying out the 1559 resolution, which provides for the dismantlement of Hizbullah and its disarmament. This is actually the very purpose the Israeli and European diplomacy were vainly trying to reach since two years with the Lebanese government. Israel has just taken the opportunity Hizbullah offered in capturing two Israeli soldiers, and it launched this project prepared since a long time. The importance of disarming Hizbullah is twofold as it means a lot to the Israeli and American interests. For the Americans, the dismantling of Hizbullah represents a big blow to the axis that has been acting since two years against their policy in the Middle East, with its two members: Syria and Iran. Disarming Hizbullah means breaking up the striking arm of this axis; and consequently subduing the Syrian regime while weakening the Iranian position as regards the unranium enrichment file, still open. It means also the stabilization of the Lebanese situation that has followed the March 14 uprising, in the wake of Rafik al Hariri’s assassination, leading to the expulsion of the Syrian forces from Lebanon. As for Israel, it is the golden opportunity to get rid of the eternal threat on its northern boundary , represented by Hizbullah which owns an arsenal of short-and-middle-range missiles and whose name has been linked to Tsahal’s biggest military defeat when it has been forced to withdraw from Southern Lebanon in 2000. This war on Lebanon is –in the same time- an American war and to some extent an Arab war, because when Syria and Iran signed the Strategic Defense Agreement last year, many Middle Eastern Arab States became scared by the Iranian expansion threat in the region, and the probability of the constitution of an alliance including Iraq which is ruled by a shiite-dominated government. These States have also some interests in weakening this axis on the one hand, and in reining in the Iranian ambitions as regards the possession of a nuclear technology. So, we may say that many interests have gathered behind this war, and Hizbullah was just the common target, which explains why the international diplomacy reaction was so slow , Europe and the Arab States included : Europe’s interests do not differ from the United States’ anyway though they have different approachs. As to the Arabs, several among them have condemned in the first days of the crisis Hizbullah’s adventure; and the the Foreign Ministers’ Council has been unable to hold a reunion before the 26th day of the war.
WSN – What about the hypothesis that Israel feels oppressed when it looks at itself being surrounded by States hostile to its very existence as well as to its project? In such a situation, Israel would just try to break up the siege in striking at its weakest ring. Wouldn’t it?
B.Ghalioun : Israel may feel that it is besieged because of the hostility of the greatest number of the Arab States. But this feeling hides a fundamental inferiority complex and does not reveal the reality. The Israelis themselves say – and they are true – that they are able to crush all the arab armies gathered together. Thus, in fact, it is Israel that besieges the Arab countries, thanks to its unmatched military superiority and to the international unrelenting support that it is granted from the USA and Europe…Thanks also to the Arab situation breaking apart and to the collapsing of the Arab front. The fact that Israel goes along with its extremist policy, unyielding its regional, former wars’ won acquisitions, makes another evidence for the case. Israel is still continuing the expansion of territory settlement in Palestine, dodging any initiative possibly leading to a Palestinian independent State ; it is still occupying the Golan hill and subjugating it into its settlement policy, as it is still persisting in absorbing the Shabaa and Kafar Shuba territories. The party who is trying to keep for himself the regional acquisitions despite the continual offers for peace from the Arab world is actually the party who feels empowered enough to face his adversaries and subdue them. This is today’s de facto situation : Israel is the party forcing the Arab countries into respect, not the contrary. It is the party representing a menace to these countries, because of its crushing military superiority, not any other arab State. If despite all this, there is still a feeling of oppression inside Israel while it is actually the first striking force in the Middle East, then there is no other solution but the intervention the Great powers in order to ensure peace while granting Israel security and appeasing it. Yet, it is not advisable to carry on with the current situation, which means that Israel cannot be appeased and its security needs cannot be fulfilled without destroying its Arab neighbourhood in Lebanon and Palestine .
WSN – As it is known, war is the best expression of the political deadlock. Clausewitz would say that it is the continuation of politics through other means. In your opinion, who is responsible for the political impasse?
|Hichem Karoui (left), Professor Burhan Ghalioun (right): “Interrupting the course of the reformist movement would push Syria towards anarchy and violence.”|
B.Ghalioun : The responsibility of the political impasse in the Middle East – the unreachable political solution for the conflict – is in the first place the Israeli regional greed, and the great powers’ strategies – particularly the USA -, betting on the Israeli military superiority for imposing their hegemony on the region. This is implying that the peace and negotiated solutions’ failure are caused by the actual inexistence of a real will to peace and the Israeli tendency to maintaining the occupied territories in Palestine, and Golan and Lebanon, in its hold. The second responsibility lies in the western politics of hegemony applied to the Middle East, as they dicovered that the best way to cow the Arab States and force them into submission to the world domination agenda, is to rely on the Israeli military supremacy.
WSN – One of your ideas is that inside the triad compounded by Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah, the weakest party is Syria ; and for this reason it will be targeted by Israel, soon or late. I would like to make a rapprochement with what Daniel Byman was claiming in Foreign Affairs (November-December 2003). He said that the only option for Washington to tackle Hizbullah is indirect, as it consists in pressuring Syria and Iran for disarming their ally…Do you think now that this option has also failed?
