Friday, January 28, 2011

Change in the Arab world, where do we fit in?

It feels like a historic moment and people have gone crazy trying to be a part of it. From Facebook, to Twitter to demonstrations outside embassies all over the world, we, as Arabs, are obviously craving something. But is it the same thing? I think that's a very important question we need to ask ourselves. I look around me and I see a revolution in Tunisia over an economic situation that has deteriorated beyond what the people can accept. Will change give them what they want? I don't know. Maybe. At least waste from corruption will decrease. What about Egypt? I hear statements like revolution of the "middle class poor", educated professionals who don't have a chance of a decent life because the system has become too corrupt to accommodate them. I can relate to that.

But then I come back to Jordan and Lebanon, and to be honest I can't see that genuine demand for change. Maybe there just isn't enough misery and helplessness here that can mobilize a revolution, and I'm not saying it as a bad thing... not really. I just think there is only one thing that would make people descend into the streets and risk their lives and safety to demand change, as they did in Tunisia and Egypt. The reason is that the other option is worse. My other option is to stay at home and watch The Daily Show while I enjoy a very healthy dinner, and maybe a little bit of wine. It's obviously not worse at all. Actually, it would probably be worse for me if some form of change occurs, and I end up living under fundamental Islamic rule, as I feel is the other option here. I'm sure that's true for many people who live in Jordan and Lebanon, supposed members of the not-so-poor middle class. This isn't to say that there aren't problems here that warrant a massive change. It's just that I don't see the situation as severe and common enough to make us do much more than press Like on Facebook, Retweet on Twitter, and Publish Post on Blogger, oh and maybe attend a couple of half-hearted, goalless demonstrations.

But then again maybe I'm wrong, maybe it's just us being lazy. And we're just waiting for others to take the risk and make the change happen. Man... I hope we're not.


Matt said...

I think you just described the middle class the world over Lama. Arab, Russian, Chinese, Brit, doesn't matter the problem, sometimes its better the devil you know - especially when you have home comforts to hide behind.

Zainab said...

I will share my very humble opinion/analysis of the current situation. I can't really assess the situation in Lebanon, as I am only an observer, but being a Jordanian, I can tell you there IS enough misery helplessness and oppression but as the alternative looks as bad (if not worse if we had an Islamic empire, loads of "freedoms" will be lost)

I have been attending the demonstrations since they have begun, and they are JUST as you have described " half-hearted, goalless demonstrations" I am the only one in my circle of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances (i.e. ever demolishing middle class as i like to call us) to attend.
the organizers are the leftists, which we all know that their theories are not applicable, we all have seen the Soviet Union after all. And then you have the unions and Muslim Brotherhood who are pathetic just to say the least. and who have took the opportunity to rub their ideology in our faces!! (very impolite and uncalled for)

The other thing is, ppl are calling for one person to step down, whilst he is causing a problem, yet we can't blame it all on him. It is definitely the whole system that needs to be changed; the monarchy who hold everything in their and their friends' hands. we have a great deal of hypocrisy i.e. the dude is messing up our lives yet where ever you are ppl are just cheering and praying God to prolong his/their lives!!!

It is the fear of addressing these issues... it is only a taboo to talk about it, whenever i open my mouth everyone tells me to shush about it... where do I think I am living?!?! It is considered to be an act of treason when you say sth about the king.

Also the nation is only afraid of losing peace, which is sth that I can say that we do have, ALTHOUGH it is masked. A fear of a civil war, which is also the case in Lebanon, is what stopping them from moving, we don't have mature leadership.. we have tried all politicians one way or another, since it is hereditary.

I think all these factors are stopping Jordanians from really moving their butts and claiming their rights... when a change of heart occurs and only then ... the average person will express their opinions by liking things on Facebook, retweeting and attending some goalless demonstrations

Anonymous said...

You made a very good point there, but... (as I already left Jordan for a better place )) I feel I can be more open in expressing my thoughts and not being beheaded by Zainab )

Jordan has two main population groups - the first one consists of Jordanians and middle class Palestinians, the second one are the poor camp-held Palestinians with passports, pseudo-passports and no papers at all.

This second group has nothing to loose and is a sort of gunpowder for any protest action. And they are such a significant part of population.

In Lebanon, I love this country, but unfortunately it's not only Beirut, Byblos and mountain resorts but Tyre, Tripoli and Nahr el-Bared.


Talal said...

Oh there is enough misery in Jordan to warrant not just a change but a full fledged revolution. But as you said, the other option is worse, even though I do concur, but the other option is the only viable one at the moment, which I'd hate to see take power. That's why I don't think that we (Jordanians) are ready for a change at this specific phase, this explains the half-hearted demonstrations which sadly are a mere go-with-the-flow act of venting anger on the easiest target, the PM, the appointed ministers and partly on the so-called parliament we have. Not a single opposition body has a clear cut agenda for change, except for Islamists who even though have a strong followers' base, but only have this base because they do have a plan, others simply don't.

Abir said...

