A happy end of history for Arabs?

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

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In 1992, political scientist Francis Fukuyama published his article-turned-book The End of History and the Last Man, which garnered global fame.

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Fukuyama’s main argument was that democracy and capitalism are the final form of political and economic systems of government in the world. At the time, the collapse of the Soviet Union meant the collapse of the last great power pushing for another system of government.

In 2011, Fukuyama revisited his argument in a book entitled The Origins of Political Order. In the book, he does not rebut his argument, as his detractors claimed, but rather, roots it in reality and history and decreases its theorizing. He says that the success of capitalist democracy requires three basic components for survival: the state, the rule of law, and government accountability. Without these, democracy would easily falter and capitalism would wane due to corruption and the lack of fair laws regulating competition, which cannot be enforced without a strong state.

Years after this theory, we can see today that capitalism proved to be the most resilient of economic systems. Even communist China reached glory because of capitalism, successfully lifting over 100 million Chinese citizens above the line of poverty in a matter of years. Democracy, for its part, is facing challenges, but in many parts of the world, it cannot be said that it has become the end of history. For instance, military or fascist regimes can never return to Europe or Japan.

More importantly, we must address this philosophy with regards to our region; which political system works for our troubled region? Which system can bring this part of the world out of its constant crises and be a decent end to its history? What are the basic components of such a system?

Arabs have tried everything. Police states ruled and failed in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Islamists ruled and failed in Sudan, Iran, and Mursi Egypt. Democracy in several Arab countries, like Lebanon, Iraq, and Tunisia currently, suffers from deep imbalances in the economic, social, and religious structures while the political structure rips the state apart.

Men suspected of being ISIS extremist fighters arrive at a screening point run by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. (AFP)
Men suspected of being ISIS extremist fighters arrive at a screening point run by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. (AFP)

Contrarily, we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel for the very first time. A real way out of the bottleneck and toward a new, realistic Arab system that can end the troubled climate in the Middle East. This solution is based on five components: economic development, fighting corruption, cultural enlightenment, upholding the rule of law, and political realism.

It is easy to see that the region’s most successful states are Gulf states, given their success in terms of economic development. Today, immigration plans of most Arabs are no longer restricted to Washington, London, and Montreal, but also to Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Manama. The main motive is economic, the potential career advancement and financial prosperity. There is another reason, though, which is the determination of these states to fight the extremist discourse and establish a modern, healthy, and open lifestyle. The abundance of funds in the past co-existed with extremist ideologies and leaderships that spread the culture of hate. Now, this has changed after the realization that development cannot happen in the presence of such radical ideologies.

This explains the key role of cultural enlightenment in the visions of these successful states’ leaderships. Five years ago, Saudi Arabia was vastly different from what it is today, and in the years to come, it will become even more different.

Within a short period of time, the Kingdom waged a serious war on extremism and achieved remarkable social change.
In Egypt, the Mubarak regime had made a truce with the Muslim Brotherhood extremists, sometimes using them against his opponents, but when President el-Sisi rose to power, he put an end to this dangerous game. Development and economy are the main objective, and the Egyptian government is not using any extremists against its detractors or to gain a certain political legitimacy. The same applies to the UAE, which banned extremists and their violent discourse from entering its soil because it realized that this threatens its cultural and economic achievements.

The war on corruption is another key factor to achieve success. In the past, corruption was tolerated to the point where it was accepted as part of our region’s cultural and economic realities. However, high corruption rates are a serious matter. Statistics show that countries suffering from corruption are at high risk of collapsing or becoming failed states according to the book Why Nations Fail. In this context, the Saudi Oversight and Anti-corruption Authority has made relentless efforts by launching campaigns to arrest persons involved in corruption, including judges, princes, businessmen, influential figures, and even ordinary employees in ministries and official authorities.

Lastly, these governments are armed with political realism, which makes them advocates for peace and ending conflicts in fair ways -- even long-standing conflicts like the Palestinian cause -- because this is the ideal way to focus their efforts on what matters: building their economies and competing in global markets. We see these states rushing to extinguish the fires and rebuild the Gaza Strip because it is in their best interest to increase the chances of stability.

However, despite all its success, this emerging political system is facing challenges posed by Iran’s regime and its regional arms, like the Houthis and Hezbollah, as well as extremist Sunni groups, which are bonded by strategic alliances and cross-cutting goals. We partially witnessed this when al-Qaeda elements stayed in Iran and through the messages of Bin Laden, who was aware that his most important ally to achieve shared objectives is Iran. Historically, the relation between the Muslim Brotherhood and Iranian religious figures is deep-rooted ever since the visits made by Navvab Safavi (founder of an Islamic revolutionary organization) to Sayyid Qutb and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Syria, Jordan, and elsewhere.

Despite the success that these allied states achieved in cementing the features of political stability, economic development, cultural enlightenment, and judicial competence, this system is in fact in an existential strategic war that will likely last for a while, not too dissimilar to the Cold War. Like the US and the USSR, these two systems in our region follow different paths. Iranians believe in what they call the “system of resistance” to impose their dominance in the region and promote a political system that resembles the one we see today in Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon, all the while extremist and political Islam groups pursue their old dream of controlling this vast, rich region to restore their dream ISIS-style caliphate.

Perhaps, economic prosperity, cultural enlightenment, fighting corruption, upholding the rule of law, and political realism will be the components that finally bring about a happy end of history for Arabs.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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