B.Ghalioun : Several American analysts have recently called the US administration to open a dialogue with Syria at least for covering the Israeli army insufficiencies before Hizbullah’s resistance; which proves that Hizbullah is not the weakest party, but Syria. Yet, in this war, Syria did not play the solidarity card with Hizbullah, in spite of the antonymous discourses, neither did it activate the Mutual Defense Agreement that it had formerly signed with Lebanon. Instead, it played the neutrality part, suggesting through official declarations its readiness to contributing to the appeasement of the conflagration and to stopping Hizbullah strikes, if it was accorded some enticements. Shortly, Syria avoided the Israeli and American strikes because it put itself within the party offering some services for stopping the conflict, instead of being itself a party in the conflict. For example, M.Muhsin Bilal, the Syrian Minister of Information, declared in the middle of the war that Syria knows a lot about “al Qaeda” in Lebanon and it was ready to cooperate with the United States if the latter were willing. Syria, generally speaking, wants to profit from what is happening, but it does not want to bear its responsibility. Besides, the Israelis may believe that it is better to have a weak and meek regime in Damascus than to open the door to unknown adventures. Those who want Israel to bang Syria are the Americans, as it seems to me. I think that the Israeli war in Lebanon disappointed the USA on two points: 1) its inefficiency after a whole month of battles as to dismantling Hizbullah ; 2) its refraining from striking Syria in the same context.
WSN – If as you said, the Israeli policy is supported by the USA, then some Americans would wonder: why France has so insisted on interfering and thus complicating the issue a little more? And they would point to both Lebanese and Israelis – and even Palestinians and Syrians – rejecting the French proposals. For example, M.Emile Lahud – President of Lebanon – went to the extent of accusing France of colonial intentions. In an interview on al Jazeerah, he claimed that the real purpose behind the French proposal of sending multinational troops was actually to have a French foothold in Lebanon. However, some French observers said that Paris was trying a rapprochement with the Bush administration, over two issues : Hizbullah and Syria. What do you make of all that?
B.Ghalioun : On the one hand, M.Lahud’s position does not represent Lebanon ; it is the government of M.Fuad Seniora which is actually in charge of proclaiming the official position. And M.Seniora bets a lot on a French interfering assumedly able to draw the American position to the Lebanese side. Behind this attitude there are indeed the close relationship binding Lebanon to France, which makes the French feel a particular commitment towards Lebanon. On the other hand, I do not think that the French played into the American game in respect to this issue. Their purpose was to manage a rapprochement between the Israeli and the Lebanese positions , which is quite difficult to reach for the pro-Israeli US policy. Yet, the French position does not differ from the American and the European as to the implementation of 1559 resolution leading to disarming Hizbullah. That is the basis of the agreement. However, concerning Syria, there is a difference. For the Americans have important demands as regards what they call “terrorism support” in Iraq. The French have also some demands concerning Syria’s respect of the Lebanese sovereignty and non-intervention in this country, because they actually believe that Lebanon historically falls into the francophone area of influence. Because of all that, we may say that common US and French interests have met over pressuring Syria and isolating her, which makes the isolation possibility still more powerful. The same understanding contributed to weakening the Syrian overall position to a great extent, which is not actually the state of Lebanon whose government is rather credible to the French and widely supported by them.
WSN – Let us turn to look at Syria now. Are you able to go there any time you want?
B.Ghalioun : You can go to Syria anytime you want, but you cannot do in Syria whatever you want or get out as you want. It is no secret that the present authorities out there do not accord the least importance to the public freedoms or the Human Rights.
WSN – You are often presented as an opponent to the Baath regime in Damascus. How would you personally describe your relations with the regime and with the opposition?
B.Ghalioun : I know I am often presented as an opponent ; but the opponent in my eyes is he who is active in a political movement aiming Power. Considering this, I have no membership in any Syrian party ; yet I am a critical intellectual rejecting the present situation, and calling to a democratic change, and never hesitating to give my support to all the political movements aiming at that purpose. This said, I am not a politician but an intellectual with a clear political stance in respect to his fatherland, as it is the case in respect to other international issues. This is what I intend from being an opponent. Yet, this attitude allows me actually to have a margin of freedom as regards the regime as well as the political opposition at once. My purpose is not to reach power but to help the society in changing the situation and defeating despotism.
WSN – You have published more than 30 books about everything in connection with society and politics in the arab and Islamic world. You are often solicited for debates on arab TV like al Jazeerah and al Arabiyya. In this activity, Syria has taken an important part of your concerns. So, what is your diagnostic about the Syrian situation? How do you see the future?
