A painful and frustrating Arab collapse

The great Arab collapse is painful and frustrating

Jamal Khashoggi

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The great Arab collapse is painful and frustrating to the generations that dreamt of an era that would revive forgotten glories. It has also been frustrating to current generations that have lost all hope for a proper life, freedom and livelihood, and to those who dreamt of a better future with the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011. What is more painful is that this collapse involves multiple catastrophes, and will be very long.

It is as if this collapse prevailed on everyone, and no one is looking for a true means of salvation. Even those who were spared are not looking for a salvation that may protect them or those doomed from this long, painful collapse. When we reach the abyss, rising will be very difficult because we will take with us to the abyss the causes that led us there, and which obstructed renaissance during the wasted years of stability.

When we look into reasons for this collapse, we blame colonization and the Sykes Picot Agreement’s division of our borders, saying it was unfair. However, most borders in Europe are unfair, and they came about by war, not agreements or consensus. Even the former colonizing countries have lost interest in our situation.

We blame colonization and the Sykes Picot Agreement’s division of our borders, saying it was unfair. However, most borders in Europe are unfair, and they came about by war

Jamal Khashoggi

Optimists say we are going through what Europe went through: the labor of the 30-year war that tore it apart in the 17th century and gave birth to a dignified continent. However, the truth is that Europe was a miserable, exhausted continent void of morals and values, and its people doubted all their principles. After that war, Europe needed 300 years to stabilize into the continent we know today.

Our disaster is that as we collapse, we are carrying the seeds of the collapse of our modern states: intolerance, tyranny, tribalism, greed, and lack of governance based on sovereignty of law and democracy. We always carry these seeds, during our phases of rising, collapsing, and even stability. This is why our collapse is catastrophic and comprehensive. We can see this now in Iraq, Syria and Libya, and we have seen this before in Somalia.

These seeds make our collapse so painful and long that we even lose the feeling of pain, and are not even moved by images of slaughter, or by suicide bombings in our mosques and markets, or by news of hundreds killed by barrel bombs or by policemen during peaceful protests. We are entrenched in our sectarian, political and self-interested forts, and we see nothing outside them.

Global partnerships

These seeds have thwarted all attempts at establishing modern states. A state that does not compete, and does not seek to join the ranks of progressive countries, gradually loses its presence and permanence in a world of post-globalization. In progressive countries, markets and legislation have united, and international standards for all aspects of life have been established.

We have had this opportunity several times during a whole century since the collapse of the Ottoman empire and since we gained independence. However, the seeds of chaos that we carried with us have wasted years of stability, which we should have used to nurture our countries’ growth and maturity, ones that add value to the world. Europe saved Greece, Spain and Portugal when their economies collapsed, despite the high cost. Syria did not have this kind of partnership, so the world watched it head toward doom.

Renaissance means a state’s commitment to global standards of freedom, justice and human rights, to the increase of income, quality of education and health services, to a tangible share in global economic output, and partnership in a market open to the world.

However, when the world only needs a state because it is an important producer of a raw material, no sustainable relation is achieved because the country is only important as long as it provides the raw material. Even then, the country may lose its significance if alternatives to that raw material are found or created.

For example, Malaysia could have become an abandoned agricultural country if it continued to depend on production of raw natural rubber, which it still has but the world no longer needs due to the invention of alternatives.

The same applies to India and Egypt regarding cotton. Malaysia and India headed toward an industrial renaissance at an early stage, to make the world need them and view them as real partners. However, Egypt has been incapable of doing so because it is part of an Arab system that carries the seeds of chaos, tyranny and injustice.

So far, and despite our long history of civilization and Islam - which is rich with creativity, legislation and justice - it does not seem that anyone among us wants to get rid of these seeds. We will therefore carry them during the era of post-collapse, when we quit war because we tire of it, not because we hate it, and when we sit on the rubble of our cities and exchange blame. The war in Somalia has lasted a quarter of a century, the Iraqi war has lasted a whole decade, and the Syrian war has entered its fourth year. No one is offering salvation.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on December 20, 2014.


Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.

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