The Globalist Takeaway: The Arab World in Crisis

by Marissa Dearing:

“Arab governments have a choice,” asserted former Jordanian foreign minister and deputy prime minister Marwan Muasher: They can address the deeper issues spurring the recent protests or they can let the uprisings go wild.

According to Muasher, a former Jordanian ambassador to the U.S. and the first Jordanian ambassador to Israel, Arab countries have been almost exclusively defined by their relationship to Israel, but the demands for change spring from long-standing issues that have little to do with the Jewish state. “Prioritizing the Israeli-Palestinian peace resolution is no longer acceptable,” warned Muasher. “People also want good government.”

Unfortunately, Arab countries largely maintain that “their special [religious] circumstances allow them to forfeit a meaningful reform process,” and their elite classes have defended their interests with contrived rationalizations attractive to foreign and domestic audiences. Accordingly, the response of Arab governments has been “utterly lacking.” Interpreting protestors’ demands in purely economic terms, they have offered quick fixes that “might have worked in the past.” Now, however, “serious attention must be paid to fixing the serious [political] problems if the protests are to end.”

Former Jordanian foreign minister and deputy prime minister Marwan Muasher discusses the special "window of opportunity" that Arab governments now face. (Dearing,TYG)

Existing election laws are engineered to protect the elite: the parliaments instituted and sustained by such laws “are never intended to share power” with other branches “or hold [them] in check against any excesses.” The elite have used a simple and, until recently, effective argument: “Open up the [political] system and the Islamists come in. Therefore, keep the system closed.”

“Today, we are seeing the grand success of such elite rule . . . unfettered by a free press or a truly empowered public,” lamented Muasher. The “political inertia meant to protect the elite and later to shield the populace from religious radicalism produced the opposite effect.” The reality, he contended, is “you don’t open up the system and the Islamists, and only the Islamists, come in and garner popular support.” The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have fundamentally debunked the conventional anti-Islamist narrative: In Tunisia, “one person unaffiliated with any Islamist party inspired a revolution that led to the fall of an autocrat,” and in Egypt, a new generation “using social media as an effective communication tool changed the political landscape in three weeks.”

Muasher believes there is now a “special window of opportunity” for “a new way of thinking” that pushes for a genuine “reform process, checks and balances, a stable, peaceful, and economically developed region, and a society that includes all of its citizens.” In his view, the three main principles essential to genuine reform are “peaceful means, pluralism, and inclusion,” and “commitment to all three ideas will strengthen the Arab center and widen its support base across all Arab society.” What’s needed is a “fundamental belief in and commitment to societal diversity across the board,” Muasher explained. “No party has an exclusive hold on truth and power.” No party should be able to impose its cultural views on the rest of society. What’s needed, in his view, is a multi-party system that respects majority rule and protects minority rights, and a strong parliament with true oversight, a free press, and a free and fair judiciary to support that system.

Moreover, Muasher disputes the right of any group to pursue its objectives through violent means: Hamas, Hezbollah and all other non-state actors must be fully disarmed and incorporated into the political system.  Finally, Arab governments must embrace pluralism. Any “moderate discourse” that is to institute real reform “must seek an inclusive society of all its citizens and regard this society as a positive force. . . . Women must be full participants in the development of a society with equal rights.”

The solution for the former deputy prime minister is in the quality, not quantity, of education in the Arab world. A “curriculum that nurtures a healthy concept of citizenship and leads to real state-building” by fostering “tolerance and diversity” and “different points of view” is “glaringly lacking” according to Muasher. “Instead, today, [Arab] children are taught at an early age that individual differences must be suppressed” for the good of the nation. Children “learn to think monolithically” and critical thinking is discouraged. “Truths are always absolute not relative. . . . Diversity, critical thinking, and individual differences are treasonous.”

Muasher believes the U.S. needs to fundamentally alter its stance toward the Arab world by “abandoning a decades-long policy of . . . prioritizing stability over real reforms,” a policy Muasher attributed to the U.S. preoccupation with “oil and Israel.”

Muasher concluded by insisting, “Arab moderates must realize that they cannot limit their moderation to the peace process and remain credible in their public’s eyes.” They must also emphasize “good government, inclusive, economic reform, and checks and balances.” If the Arab center is to be successful and “shake its image as an apologist for the West, it must confront the challenge of creating democratic, tolerant, legitimate governance.” Arab governments often publicly state that they are interested in reform and popular wellbeing, but their citizens are “increasingly skeptical.” For Muasher, the “status quo of doing nothing is not sustainable.”

Marissa Dearing ’14 is a freshman in Berkeley College. Contact her at