Arab world drowns in Machiavellianism

The enemy could be anything, from a fellow state to rampant fear of internal sectarian strife

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
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Villains are indispensable characters in the story of self-preservation. Indeed, many leaders continue to bask in their Machiavellian political approach, which necessitates the existence of an enemy in order to successfully exploit power and authority under the pretext of fighting evil.

The enemy could be anything, from a fellow state to rampant fear of internal sectarian strife. Yet the very illusion of an enemy could, very simply, also be a way to camouflage deep-rooted political flaws and keep the media and politicians united against a common evil ghost.

Otherwise said, people of power would create evil characters if threats did not exist in order to maintain their clout.

We don’t have to look far to find such examples. We live in a region where politicians fuel sectarianism in a bid to hold onto power, and such deception has paved the road for never-ending conflict and socio-political tension.

Over the past 66 years, Israel has been the black sheep, helping regimes preserve their status quo.
Regime supporters go on about conquering Israel before tackling internal strife like broken records. This excuse, however, has ceased to remain valid.

To top it off, nations witnessed countries making peace with Israel and others protecting their borders with the Jewish state contrary to the official anti-Israel party line. In fact, Israeli presence has even become customary in some Arab states.

As a result, the need for a new political plot emerged, and sectarianism seemed to be the answer. Sectarianism seemed an even better tool than anti-Israeli rhetoric since it plays on sensitive religious chords.

In short, each state has developed an enemy that mirrors its political discourse and altered the media machine to propagate their messages. In such a context, even an imaginary enemy becomes a source of terror.

Yet Arab countries aren’t the only victims of this political approach. Western countries have experienced their fair share of intellectual terror as well, albeit far less detrimental to domestic cohesion.

Each state has developed an enemy that mirrors its political discourse and altered the media machine to propagate their messages

Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthy

The U.S. declaration of the Soviet Union as an enemy led to McCarthyism, a phobia-inducing phenomenon that sees its propagators accuse others of treason or perversion without proper evidence in a bid to fuel sentiment against the enemy. Indeed, opponents of the country’s policies were subject to public, outright accusations of disloyalty.

Leo Strauss, a German-American political philosopher and founder of the neoconservative movement in the U.S., asserted that interstate animosity could play a role in uniting a nation.
Seen in this light, individualism takes a hit for “the greater good.”

At the time, the U.S. took advantage of this paradigm, painting the war as a conflict of good versus evil and uniting the nation under this very banner.

When the Soviet Union finally collapsed, the U.S. began searching for the next enemy, and there we had the “axis of evil,” former President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 bottom line on Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

The fight against the enemy remains as important a component in strategic political thought as ever, serving the ultimate goal of staying in power.

Hegel’s philosophy endorses these approaches and justifies national self-preservation, while U.S.’s former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger explicitly said that the U.S. would lose its tract if it were to function without a threat.

The only problem with this strategy is the fact that Western countries play the game more intelligently, fostering fear of the enemy for political gain while simultaneously harping on nationalistic sentiment, while the Arab world shoots itself in the foot by creating dire internal strife.

The enemy paradigm in the Arab world becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for corrupt regimes to remain in power by distracting their nations from the core issues and creating more division among the masses. Yet creating a fake enemy has proven dangerous because it has brought this beast to life, eating societies from within.

Indeed, the sectarian wars plaguing our region prove that the game has spun out of control, taking the region into an abyss while failing to find solutions for pressing issues such as poverty, housing and corruption.

In short, a nation’s real enemy is its inability to create sustainable development and no amount of rhetoric can camouflage this villainous reality.

This article was first published in Arab News on August 6, 2014.


Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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