As much as I agree with most of what u said about people not resolving to the streets unless the alternative is way worse I find myself thinking about our situation in Lebanon. Although we suffer a big deal from the economic problems that most of the arab worlds suffer from, I have to say we have a bigger problem that face us Lebanese and that is how divided we are...that being said I don't think we are in a position that allows us to go to the streets because, unfortunately, we would be going against each others not against corruption.

Radical said...

I am afraid that yes, you are lazy, and (probably unintentionally)defending the current regime in Jordan and the rest of the Arab countries. You just made the same argument that regimes' cronies and their "freedom loving" backers in the West, make when defending the status quo: "it is either us of the Islamists".

They never say that in public of course, but this what is said in private, and eventually gets reflected in journalists' and experts' analysis and slowly becomes treated as fact. I used to subscribe to this 'fact' myself a few weeks ago. What is happening now made me revisit this conclusion.

In Tunisia, as in Egypt, people are willing to risk launching themselves into uncharted territory. This is because things were only getting worse, and would continue to do so. They took this leap of faith. Faith in their own abilities for the first time. And this is when it hit me.

The important thing here is that people finally feel empowered, truly empowered. Meaning that they feel that they are in power. This empowerment is the greatest missing asset in our countries. Its importance lies in the fact that it entrenched the concept of accountability in widest possible sense.

So even if the much-feared Islamist take over, the people now realize that the final say is theirs, whether in the ballots or on the streets. The Islamists themselves realize that as well.

People in the Arab world haven't had this 'asset', because the last time they revolted was so long ago that it became an empty slogan.

The Arab countries were mostly liberated from foreign occupation in two ways: Through armed resistance, which only involves active combatants (while the rest of society only provides support); or through a combination of international political power plays coupled with local military coups.

The people really were never on the forefront (except in Palestine). They always waited for a leader, a military coup, a miracle and lately for God, to liberate them from their misfortunes. Now, thanks to the Tunisians, people realized that even in the Arab world, hitting the streets and clashing with the police can actually beget change, without waiting for anyone to do the job for them. And this realization will remain with the people for generations to come, thus creating enough space and time for building healthy societies and countries.

I may be too optimistic, but as you said, it is a historic moment.

Lama Bashour said...

Zainab, Ilya and Talal, I totally agree what are you saying, but the thing is, there are miserable people in any country. However, it's only when the middle class becomes miserable, as they did in Egypt and Tunisia apparently, that revolution becomes possible (in my opinion). All I'm saying is that the middle class in Lebanon and Jordan are not really miserable.

Abir. Good point! However, isn't it the same problem? Instead of demanding real reform, the Lebanese cling to their sects and sect leaders because it's so comfortable in that bubble. The people believe that if they asked for a secular government which represents everyone, then the "other sect" will take control and marginalize them. That's what they fear is the other option.

Radical, well said. And maybe you are right. Maybe all we need is, as you said, "a leap of faith".

Talal said...

I can safely consider myself part of any typical Arab middle class. I'm sitting in my somewhat warm middle class apartment, writing this with a below top-of-the-line Macbook, making a restrained comment here and there, I go to work in my mid sized SUV, eat every now and then at 5 star restaurants and have a comfortable above average income. Yet in light of what's happening around me I do consider myself miserable. But certainly this misery is not a product of the average lifestyle I'm leading. It's the misery of someone who feels irrelevant, of someone seeing his comfortable average life being threatened by a bunch who are increasingly insulting his somewhat alright intelligence with words and acts that treat him as a mere member of an irrelevant crowd, it's the misery of seeing real misery and not being able to do anything about it, the real misery of the ever increasing number of fellow citizens who are clumping at the bottom of the lower class. And I'm sure this is the same case with the middle class who are participating in Egypt and Tunisia's revolts, yet I'm not saying that these are strictly middle class revolts.

Therefore, I don't think there's a lack of motivation amongst the middle class to rise up and have their say. It's just that we are very subtly being given tiny doses of anesthesia leaving us just enough room to vent our frustration yet making us think "meh" when it comes to rising up against corrupt yet safe political systems which can "save" us from the "other option," be it the Islamic rule, or the "unknown." I don't really want to live under Islamic rule, I'll simply pack up and leave if I had to, I do as well enjoy a healthy dinner with a glass of wine. And neither would I want to live under the unknown, this unknown which is is indirectly being fed and nurtured and kept as is.

With all this in mind I did not and will not angrily march on Fridays, or maybe I will but with "meh" in mind, but not because I'm not miserable (in the broad sense of the word). But at some point the "meh" turns into irreversible frustration and finally into "ok, I've had it, I don't care about the options," and I think this is what happened in Egypt and Tunisia ... but it will need some time to mature elsewhere, and I hope it does but only after the unknown has taken shape.

And to be honest I'm not the least bit pleased about my whateverish way of thinking.

Lama Bashour said...

Talal... I think it's a time for a Talal There blog don't you think? I'll be your first follower. :)

Zainab's views said...

I hear you Lama and second you regarding Talal's blog :)

Talal, I was nodding in agreement until you started talking about angry marches on fridays... yet with what happened today I feel very upset and I can even say I am betrayed

Talal said...

