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Restless Natives PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Tuesday, 02 January 2007 13:13
Restless Natives

- Rami G. Khouri - The journalist?s tendency to look back on the past year and spot important new trends is heightened when the setting for such an exercise is the idyllic northeastern shore of the Dead Sea in Jordan, where I spent the last days of 2006. Amidst some serious serial napping, as I reviewed the past year I noted half a dozen recent and ongoing developments that may be worth keeping an eye on in the years ahead.


The violent polarization that has grown to dominate the Middle East region the past few years could be simply a throwback to earlier days of foreign intervention but for the self-assertion of regular citizens insisting on a say in their government.

Restless Natives and Historical Reruns

Rami G. Khouri

Agence Global
January 2, 2007

SWEIMEH, the Dead Sea, Jordan - Polarization and confrontation, with occasional violence, have become the prevailing political norm in the region, as the docile ideological center of years past temporarily leaves the stage. Militant polarization manifests itself on three levels and is evident in many countries such as Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Sudan, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain and others. The three levels are: local power balances, regional alliances aligned around the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a global confrontation pitting Arab-Iranian Islamism against American-Israeli-Arab power elites.

If the increasingly common use of violence by most local and foreign parties in the Middle East becomes the norm of political expression, it could remove negotiated politics as a credible means of conduct for years to come. Political and military violence are now routinely used by all around here: Arab states and regimes in the Middle East, Iran and Turkey, Anglo-American-led foreign armadas, local hegemonic and occupying powers like Israel, assorted terrorist groups, several resistance movements, and a wide range of local gangs and criminals. No wonder that the most common symbol of the contemporary Middle East -- at airports, hotels, government offices, shopping malls -- is the security guard with metal-detecting scanner. It is the sad icon that defines and unites us, but it is an icon of our own making.

Foreign intervention in domestic affairs, though not new, has become more common and audacious, involving primarily countries like Iran, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and some low-key Europeans. Foreign support for local proxies is most obvious in Lebanon and Palestine, but also evident in Somalia, Iraq and Sudan. The latest entry into this club is the Ethiopian army in Somalia, where the rollback of the Islamists who had recently controlled the Mogadishu capital region is likely to encourage more such foreign assistance to stop the advance of political Islamists. Such a strategy is underway in Lebanon and Palestine, where political forces of roughly equal strength on both sides are likely to be forced to accept compromise agreements, rather than fight to the finish.

Consequently, we may be witnessing the birth of an odd new system in which Middle Eastern countries are governed by political elites umbilically linked to foreign patrons. This mirrors two recent historical antecedents: the foreign mandates that ruled this region after World War One, and the Capitulations system during the Ottoman era that allowed European powers to protect minorities (mainly Christians and Jews) in the Middle East. It is bizarre, and troubling, that as most of the world moves forward in history, our region is moving backwards towards arrangements from the past.

The turmoil and spiraling violence throughout the region are prompting honest people to acknowledge that trying to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict is probably the single most useful thing to do in the short run in the quest for a more stable region. This has not yet been translated into meaningful diplomatic progress, but it is one of the few signs that some people may respond sensibly to the violence and incoherence all around them.

This could be linked to the expanding opportunity for the United Nations to play a constructive role in the region, if it can break away from Washington's attempt to turn it into an agency of the Defense Department. Signs of this include the UN Security Council-mandated investigation into the murder of Rafik Hariri and dozens of others since February 2005, the Lebanese-international court being set up to try those who will be accused of the murders, the details of Resolution 1701 that opens the way for Lebanese-Israeli conflict resolution, the expanded UN military force in South Lebanon, and the UN's expected greater role in Darfur in Sudan.

Change is everywhere, but not always positive, as our region and its many foreign patrons refuse to remain static, or docile, for long. After half a century of mostly frozen political development, the Middle East is experiencing the resumption of history, with all its good and bad dimensions. Unlike 1918 and 1948, though, this episode of historical change is especially noteworthy because the people of this region insist on participating in this process, rather than being passive and helpless recipients of foreign powers' sometimes drunken dictates. That strikes me as the most important development of 2006 -- the self-assertion of Middle Eastern natives who are not only restless, but determined to play a role in the new drama of their own destiny.

Rami G. Khouri
is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star.

Copyright ?2007 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global


Released: 02 January 2007
Word Count: 806



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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation, The American Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, as well as expert commentary by Richard Bulliet, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 January 2007 13:13

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