Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A Rare Inside Look into the Workings of a Regime in the Middle East

The Atlantic, a monthly news journal printed in the US, published an article titled "How Yassir Arafat Destroyed Palestine." An important component of the article articulated the absolutely despicable way in which Yasser Arafat maintained his grip on power at the expense of almost everything else in the territories he controlled.

The reason I have decided to post an entry on this article is because I consider it to have provided me with a rare insight into the operations of not only Arafat's regime, but most (or all) the regimes and Zu'ama that exist in the region. As such, it is relevant to Lebanon and definitely worth considering.

In an interview with Mr. David Samuels (the author of the article), Munib al Masri, one of Yasir Arafat's oldest friends, and one of the leading financiers of the Palestinian National Movement said the following

"With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land."

Masri's eyes mist over. "Abu Ammar, yes. He's a simple man. He slept on a simple bed. He doesn't want any houses. He doesn't want anything...."

That last sentence really caught my attention. Arafat, according to Masri's recollection, appeared to be clueless and simply uninterested in policies pertaining to the development and wellbeing of his "constituents." As we all know, it appears that one of the only things Arafat was really good at was maintaining his grip on power. The following is another excerpt on exactly how the "Palestinian Hero" went about accomplishing that noble cause:

A secret report prepared by an official Palestinian Authority committee headed by Arafat's cousin concluded that in 1996 alone, $326 million, or 43% of the state budget, had been embezzled, and that another $94 million, or 12.5% of the budget, went to the president's office, where it was spent at Arafat's personal discretion. An additional 35% of the budget went to pay for the security services, leaving a total of $73 million, or 9.5% of the budget, to be spent on the needs of the population of West Bank and Gaza."

Of course, Mr. Arafat didn't just feed his Court. He needed to appeal to the masses as well. How could he do that when he basically spent 90.5% of his budget to maintain his grip on power and only 9.5% on his people through the PA? Personal charity of course! While the institutions of the Palestinian state were rotting with only a fraction of the budget they needed to operate on (I wonder whether 9.5% could even pay salaries, never mind fund any services), the institution of Yasser Arafat was flourishing!

His people accepted his [faults] because he was their father.... He paid for their weddings and their funerals. It was part of this paternal pose that no Palestinian who asked him for money went away empty-handed. When he visited cities, he was followed by an aide with a Samsonite briefcase stuffed with bundles of cash, which he distributed to the people who lined up to beg for money. Ordinary Palestinians placed classified advertisements in the newspaper asking Arafat for money. Others wrote him letters....

This ridiculous personalization of politics is merely one example of a broader trend that exists throughout the region. Just look at Lebanon and the personal welfare systems that each of the "zu'ama" operate for their constituents. What makes it even worse is that members of our societies accept such a sham - not knowing that well-functioning state bureaucracies could solve their problems in a much more equitable and consistent manner.

It appears that people in Lebanon and the region don't really want to change the way they live their lives. Sectarianism, for example, is too convenient for people to have a real incentive to break it down. The state, on the other hand, can only function properly if society accepts it, and accepts the premise that all citizens are equal under the authority of the state.

However, the "Paternal Father" system is so attractive because it allows people get at least a semblance of the services that they would receive from a welfare state, and remain in the same frame of mind they were in three to four hundred years ago. Why change their entire way of thinking and the way they live their lives to get welfare and other services from a state, when they can get similar services from a Za'im who only askes for their loyalty?


Doha said...

All I can say for that matter Raja is just (sigh)....Political power in our part of the world is synonymous to wealth and provision of services. I mean this is the way you maintain your legitimacy. It would be ineresting to see the "Aoun" experiment. He has been chosen by the majority of Christians as their leader, however he is not a zaim in the traditional sense. Will he be forced to provide services and money to maintain his leadership, or would he break the mold? It would be interesting to see, because so far, the Lebanese publics are contributing more money to his movement, than acquire money from him. Are the Lebanese anticipating a reward? Of course, yes. But will reform and a democratic system be fulfilling to them as a reward? Again, let's wait and see.

raf* said...


any chance you could send the e-mail to ... uhh ... interested parties?

i don't want to subscribe to "the atlantic" just for that article.


Raja said...

raf, I actually bought the magazine at a bookstore. I don't have a subscription to it either.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

The "Paternal Father" system really shows that arabs are really immatures. They prefer to be infantilized instead of behaving like free men. Will they ever reject this slave mentality?

Arabs have an emotionnal and irrational relation to their leaders. The za3im represent the need for a father, something very normal when you consider the retarded 'patriarcal' mentality in this part of the world. I wonder what would Freud think.

a federation for Lebanon in order to improve christian muslim relations

une fédération libanaise afin d'améliorer les

relations entre les chrétiens et les musulmans

Hassan said...

"Paternal Father"? Aren't you being redundant? Excuse my language geekiness.

Raja said...

Hassan, nice one! :)

Maybe the author of the article was trying to emphasize his point!I borrowed the phrase from him; but I do not see a better way of articulating what he meant. Do you?

Hassan said...

I guess "Father of the People" is too lame. How about "Pater patriae = Father of the country"?

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

How about turkmenbachi? father of the turkmen