B.Ghalioun : I was very concerned about Syria particularly in the last five years, because I believed like many Syrians that following the death of President Hafiz al Assad an opportunity for change came out. It was then necessary to strengthen the emerging democratic movement and to support it intellectually and politically. That was the reason why I undertook some initiatives inside Syria and outside it, concerning the empowerment and the extension of the opportunities of reform and democratic shift in this country. Included in this activity was my participation to the “Damascus Spring”, which the Syrian authorities have reduced to silence within just a few months after its blossoming in 2001. What Syria is currently experiencing is the result of killing that “spring”, which has never completed. I mean : going back to the politics of repression, giving a free hand to the security machine over society, locking up the reform perspectives, breaking up trust and confidence in the institutions, and freeing corruption as it never happened before. Interrupting the course of the reformist movement would push the country consequently and more extensively towards anarchy and violence, regardless of the fact that anarchy and violence are still the product of the security apparatus. Yet, nothing would prevent – in case the conditions of the economic, social, and political life continue to cave in – the transfer of the anarchy and violence “weapon” from the authorities to the citizens, and thereupon the beginning of a loosen situation which, regrettfully, distinguishes today some other countries in our region , such as Lebanon and Iraq. The Problem in today’s Syria is that the country is living without any perspective, or policy for the future, without any hope, besieged from the inside by the authorities and its numerous bodies, and from the outside by the international configuration that sees in this regime a source of threats and dangers, visible and invisible.
WSN – What represented really “Damascus Spring”?
B.Ghalioun : After the death of Hafiz al Assad, who represented a kind of rough and feared patriarchal power, great expectations invaded the middle class and the intelligentsia hoping for a change that would put an end to the one party regime much resembling to the communist countries. These expectations and hopes were being nourished by the discourse of the new president who was insisting on the necessity of change as a means for him to gain some legitimacy. Thus, since the first year appeared the phenomenon of intellectual forums and dialogue meetings , which got about and grew widespread in the Syrian cities and even in the villages. Throughout but a few months, Syria seemed transformed into a buzzing beehive, where the debates were going on day and night, about the future of the country and particularly about how to achieve a democratic shift allowing all the communities, all the individuals to speak up their minds and express themselves unconstrained, and thus to take part to the political life so far monopolised. While participating to many of these forums, I had a true feeling that if we were able to carry on that activity for just another couple of months, it would have become definitely impossible to any undemocratic regime to survive in the country. There was really a great popular movement working and calling for the democratic change, with braveness, courage , enthusiasm, intelligence, and rationality. However, what we were feeling was unfortunately being felt also by those people whose big mafia-like interests were bound up and allied to the security bodies. Those are the people who led since September 2001 a “coup” against the situation, closing down the forums, forbidding the political demonstrations, hunting down and prosecuting the intelligentsia, and condemning ten of the most important activists to rude and cruel prison sentences (between 5 and 10 years). To this day, one victim of this repression, professor Arif Dalila , the former Dean of the Economic Science University, is still undergoing his ten years long jail sentence. Those who have been released, after ending their term, have been subjected to permanent security tagging forcing them to keep muted. The chasing and prosecution of the members of civil associations and the intelligentsia is still the summary of the political life in this country. There is no talk in Syria but about the detainees, the released, then the detainees again and those chased by the State police, and so on…This is the very life of Syria and the end of Damascus Spring. The hope of democratic change has been smothered in the cradle.
WSN – The USA have been quite concerned by Syria since the middle of the XXth century, after World War II, when we find the CIA deeply involved into the series of coups that drove Syria from hand to hand, so to speak. How do you see the future of the relationship?
B.Ghalioun : I think the relationship with the USA will be difficult whatever the nature of the regime in Syria if Washington remains definitely siding with Israel and accepting its de facto expansion policy in the Syrian territory (the Golan, that is) and in Palestine. Usually, the public opinion in Syria is unable to understand that complete and permanent aligning onto the most extremist policies in Tel Aviv, while the Syrian people – like all the arab population of the Midlle East – was expecting a new American inititiative to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and to close the violence cycle. The point is President Bush himself has promised a Palestinian independent State for 2005, but nothing was done. Today, the Palestinian people is still living without any perspective than occupation. At the same time, Washington supports a destructive war in Lebanon without advancing any initiative to end the conflict and liberate the Middle East from the asphyxiating shadows of the past. Indeed, the Syrian people – like other Arab peoples – does not feel any hostility towards the USA. The point is that these peoples are actually betting on Washington to help them overcome their crises; yet they all resent deeply the US confined politics that disappointed them and made of Washington continual pledges some delusory frustrating promises.
WSN – How do you see the alternative in Syria?
B.Ghalioun : I do not see another choice but a democratic regime. In order to reach it, we have to work on a double parallel front: 1) a front of political action, whose task would be the activation of the living forces inside the society, their organisation, and their unification. In fact, in the last year the first Syrian coalition was born under the title of “Damascus Proclamation”, including an important number of political parties and democratic forces. 2) a cultural and intellectual front, because democracy will not progress in Syria without dismantling the patriarchal, bureaucratic, dictatorial, presently dominating culture. In return, it is necessary to develop a democratic culture concerned with the notions of individual freedom, right and justice, and the implementation of cooperation, solidarity, and confidence values among people that oppression and persecution have broken to the extent that they lost confidence in themselves and in their fellow-citizens. Thus if the fullfillment of the political tasks relies essentially upon the politicians, – and a great number of them is still unexperienced – , the achievement of the cultural tasks depends essentially on the thinkers, the writers, the artists, and the intellectuals, which requires from them a great ability to communicate with the society and even more to be creative and inventive. However, I do not think it is possible to progress with this project without the help of regional and international conditions. It is impossible to figure out a sensible progress of the democratic thought and movement in an environment dominated by permanent national or sectarian wars, as we see today in the Middle East. Nor it is possible to figure out an important progress of the democratic culture in this region if the international climate were dominated by moods of civilization and cultural wars and polarisation of cultures and mutual seclusions as we see nowadays. The climate of the former wars and that of the civilisation and cultural ones would inevitably lead to reclusiveness and fanaticism, as well as to primary solidarity instead of developing the values of subjectivity, freedom and law. Regrettably, the international environment , concerning the arabo-Islamic societies, is still hostile to developing a reliable democratic culture.
