Friday, April 08, 2005

The Modern State in a New Order


You asked an insightful question in a comment under the Shiite Reservoir is Marginalized: “Do we all want a modern state, or are we going to even clash over that basic definition?”

I thought it would be more expedient to answer you in an entry: A genuine modern state should look inwards, inwards to its people and leverage their energies and talents for a better future; this is what we have been missing. We’ve seen, and as Raja claimed, where modernity has led Arab countries in past decades.

What we’ve seen of political modernity was countries, like Egypt , that relied heavily on the West for either or a combination of food, aid, power, and justification, while oppressing local ideas and marginalizing groups. Moreover, you have countries, like Syria, that defame the notion of looking at the West and instead attempt to create their own secular, modern stand, but you still see absent the leveraging of all their citizens’ capabilities to move them forward.

Therefore, I understand why religiosity and Islamism have crept back into the Arab political discourse. Islamism has become an alternative and a reaction to what Arab leaders have defined as a modern state.

It is clear that a new order is replacing a dying one in our region. I would like to see genuine debate that revolves around what would constitute a modern Arab (or Lebanese, Egyptian, Iraqi, etc.) state in this new emerging order and the emergence of political parties and movements that rally around this new phase.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."


ThinkingMan said...

The recipes are all over the world for us to copy and make our own sauce:
Take a bit from each of the following: Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, China, Dubai, etc. Chile, Hungary and Poland are also doing good things with their economy. Our starting point is countries at the $5,000 GDP per capita level or thereabouts; i.e. less developed countries that are growing their engine now or have been successful over the past 15-20 years.
Note: The whole Arab world's economy equals that of Korea today. 25 years ago Korea's economy was insignificant!

But having said that, we don't have politicians that are elected because of their economic, reform, social or other agendas. Hariri was the exception because he had such huge credentials coming into it.

Raja said...

In the Middle East, there are two established power structures:

1. the family/clan structure: which takes on the garb of modernity or religiousity, depending on which is more politically desirable.

EG: Syria vs. Jordan; Egypt vs. Saudi Arabia; Morocco vs. Algeria; etc....

2. the second power structure is religion: the most effective counter elite to the ruling families are religious fundamentalists such as the Ikhwan, Hizballah, etc....

If you look at the political history of the Middle East since the first first caliphates, I don't think you will notice that much has changed since then.

I happen to disagree with both structures. But, the question I have yet to answer is whether they can be dismantled and replaced by more modern institutions.

Anonymous said...

"When Westerners wonder why Arabs have become repulsed by modernity as manifested by Western civilization, they should look at the Arab political elite. Most either subscribe to the Western paradigm, or are propped up by the United States or some other Western nation."

"What we’ve seen of political modernity was countries, like Egypt , that relied heavily on the West for either or a combination of food, aid, power, and justification, while oppressing local ideas and marginalizing groups."

Raja, have you ever considered that the paradigm you are seeing things through may NOT be the one that makes the most sense, incorporates the surest facts, and reveals the most truth?

hummbumm said...

It is an interesting question, and I have no answer. Thinkingman you are approaching it from an economic development standpoint. From that sense we are ahead of China with a much more developed banking system, and property rights. We have in those two attributes the foundation for satble economic growth. I think we have to limit the size of government on the assumption that it will be corrupt anyways. This is very garbled as I really have no clue, but lebanon in the 1950-60s did alright, one of the reasons being a limited government, which led to manageable corruption as govt was a small part of GDP, very little debt, no foreign debt etc... But basically the same political leadership who enjoyed their perks but apart from destroying INTRA bank did not affect the economy too much one way or another. Of course they could not handle exogenous shocks so back to square one.

Raja said...


please clarrify: I'm not sure how a paradigm incorporates facts and reveals truths.

Raja said...

there might be a disconnect between my first comment and Doha's post concerning the nature of a modern state, so I'm going to try to ammeliorate that problem.

My question is: can we have what is defined to be a "modern state" when the two most prominent political structures are the ones I listed above?

Let us not forget that power structures inherently seek power and wish to maintain it. Thus, if a modern state, or a prosperous economy somehow threatens those structures, you can be sure that they will intervene and obstruct!

For all of Jumblatt's "modern ways", he knows that his power rests on the extremely tight communal and familial bonds within the Druze community. You can be sure that he, his son and his grandchildren will resist any force that either directly or indirectly weakens those bonds. Whether that force is political or development/modernization really doesn't matter. Those developments, in there perspective, are nothing more than a threat to their power.

Mustapha said...

There are tons of parameters that define a socio-political order, in this case the Arab world.
When such an order fails (as is the case in the Arab world), social and economic scientist try to pinpoint what is at the core of the malfunction.
some would blame the Arab culture, Some would blame the US and Israel, some would blame Islam. But if i was to pinpoint what i think is THE most important thing to change for the Arab world to function better, i would say education:
when a people internalizes the culture of critical thinking, dialectical discourse and acceptance of the inevitability of change, societies will then be able to be their own engines of growth.
Some people would say that this is worthless if you don't have the resources to start such an education Marshal plan, so they approach the problem from an economic perspective, falsely assuming that more growth leads to more education.
can't have education without money, can't make money without education, it's a dialectic relationship ;)

The Beirut Spring

Brian H said...

Well, those regimes have been kind of choosy about which aspects of the "modern state" they incorporate. Neither Egypt nor Syria seem to have much in the way of wide open communications and news channels, or strong and variegated opposition parties, or protection for minority rights (or even majority rights), or independent judiciaries, or independent, audited banking systems, etc., etc. They mainly took on a few of the superficial trappings (meaningless elections, prominently) and some of the security apparatus tools they thought might be useful.

Neither actually, by any stretch of the imagination, is a "modern" state.

ThinkingMan said...

Gals/Guys! the model ain't in the Arab world...let's stop looking at them or thinking about them as a model for anything to do with democracy, freedom, human rights, human development, etc.

Doha said...

Of course, a "revised" model of a modern Arab state does not by any means exist in the Arab world, nevertheless we should not superimpose any functioning state model on any of the Arab countries and claim that we discovered the ultimate solution.

Perhaps for the first time we need to start finding local models that fit our local needs and aspirations. Remember: neither communism/socialism nor capitalism succeeded in our region. This is because these ideologies sprouted somewhere else and came about as a result of specific historical experiences alien to us.

A bit of "mix and match" could work, but I truely aspire for seeing a model/ideology that defines modernity in a context we can identify with and can work around with confidence.

Raja said...


there are two problems with your education marshal plan idea; and I'd like you to try to tackle them:

1. In Lebanon, the people are relatively educated - maybe not as educated as OECD countries, but definitely more educated than the majority of "Southern nations." The problem is that all the educated simply leave the country.

2. In AUB, I met some of the most brilliant computer scientists and engineers. Politically, however, I failed to be impressed! Let us not forget that Ayman al Zawahiri is a doctor, and Mohammed Atta was some sort of an engineer.