Bad social policy, not ideology, blamed for the Arab world's downward spiral

Jul 09, 2014 by Rana Jawad
Political Islam: Muslim brotherhood supporters in Cairo. Credit: EPA/Ahmed Almasry

The rapid rise of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to global notoriety has taken observers of Middle East politics by surprise. All of a sudden, a new Islamist political movement has stunningly upstaged former global public enemy number one al-Qaeda and establishes an Islamic state, a caliphate encompassing lands in both Iraq and Syria.

ISIS sees itself and its newly declared caliphate as revoking the historic deals that were struck between European imperial powers after World War I, which gave us most of the Middle Eastern borders we know today.

Nothing symbolises the sorry state of Arab politics more than the march of ISIS. The Arab world at large appears to be fast descending into a political quagmire, only a few years after the euphoria of the so-called Arab Spring. The unravelling of old dictatorships in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria has opened up a pandora's box of sectarian, ethnic and tribal divisions, old faultlines that have persisted under the heavy hand of police states for the last century.

And the more chaotic the region becomes, the more desperate and frustrated the search for a meaningful explanation.

Bad governance

From the perspective of many western governments and much of the western media, many Arab countries have never been able to govern themselves effectively. They lack structures for effective democratic governance and rule of law; they are bedeviled by corruption and are too influenced by Arab or Islamic traditions which favour paternalistic or patronage systems of rule.

The rise of ISIS, meanwhile, is yet another example of how many Arab states, who never really saw their independence-era nation-building projects to completion, are still being buffetted about by the whims of modern-day feudal warlords.

In this sense, ISIS embodies the regressive and reactionary nature of "political Islam". The Arab world is of strategic interest to the West thanks to oil; at best, wealthy gulf countries fund football clubs, car and horse racing, and London skyscrapers – but beyond this, at least viewed from the West, it's hard to see what the Arab region stands for in the world today.

But in the region itself, that narrative is read very differently indeed.

Too much intervention

Arab politicians and current affairs commentators alike have a fondness for conspiracy theories. Many of the woes the Arab countries have faced are often blamed on American-Israeli and perhaps also British plotting against long-term stability in the Arab countries; the old colonial "divide and rule" tactics have not been forgotten.

Much of this thinking stems from the tension between various states and movements (Syria, Iran, and the Lebanese Hezbollah) and Israel, with the conflict over Palestine now at its most heated for years.

In their eyes, much conflict within the Arab region (and between Sunnis and Shias in particular) is the latest in a long line of plots to weaken anti-Israeli sentiment and embroil the Arab world with internal conflict – and eventually to dismantle the resistant states and Hezbollah. In this scenario, the dark side of Gulf wealth is the funding of radical movements like ISIS.

The situation, then, is that many Arab peoples are so busy fighting and killing each other they are not attending to the real social challenges which are causing them real social harm: disunity, unemployment, poverty, and social inequality.

Better policy needed

This is the biggest missing link in the media and political debate over the ISIS crisis. Modern Islamist social movements often proclaim that "Islam is the solution" to all the social and political woes of Arab populations. This reflects the fact that under dictatorship, the only viable platform for political protest in the Arab world was Islamic identity; there could be no civil society and no freedom of association; after dictatorship, religious identity was the inevitable fall-back position for political organisation.

The pressing social problems facing Arab and Muslim populations are often overshadowed in Western media coverage by the problem of "political Islam". Arab countries have some of the highest levels of unemployment in the world; they have not industrialised sufficiently (or at all, in some cases) to develop their workforces' skills and knowledge base.

Worse still, their reliance on rentier income from oil, gas or foreign remittances attached to those industries has lead sluggish economic growth and kept human capital poor.

The motivating thrust of political Islam is a sense of social dislocation, and a search for the identity and independence of the Arab nation. But the convoluted politics and thwarted economics of Arab countries make any such search terribly myopic, even disregarding the ideological extremism of Islamist movements.

For too long, the question of social policy in the Arab countries has been sidelined by raging political disputes, and these states badly need to start using policy to articulate a lost sense of the common good. An essential dimension of this governance reform would require Arab countries renegotiating their place within the wider political economy, and being less hostage to outside political influence of ally states (both within the Middle East and the West) and more receptive to the will of their people.