WSN – Since the publication of your “Manifest for Democracy” (in 1979), you are considered as one of the greatest advocates of democratic values in the Arab world. What do you think really of the democratisation program initiated by the Bush administration as a public diplomacy in the Middle East?
B.Ghalioun : Without doubting anybody’s intentions, I think that the democracy project proposed by the American administration was meant to win some legitimacy for an undertaking related to political and military domination in the region. I mean that the American promised democracy was not an end in itself, but a means to achieving an agenda
whose content may be antidemocratic as it is concerned with the US supremacy in the region. For that reason, I would say that this connection between the American call for democracy in the Middle East and the project of virtually imperial domination concerned with the control of oil resources and the defense of the Israeli de facto expansion, is precisely what aborted the American hopes for getting their project more popular credibility and support. I think that the US led democratisation project – if ever it were really meant to be achieved and not just words in the air – is now almost in the past as there is no talk about it anymore. Not only this : The Americans may now believe that they were mistaken and in a hurry, and that it is in their interest therefore to reverse the tides and come back to the old policy of supporting dictatorial and patriarchal regimes, which was their policy for 60 years, as M.Bush once put it. The best indication of what is happening is when you see how all the hard pressures they have formerly put on some regimes like those of the Gulf ( especially Saudi Arabia, but also Egypt, Libya, etc,) have declined as the relationship with these countries was restored. However, the greatest blow to the US discourse about the democratisation of the Middle East, came undoubtedly from the catastroph caused by the politics of afflicting occupation in Iraq that have led to what some US officials are pointing to nowadays as the beginning of a civil war.
WSN – All the Arab “revolutionary” regimes have either collapsed or have been changed if they have not shifted their views and positions (with the exception however of the Syrian regime, still unchanged).The fact that they were also relying on the Soviet Union made of the latter’s downfall their own defeat :Yemen, Iraq, for example… Do you think that the meaning of this is the victory of realistic views over the ideological policies?
B.Ghalioun : I do not believe the point is about the difference between ideological regimes and pragmatic ones. I consider the Syrian regime as a matter of fact system in the first place ; with the ideology used only as a cover. Besides, I don’t think that those who advocate liberal and democratic regimes are less concerned with ideologic matters, since they also call for commitment to some values and principles. What has actually collapsed in my view is a type of politics and administration that proved to be definitely unproductive and corrupted in the former communist States as it was also the case in a number of Arab countries, because of what that type included as contradictions, bureaucracy, and stagnation , resisting to the necessities of active interaction with modern time’s economy, society and knowledge. Anyway, nothing grants either that the new liberal systems applied to some of these countries will succeed if there is a deficiency in reliable and inventive leadership. In many countries, the new liberal systems have been noticeably connected to the phenomenon of Economic and political mafia, which led to a deadlock. Latin America’s experience, which is going back nowadays to former leftist politics, confirms such an observation. In the Arab world – in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, etc – there is a great disappointment as regards the so-called liberalism that was unable to stop the progress of poverty, and to face the challenge of the increasing unemployment, as it was unable to create a local dynamic of economic and social development.
WSN – Can you tell me why each time we talk about change forces in the Arab and Islamic world, we find ourselves facing the Islamists? Is that really the unique alternative?
B.Ghalioun : This is because the conditions of emergence of democratic forces are either limited or absent. The democratic forces cannot rise in an environment of permanent nationalist wars, as we see for example in three areas of occupation: in Palestine, and Lebanon and Syria. Nor the democratic forces can rise in an international environment that is contributing – to a great extent – to the marginalisation of the Middle East, implicitly blockading it as a source of terrorism. Democracy is a world scheme , and you cannot possibly join the democratic club without the agreement of its members (the Westerners, that is) or against their will. The point is that they have been – and still are – supporting some dictatorial regimes, on the belief that they are mose useful in keeping the interests safe. And as long as the democratic forces in the Arab world are still lacking the relevant regional surroundings and the efficient international support – such as what the East-European countries have formerly got – it is normal that the movements opposing corrupted regimes would take local shapes and use also local resources, like religion, zealotry, fanaticism, sectarianism and tribalism. As long as the fundamental modernity perspective is locked up for the Arab societies, the social conflict will use the language of the past and its refurbished instruments, while the struggle against tyranny will be strongly articulated around the fight against the foreign domination supporting it. As a result , you will have rebellious Islamist movements targetting at the same time the despotic regimes and what they call their “occidental masters”.