Zainab, an accusation of betrayal can be the driving force for a reversal of the passivity I'm not really pleased about, so I may have to thank you soon :) I was at the Egyptian embassy demonstration in Amman today and managed a couple of angry chants ... it's a start!

Lama, never thought of myself as a "followee," I guess I'd stick to a restrained comment here and there for now, but thanks for the words of encouragement :)

Zainab's views said...

Talal, taking a step back to assess the situation, I am more than convinced now (as Lama have already said) it is when the middle class rise real reform would take place!! when I was down town in Friday marches, I was surrounded with poor people, whom I respect, can't say the say about the government. yet when looking at Egypt, some RICH people along with middle class and poor where down on the streets... and All I am trying to convey is we (middle class) should move our butts... and we shouldn't let the Muslim Brotherhood intimidate us... esp. it is proven day in and day out what bunch of ************ they are, readers, excuse my French

Talal said...

Zainab, I totally agree with the need to move our butts, but I assure you that I'm not a bit intimidated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and neither should you ... nor Lama. The thing is that they thrive on intimidation, placing themselves on the far left, gaining grounds where people are in need to be on the intimidating side, the side which cannot be challenged because challenging religion is a big no no, which for them seems to be the strong side ... the beard leading the blind, I’d say.

But the blind are not blind anymore, it's quite clear that the “Brothers” have been marginalized in the revolutions*, they were caught off-guard, they used to be creators of waves but now they're only riding one, they missed out on what might well be the most significant uprisings in recent history, they feel weak, so they’re fishing for some credit somewhere, but they won't find it because even their followers see right through them, they now know that their leaders are the leaderless, that they can have a say without being herded into a path that leads them into believing that religion is their savior, when in fact their savior is the belief that they are simply entitled to live a dignified life.

I might have swayed a bit (or a lot) off the subject at hand, but the prevailing notion of the danger of letting “them” take over is being exaggerated, and it’s frustrating me!

* I’m in love with the fact that I can finally use the word revolution without quotes, next time it won’t even have an asterisk.

Zainab's views said...

Talal, I am also not intimidated by the "Muslim Brotherhood" rather I am repulsed by their actions, I know I might come across as a person who doesn't believe in co-living and respecting the other, let me assure you it is not the case... It is only I can show zero tolerance to ppl/parties who ride the wave and claim it is theirs and not only stop there but they also shove their ideologies down everyone else's throat, which really was the case down town. I am rather Appalled by their actions and their ideology, the ideology of not accepting others.

I am not saying all this based on feelings, I lived with them, studied in their school so I am fully aware of their cultural!!

Now Talal, let me disagree with you!! you and I can see right through them, but their followers can't otherwise how can you explain the numbers?!?! of all demonstrators (Nationalist, Communists, independent ppl etc etc) they really did stand out from the crowd, I did arrive a tad bit late... and I was met by a sea of green flags, which hugely annoyed me to say the least, for many reasons (I won't list them because I will be really off the subject in hand) trying to reach the organizers/owners of the event, I was met with their rudeness (which I forgot) do you know that they have made a gap just not to follow the other group, and I am sure you do know that they have claimed they are the ones who have organized the event!!

Not only that, do you know their leaders were parking the brand new Mercedes, meters away from the end point?!?! did you know that they were surrounded by body guards, one of them was surrounded by 4?!?! doesn't this contradict with their "ideology"?! Doesn't this contradict with their understanding of "Islam" which they try to impose on us?!?1?!

They are the ones who met the king on their own a couple of days ago!! and man did we see the hypocrisy, a bunch of opportunistics!! they were not alone in the demonstration, did they care to call the others? did they care to form some kind of union-ship?!?! I didn't see that.

People here follow them, because they use the ever powerful method!! we are Islam, we are your only way to salvation!! so I am not intimidated by them, I am intimidated by the ignorance/denial their followers are living!! this really what scares me...

I believe my problem is, and many shares this problem with me, we only listen to our group of acquaintances usually out of convenience and mainly because we don't have access to others... but I sometimes read the comments and arguments on the web-based newspapers written in Arabic, you'll be shocked!! really you would!!

There is nothing more fearful to me, like ignorance for it'll be easily shaped into monstrous bigots!!

Zainab's views said...

Talal, It has just came to my attention that I might come across as If I am upset or angry... I think I got all carried away with the subject at hand. Apologies if I caused any discomfort.

I was actually thinking to myself, that it has been a very civilized and productive conversation.


Talal said...

Zainab, anger in cases can be well warranted, not saying that I felt any anger from your side, all I felt was frustration of seeing ignorance (which kills me as well) and seeing it employed for the benefit of a few hypocrites. Though expressing anger at the right time at the right place to the right crowd through the right medium can have a positive impact though that's not an easy thing to master, not saying tha t I'm a master, I'm not even close to one.

I have a lot to share about this and the MB losing ground and of Jordan's middle class indifference towards change (amongst mine), but I guess Lama's scrapbook has been largely exploited :)

Zainab's views said...

thus, Tala's blog is in order... I believe you have two guaranteed followers... ;)(yes i am persistent sometimes)