Until that happens, the reign of terror will prevail.

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rockwolf1000
5 / 5 (6) Jul 09, 2014
"Bad social policy, not ideology, blamed for the Arab world's downward spiral"

I don't believe the two can be separated. Bad social policy stems from ideology which stems from culture. They are deeply related as one begets the other.
COCO
5 / 5 (1) Jul 10, 2014
thank goodness none of this can be blamed on illegal wars of aggression - CIA coups - that would be a hard thesis to prove.
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (5) Jul 10, 2014
thank goodness none of this can be blamed on illegal wars of aggression - CIA coups - that would be a hard thesis to prove.

Arabs have been fighting each other long before the CIA existed and long before Mohammed.

Lawrence of Arabia is banned in Saudi Arabia because the current leadership fought and won control of Arabia from those in Lawrence fought with.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (8) Jul 10, 2014
Poor USA led into wars of aggression with Iraq and Syria to preserve their petrodollar. It was a trap as the Saudis are abandoning USA for China regardless, and USA simply marginalized all Saudi opposition without Saudis ever pulling a trigger. Soon USA will grow to resemble it's third world hellhole satellites in the vision of neonazi Ukraine

Anyone with a three digit IQ knows al-Qaeda is a CIA operation

"Arab politicians and current affairs commentators alike have a fondness for conspiracy theories" - All wars begin with conspiracies. Gauging by the scale of these controversies, it will be a very big war. Stupid comment
AJW
not rated yet Jul 11, 2014
Long, nice rant, where is the science?
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (3) Jul 13, 2014
Among other things, note the depressive note about the wave of Arab uprisings only a few years ago. That was described as "overturning the old order and establishing a new atmosphere of freedom and liberty". Completely ignoring, among other things, if it was so natural and, therefore, inevitable, why didn't it happen long before this? And why simultaneously across Northern Africa. And all over a vendor who can be described as feeling anti feminist outraged because he was upbraided by a woman police officer!
And, if the proclamations by every venue about those "revolutions" were wrong, how much can even this "analysis" be trusted?
DoieaS
2 / 5 (4) Jul 13, 2014
Social policy is always based on ideology, bad social policy is therefore based on bad ideology. For example the socialistic ideology has a proclamatively strong social policy, but it was completely wrong economically, so that as the result, even its social policy was nothing special and many people emigrated from socialistic countries. We shouldn't expect, the religious ideology of Islam countries will be something special from economical perspective neither.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (3) Jul 13, 2014
Among other things, societies are seen by power mongers as manipulatable if they need resources from outside. And, frankly, that's what "industrialized" societies, like the West, want to see their populaces as, that defines the "nation" mentality. The public are dependent on "the nation" for supplies and protection, they can be easily reached by representatives of "government" to punish them for not, for example, paying taxes, they end up seeing themselves as part of "the nation" and "patriotism" develops from that. Any culture that grows its own food cannot necessarily be defined the same way as, say, many if not most modern Americans can be! And this leads to immediate personal goals being transcendent, which means they'll side, even momentarily, with whoever gets this one small job done, then they'll shift to someone else. They don't see themselves as a "nation", beyond the bounds of their family or tribe.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (5) Jul 13, 2014
Indeed, the bad mouthing and antipathy of the West for the Middle East seems to have its roots in the fact that the Middle Eastern societal system is very self-sustaining, it does not submit to the bullying machinations which the "industrialized countries" use to try to keep those the power mongers want to think of as "beasts of burden" in line! Venomous viciousness toward the Arab states by the West is not based on "terrorist" attacks. Any acts of aggression against The West that aren't fabrications by the New World Order to sway the gullible into bloodthirsty frenzy can be traced to Arab resentment for colonialist machinations by The West long before any "terrorism" was practiced! The Arab World is in no "downward spiral". They have little money because they don't need it, any needs they supply themselves or get from strong family bonds and they are protected by separation from "government" bullying. Western societal standards of "quality of life" don't apply.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 13, 2014
The west was able to escape the Middle Ages because society was able to throw off the mantle of religion. Religion has not changed. The books still say exactly the same things.