WSN – There was a clamor recently over a memo to M.Tony Blair, by Britain’s outgoing ambassador to Baghdad, who said that “ a de facto partition of Iraq is more likely than a transition to democracy”. Is that also your feeling?
B.Ghalioun : This declaration of an important official, whose country was since the outset involved in Iraq, is an acknowledgement of the failure of the US-British policy, wich as I have previously said linked two agendas together : hegemony in the Gulf region and discourse about democratic change. The result is, as it is clear, no democracy and not even an Iraqi State, but chances open to all probabilities, included civil war and chaos.
WSN – Despite all this, do you think that the democratisation of the Arab States is still possible? And if it is, what are the conditions of its accomplishment?
B.Ghalioun : The democratisation of the Arab States is not an exceptional project but only the return to the normal course of the political life. It is inevitable to come back to the normal system which is the democratic, as it is also inevitable to dismantle despotism and its exceptional laws. For these are, by definition, exceptional regimes. Because of this, there is no relation between the failure of the expected US democratisation project, as long as it remains illusory, and the continual pushing inside the Arab societies for democratisation. Since now, we may say that what depicts the political life in these countries is the daily fight between individuals trying to make principles of law and right and political participation working on the one hand, and the regimes of exception and oppression, and violation of the popular will, on the other hand. There is no axis of struggle today in any Arab country whatever, but this one. So, there are indeed perspectives of democratic development, and these perspectives will increase with the decrease of the American democratisation illusion.
How to reach peace
“Many Middle Eastern Arab States become scared by the Iranian expansion threat in the region.”
WSN – You said recently that the missiles war confirmed that Israel could not overcome only with the military power, whatever the degree of technologic superiority it has reached. This is not enough to achieving peace and stabilization. The same remark is true also for the USA. So, tell us how to reach peace?
B.Ghalioun : I think that the current crisis is mostly the result of Israel’s refusal – with the US support – to have genuine negotiations with the Arabs, assuming necessarily the concession of the occupied Arab territories. The war in Lebanon confirmed that Israel would not be able to grant peace and stability while relying only on its military machine, because of the limits of this power. This is also the case for the US-British war in Iraq. The military supremacy whatever its extent cannot abolish the need for a political solution, and all our problems in the region find their source in this Israeli quibbling over a political solution in order to keep the lands. Peace means simply the acceptation of a political compromise ; hence, the end of the conflict and perhaps an historic reconciliation. This is not applicable only to the Arabs and Israelis, but to all the conflicts in the world. And Israel cannot be an exception as some extremists believe.
WSN – America says that in God it trusts ; Europe says that it believes in the union ; Israel says that it is devoted to the “promised land” …In your opinion, in what believe the Arabs?
B.Ghalioun : The Arab world believes in the USA; it is also its problem, as it is considered as the unique source of all salvation.
WSN – The arabs may be in need for a miracle. But the miracles are engendered by faith. What if faith is just what the Arabs lack today?
B.Ghalioun : The Arabs’ faith we have just mentioned does not engender miracles, -alas! – but only frustration.
WSN – All the Arabs’ relations with the West, since the XIX century to this day, are negative and lacking balance. Why did the Arabs fail where the Asians succeeded?
B.Ghalioun : Because the Asians believe in themselves and in their capacities.
WSN – The Western televisions have transformed the butcheries of the Middle East into a show ; and the Arabs went imitating the Westerners in these show technics, thus becoming negative watchers of their own slaughtering to an idiotic-masochistic extent. Is it possible that the Arab world lost its mind?
B.Ghalioun : What you said expresses in my eyes a dangerous development in the “victim culture”, because of the permanent impotency and the inability to build anything, additionally to the increase of foreign pressures and the feeling of being besieged and marginalised. The “victim syndrome” becomes thus the only escape from responsibilty.
WSN – No less than 8 Palestinian ministers and 28 members of the Parliament – included its president – have been arrested by Israel under the charge of membership in a terrorist organisation (Hamas). Even if they have been murdered instead of being arrested, the Arab world would not budge. All these persons represent actually the Palestinian authority, which is practically no longer existing. So, what is the purpose of adopting a policy that you cannot defend because your adversary is much stronger than you are so that he can crush you whenever he wants?
B.Ghalioun : I think that the “Hamas” leaders have been propelled to power by a number of people that has lost any hope in a near political solution with Israel, thus opting for death rather than an humiliating obedience. The choice of “Hamas” expressed the total despair not a productive and optimistic program of action. It is the feeling that nothing was left to them, not a single hope. And the reason behind that is the American-Israeli profound understanding over spoiling the Palestinians from any significative political achievement, which is conveyed by the arrest of the ministers and the members of parliament.
WSN – What is the difference between the Iraqi Baath regime and the Syrian Baath regime?
B.Ghalioun : The Iraqi Baath regime is victim of its own ideology, while the Syrian is victim of its pragmatism.
WSN – Do you think it is possible to reform Syria from inside, which means without changing the whole regime?
B.Ghalioun : To reform means to change the regime, because the regime means the rules of practising power. There is no way for implementing reforms on whatever level without previoulsy reforming the rules of practising and distributing power on institutions and social actors. The monopolization of power and its perpetuation in the hands of one consecrated elite is the source of all the problems. It is not possible either to rely on the same elites that produced and made a living of debasement and corruption, as a basis for a regime that would be founded on the principles of right and law and repect of the citizens’ will.
