For a thoughtful assessment of the subterranean stirrings in the Arab world, read Rami Khouri’s piece in the Lebanese paper, The Daily Star. Khouri has just returned from travels across a broad swath of the Levant, and everywhere he has found peoples and rulers struggling to find a path out of the status quo. That this is a struggle for freedom is abundantly clear; that it may end as something quite different, more violent and chaotic, is no less apparent. Khouri’s findings, in a nutshell:
Everywhere in the Arab world the calm on the surface is tenuous and vulnerable. Pressures for change emanate from within the Arab countries, and equally from external pressures. This is driven by economic stress and a deeper sense of the average citizen’s indignity at living in societies where power is neither accountable nor contestable, and where citizen rights are neither codified nor respected.
But these are visceral not constitutional societies, and verbal not digital or parliamentary societies. Body language rules here more than the eloquence or principles of national founding fathers. So do not look for signs of stress or change in polling data, legislative votes or political party activity. Those superficial imports from retreating colonial European powers three generations ago have little anchorage or meaning in most Arab societies. Here, power relationships are negotiated over coffee, meals, chance encounters and leisurely chats – and they are constantly, perpetually renegotiated and reaffirmed, day after day, year after year, generation after generation.
This is what is going on now in every Arab country. Arab rulers and ruled alike fervently but quietly search for the mechanisms of orderly change, aware that the traditional social contract and power equation that have defined this region since the 1920s are on their last legs. The common phenomenon I have witnessed around the Arab world is that growing majorities of ordinary citizens seek peaceful but effective ways to challenge, and change, state structures and the use of power – because these state structures mostly do not offer their people sustainable security, expressions of their real identity, freedom of choice and speech, relevant education, or minimally attractive job prospects.
Read the whole thing.