Society forbids religionists from acting on what their books require of them. Stoning insolent children and wayward women is no longer tolerated in the west although it is still mandated in the books. A war was required to end southern slavery because the bible condones it.

We would still be in a dark age had not the enlightenment occurred. Much of the Middle East remains in a religion-dominated dark age and they will have no peace until they climb out from under it.

The less a culture is dominated by religion the more peaceful and prosperous it is.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 13, 2014
if it was so natural and, therefore, inevitable, why didn't it happen long before this? And why simultaneously across Northern Africa
The ottomans were instrumental in keeping Moslems fighting amongst themselves and the region as a whole in feudal poverty. The people were always on the verge of starvation, just as it was throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.

When the ottomans fell the French and the Brits divided up the various nationalistic entities throughout the region and enclosed the shards within artificial borders. These phony countries were dominated by oppressive regimes which managed conflict and kept populations from growing.

All that changed when the shah was overthrown. Fundamentalism forced explosive growth with the intent of fueling a series of wars which will eventually lead to the destruction of religionism in africa and the middle east, in the same way the world wars were required to end it elsewhere.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Jul 13, 2014
Poor USA led into wars of aggression with Iraq and Syria to preserve their petrodollar
'Their' petrodollar is what has funded all the explosive pop growth and constructive violence over there.
Anyone with a three digit IQ knows al-Qaeda is a CIA operation
You say this like its a bad thing. Let me say an even badder thing: CALIPHATE.

Bin laden was instrumental in siphoning off all the contentious young Pakistani hotheads and sending them westward into coalition gunsights. As a result, nuclear pakistan has so far escaped revolution. And much of what is happening over there is being funded by Saudi petrodollars, not US.

War is inevitable in those cultures. You'll have to forgive the west for seeking to Manage it so that it doesn't destroy the world.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (6) Jul 13, 2014
Social policy is always based on ideology, bad social policy is therefore based on bad ideology. For example the socialistic ideology has a proclamatively strong social policy, but it was completely wrong economically, so that as the result, even its social policy was nothing special and many people emigrated from socialistic countries. We shouldn't expect, the religious ideology of Islam countries will be something special from economical perspective neither.
@zephir
I agree with this, and it is also supported by Otto's further posts like this
The less a culture is dominated by religion the more peaceful and prosperous it is
the problem is the influence of religion and especially the fanatical factions that maintain such tight controls

can I get an AMen? LOL
sorry. couldn't resist
DutchWayne
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 13, 2014
How do you separate the ideology, the religion, and the bad governance? They are so intertwined in the Arab world they can not be treated as separate pieces. There are few societies where this is possible if any. It is a display of reality disconnect that is rare to see and one that is in itself driven by ideology.

And to Captain Stumpy, I have a question: Nazi Germany, Communist China, North Korea, the USSR, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Communist Cuba all supressed religion, murdered millions of people and committed terrible crimes. Nor did any of them prosper until China loosened the reins. During the same period, the USA, one of the most religious christian countries, grew by leaps and bounds, ended Jim Cros , womans lib and all the rest. Reconcile that with your dim light bulb statement.
DoieaS
2 / 5 (4) Jul 13, 2014
The Arab World is in no "downward spiral"
It's hard to believe: the Kabul in 1976 and now, Iran in 1970 (and the oil was still dirty cheap that time!).
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.3 / 5 (6) Jul 14, 2014
Nazi Germany, Communist China, North Korea, the USSR, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Communist Cuba all supressed religion, murdered millions of people and committed terrible crimes
Hitler was a catholic who regularly claimed that he was chosen by god. Nazism had a chosen people, a holy land to conquer, and a superhuman messiah.

Communist literature is full of references to the spirit and the afterlife. The chosen people in this case are the workers who have the divine right to take from the rich.

Nazism and communism are religions. Their structure and function are taken right out of the bible. And the US is NOT a xian country. This is myth and propaganda.
http://youtu.be/TXR6szFBb4A
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Jul 15, 2014
Palestinians use children to protect their missiles.
Israelis use missile to protect their children.