WSN – Is the Syrian civil society able to change the situation as to democratize and reform the country without some help from the outside?
B.Ghalioun : No. Neither the civil nor the political societies in Syria or in any other Arab country, are able to build up a democratic regime without external support. Yet, the support does not mean foreign intervention. The outside does not mean necessarily an imperialist agenda and political manipulations. It may be also a political and moral support provided by the civil society institutions and the democratic forces as an expression of solidarity with other democratic forces in the world. I do not think that there is any possibility for the democratisation of any country in today’s world if it is not accompanied by a genuine development program, which would need an international support as it was the case for Eastern Europe. This is indeed true for the Middle East, because it is essentially a region of great foreign interventions, and because the despotism out there is the result of these interventions more than the fruit of a local popular will. The help required here from the Western Powers, for the success of democracy , is to stop supporting dictatorial regimes and forcing local economies to respond to the needs of foreign domination, as we see today.
WSN – Is what you said about Syria also relevant to other Arab States?
B.Ghalioun : Surely, it is.
WSN – Is democracy a “step by step” build up, or a shock?
B.Ghalioun : There is no general theory for shifting to democracy ; and sometimes one may bet on pushing towards democracy throug strong pulsations in case there is a minimum of communication between the power elite and the people. However, when such communication is deficient as we see in several Arab countries, then talking about the “step by step” option is just a waste of time and an adjournment of the sought change. Yet, it is the own nature of the democratic forces and its capacities that finally decide what would be the style of change. In the Arab world, ostensibly there is a great difficulty to push the current regimes to move towards a democratic shift even on a gradual scale. This is a cause of fear from future big social explosions which would not be necessarily a granted way to positive democratic mutations. The result may be as well more chaos and infighting. The point here must be the necessary focalisation on the build up of democratic forces in all cases and probabilities. For these forces are the guarantee for any change, whatever, as they are the guarantee against the dangers of unpredicted explosions.
Paris , August 7, 2006.
Mr Hichem Karoui
World Security Network Foundation
by Burhan Ghalioun
The Heinrich Böll Foundation.
Before the widespread use of the term Globalization, and following the end of the Cold War, the field of international relations was briefly dominated by the short-lived concept of a New World Order. Fashioned in stages, this concept initially described a new economic world order sought mainly by developing countries during the 1970’s. Late Algerian president Houari Boumedienne offered a notable defense of the concept in his historic 1974 address at the United Nations’ General Assembly when he spoke in the name of all nations aspiring toward industrial development.
The concept later shifted to the domain of international information relations, becoming known as the new information world order. This was also instrumental to developing nations attempting partake in forming information and disseminating news internationally. Former director of UNESCO Amadou M’Baw, an active supporter of such broader participation, made this a pivotal issue during his term in office.
The concept of a new economic world order vocalized the Third World protests of the unjust distribution of wealth among nations and prodded leading industrial nations to recognize the gravity of the prevalent inequality and to subsequently desist from actively attempting to the lower prices of poorer nations’ raw exports. Similarly the concept of a new information world order, defended vigorously by UNESCO in the 1980’s during a wave of hope in the Third World that economic, political and cultural liberalization could curb the monopoly of news agencies controlled by industrialized nations, brought forth new challenges to directing and providing information for the world over.
These successive waves of protest by poor nations against the prevalent world orders instigated the industrialized nations to respond with their own economic and military solidarity, building an exclusive alliance within the framework of NATO. The United States vehemently refused any re-working of the then-dominant order of international relations and labeled the effort to build a new information world order as another Communist conspiracy to censor and control free speech and free press. In protest, the United States withdrew from UNESCO and exerted substantial pressure on Amadou M’Baw to resign. This radical secession by the United States, along with a general reluctance by other industrial nations to reconsider the current situation, quickly dashed any hopes of opening international and multi-lateral negotiations on issues vital to all of humanity. Such censure of any debates on development, the exchange of knowledge, technical expertise or the redistribution of wealth and resources deeply undermined the validity of a world order as a conceptual framework open to research and questioning.
Nevertheless, the concept of a world order was quickly revived and energetically injected into the domain of international relations, this time in a stronger position than before. For following the end of the Cold War and in tandem with the Western coalition’s war against Iraq in the early 1990’s, the concept once again took center stage, donning, however, a new appearance and claiming a new content.
Shifting from economic and information issues to political and geo-political ones, the concept, now refurbished, became a device employed by the industrial nations to exert pressure on developing nations, rather than the other way round. In the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait this new world order, proclaimed by President George Bush following French President Francois Mitterrand, meant not a redistribution of wealth and capital — be it financial, technological or informational — but rather an implementation of the so-called rules of international law which prohibited nations from attacking each other.
In practical terms, this new world order no longer worked for change, but rather for fixing and stabilizing the existing political and geo-political situation. By controlling the UN Security Council — whose decision are considered the foundation of international law — the powerful nations actually controlled and inhibited any political or geo-political change that could have erupted in response to the preceding period. The wealthy industrial nations now could claim themselves as the guardians of a New World Order and the guarantors of international stability.
Around the same time, it was also argued that with the end of the Cold War, this New World Order would open new horizons for a world now safely guided by the United States and other powerful industrial nations. By halting the arms race, it was claimed, a surplus of capital could now be redirected toward developmental projects across the globe, especially for poorer nations. It was also argued that the end of the Cold War would result in the spread of democracy, as tensions in international relations were reduced and the illusions once vested into totalitarian regimes disappeared.
But hopes in this New World Order were short lived. The industrial nations did not increase assistance to poor nations, nor did they coordinate their efforts to help face the pressing needs of the poor. Democracy did not spread, and international law was not implemented.
On the contrary, the advent of Bush’s New World Order saw the spread of ethnic and internecine wars in many poor nations, as the more affluent nations continued to vie ever-more greedily for larger shares in Third World markets, partially in an attempt to assuage the rise of unemployment within their own societies. It also became quite clear that no uniform standard was applied in implementing the so-called international law. All this lead the many critics of the industrial nations to depict such biased policies not as a New World Order, but rather as a system of Neo-Colonialism.
And so, gradually, the deployment of the term Globalization gained currency, initially limited to specific circles and domains, but eventually replacing the concept of a New World Order. The term Globalization was alleged to provide a conceptual framework with which to understand the domain of international relations in its constant permutations under a barrage of new information techniques and technologies. But once again, the same issues of importance to poor and developing nations returned: Will Globalization present greater opportunities for economic and social development and thus lead to democracy?
The second part of the question was and remains a matter of debate, resulting in two camps, broadly-speaking. The first side argues that the more Globalization lessens the grip of the nation-state on cultural and communicational arenas, reduces its capacity to maintain a strong base of political clients and connects internal development to the global market, the more it will increase the likelihood of democratic change in the Third World.
The other side, upheld by a wide spectrum of movements critical of Globalization and coming from a tradition of Marxist, leftist and critical thought, tends to argue the opposite position. As Hans-Peter Martin and Harald Schumann, authors of The Global Trap, contend in what has become a reference on the subject, Globalization constitutes the largest threat to democratic systems, not only for the developing nations but also for nations with a long tradition of democracy, namely industrial nations.
Their argument is that as the logic of a globalized economy — namely the total search for the greatest profit — spreads through society, the principle of political sovereignty loses its essence and its capacity to act. Political sovereignty is then reduced, according to the authors, to a mere stage upon which stands a crowd of alienated people as the state, caught in the trap of Globalization, capitulates its democratic legitimacy. Authority is then held by a minority, consisting of international speculators, business men, international mafias and multinational corporations, who in turn monopolize international markets and impose their policies on national governments. Briefly said, succumbing to the logic of international economy empties democracy of its essence and surrenders authority to the narrow interests of businessmen. Democracy requires not only the legality of the state, but also an ethic of liberty. Successful democracy includes a variety of political and social balances constantly checked by political parties, syndicates and other coalitions from civil society, as well as a minimum amount of solidarity and a fair distribution of wealth and resources. All this cannot be accomplished under the dire consequences of globalization, like the marginalization of the public and increased unemployment.
And so the question returns: Does Globalization offer the hope of a better future for democracy, or is it, rather, a major threat to democracy?
Those who subscribe to the first point of view argue, firstly, that the leading democratic nations do actually seek a democratization of developing nations. For it is through such a process that these nations can promote and disseminate their own socio-political model, along with their values concerning individual freedom. They argue, secondly, that market capitalism, already dominant the world over, requires a similar and reciprocal political market based on the principles of competition among the individuals of the social elite. All of which means, they claim, that as the spread of economic liberalization promoting the West’s influence and control of world resources increases, so will the odds of anchoring democracy in developing nations.
And yet, one could argue in response that there are no historical or logical reasons to support these assumptions. For although democratic nations, allegedly worried by the hegemony of totalitarian, fascist and communist regimes, speak often of spreading democracy, there is nevertheless no reason to believe that they are willing to prioritize such political ideals when dealing with other nations. For all nations, whether big or small, poor or powerful, do not base their politics on acts of good-will, or the development of living conditions, or the just governance of other nations, but rather on the basis of their own strategic and economic interests.
Moreover, after the demise of the largest totalitarian regimes, there are no longer any serious and extant threats to the current democracies and their interests which could have been used to justify an organized response. Rather, the maintaining of weak, unpopular and authoritative regimes which can easily be guided and manipulated is much more lucrative to powerful nations than the presence of real democracies; especially as such political systems cannot but reflect and express the longing of Third World populations for international justice, development and equal participation in world politics.
The 20th century abounds in unfortunate examples of how modernizing projects in developing nations — whether successful or not — seldom accomplish capital growth within the framework of international competition without implementing harsh measures to maintain low wages. For here in the Third World, economic liberalization undeniably requires an usurping of political authority. This is still evident today among the so-called “Asian tigers and dragons” like China and in any other nation seeking expedient capital accumulation in the current age. The epoch of concordance between the system of economic freedom and the system of political freedom is long past. And yet the major world powers show no compunction when painting a veneer of democracy and cultural diversity over what are essentially authoritative and repressive regimes — regimes ruled by a small minority of agents who depend on outside forces and outside intelligence agencies to maintain stability and order. This beautifying veneer, which hides a rule of brutality, has become a necessary component of the now dominant world order, as it is also a specious requirement for gaining international legitimacy.
However one should not, as many critics do – making them correct only in principle — apply suppositions valid for industrial nations on developing nations. For even if Globalization does threaten democracies in industrial nations, this does not necessarily mean that it threatens developing nations in equal or similar terms. True, Globalization threatens democracy in industrial nations, as it tends to destroy those spaces once open to freedom for both political activity and civil society — and indeed democracy created these individual and societal spaces. Yet Globalization does not constitute the same threat to societies which never witnessed such spaces of freedom, let alone democracy. In such societies, Globalization is bound to damage some of the fortresses of the state that imprison much of society. In such cases Globalization would actually promote the creation of different and newer spaces, slightly less likely to be subjugated by the apparatuses of censorship, control and group punishment.
Therefore it is incorrect to simply state that the effects of Globalization on democratic systems and authoritarian regimes are one and the same. Nor is it correct to reductively claim that Globalization is marching along, with all societies, toward democracy. Rather, Globalization — regardless of the nature of the society — has two contradictory impacts: In dismantling the nation, Globalization shakes the foundations of the ethics of liberty and the state’s legality as it encourages systems of social, racial, religious and sectarian discrimination. Also, through increased polarization it destroys social, political and national accountability as it entrenches instability and tension within societies. Moreover, by centralizing wealth and resources in the hands of a few, and within a limited number of locales, it stops the economy from growing in tandem with demographic changes and deepens the chasm that separates North from South, leading to increased unemployment, or even famine.
And yet, by opening up national spaces — internally by breaking the monopoly of a system of political feudalism, and externally by connecting formerly separate spaces to each other — Globalization promotes a unification of standards. This creates a shared world consciousness of the challenges facing humanity. In other words, it deepens the democratic consciousness, making democracy a common reference for all inhabitants of the earth. Moreover, Globalization gradually allows for the construction of an unprecedented network of international solidarity from which common solutions to common problems can be fashioned. The obvious discrepancy lies in the fact that Globalization promotes the demands of an international democracy, while it weakens the objective conditions for establishing viable national democratic systems.
What prevails is a Globalizing democracy that functions in different registers and on different levels, and possibly transforms the classical concept of individual freedom into an illusion. Therefore, the effect of Globalization is contingent on the nature of the effected societies. Globalization can rattle the old authoritarian regimes, as it can destabilize the classical democratic systems. And although we will continue to witness oligarchic regimes employing a merely executive and formal democracy, the contradictions will continue to loom larger, thus digging an unbridgeable gap between the high principles of democracy and the prevalent dysfunctional realities.
These situations will necessarily lead to changes within the system of Globalization itself. For Globalization does not, in fact, increase or inhibit the chances for democracy. Rather, it undoes the foundations upon which the classical concepts of democracy were erected.
Therefore it will no longer be possible to reconstruct democracy without an international perspective, one that surpasses the limited national/ethnic principle which once permitted the social solidarity with which national democracies were built. And yet, we ask again: Will globalization allow the building of coalitions among international, political and social groups capable of accomplishing an international solidarity, and thus a surge of national democracies?
The answer is affirmative. For in as much as the now dominant system of liberal Globalization promotes the destruction of democratic structures and disseminates chaos in international and social relations, it will also exacerbate and instigate various movements of protest. It will give birth to various forces able to resist the dominant order — but only as long as they can construct a strategy for an international alliance able to regain the values of democracy in tangible and actual reality.
The future of democracy in the globalized world, and with it the future of human societies, hinges on the outcome of the struggle between two forces. There are those who put politics and society — i.e. the logic of humanity and solidarity — at the top of their political agenda and look beyond national borders for solidarity. And there are those forces which deploy the logic and priorities of economic expansion, undermining the relevance of the nation state, dismantling the structure of society and promoting the monopolies of financial agglomerations and the few sham governments that collaborate with them for the sake of expedient profits.
Building an international democracy will not come about without the tenacity to face this conflict based on the gradual accumulation of the successes of international solidarity movements. Only such a diligent resistance can control the unchecked flow of globalized capital and redirect it away from the logic of unrestrained market competition and into the logic of a human society founded on the primacy of an ethics of solidarity, cooperation and concordance.
Translated by Walid Sadek
First Published in An-Nour (Cairo), 2003.
Burhan Ghalioun is presently the Director of the Centre d’Etudes sur l’Orient Contemporain (CEOC) in Paris and a Professor of Political Sociology at the Universite de Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle). He obtained his Ph.D. in Political Science from the Sorbonne. He is the author of several authoritative books, such as Le Malaise Arabe: l’Etat contre la Nation; Islam et Politique: la Modernite Trahie; Crise de la Politique: l’Etat et la Religion and La Culture Arabe: Entre Modernisme et Traditionalisme; as well as over a hundred academic articles in various journals on political Islam, Arab political culture and state and society relations in the Arab World.
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