Saturday, February 26, 2011
Revising the West's Low Expectations of Moroccans, Libyans and other Arab Peoples
Here is a piece from the Guardian on the soft-bigotry of low expectations towards the people of Libya and Morocco in terms of their will to participate in the making of their own futures. Our prayers go out to the people of Libya.
An end to this soft bigotry against the Arab world
The west must revise its low expectations as Moroccans and other Arab peoples speak their minds
o Issandr El Amrani
o The Guardian, Tuesday 22 February 2011
There is a phrase coined in 2004 by Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for George W Bush best-known for having come up with "axis of evil", that I've always liked. In a speech about education, he bemoaned "the soft bigotry of lowered expectations" that he believed existed against disadvantaged children.
For several decades, there has been a soft bigotry of lowered expectations in the west and among Arab elites about the Arab world. The prevalent thinking about this region of over 300 million souls is that it offered no fertile ground for democracy, either because democracy risked bringing political forces hostile to western interests or because democracy is not a value that has much currency in the region. Many regimes understood this, and played a double game of decrying their societies' "immaturity" while encouraging anti-democratic tendencies such as populism and, at times, a reactionary social conservatism. After the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, no one will buy this any more – and nor should they about two more north African countries: Libya and Morocco.
Over the last few days, Muammar Gaddafi has waged a vicious battle over his compatriots, hiring foreign mercenaries to take out protesters. Gaddafi, in power since 1969, is best known in the west for his eccentricity, from the voluptuous nurse that accompanies him everywhere to his habit of setting up a bedouin tent during state visits abroad. The focus on such personal foibles, as well as Libya's alleged role in the Lockerbie bombing, has dominated the portrayal of the country. For most people around the world, Libya was Gaddafi.
It turns out there are another 6 million Libyans, many of whom are now rebelling against the Gaddafi family, and that at least 200 have died in the last few days fighting for their freedom. Libya is the Arab world's North Korea, a near-totalitarian nightmare and an insult to common decency. And as Pyongyang is protected by China, so Tripoli is being given cover by Tony Blair, BP and academics-turned-consultants like Anthony Giddens and Benjamin Barber. The idea is that it was best to try to help countries like Libya "reform", even if the reforms in question tended to be mostly about making the place more business-friendly.
The same rationale of lowered expectations can also hold for much more liberal and open Arab societies, For 15 years, Morocco has been considered the "best student" in an Arab class of deadenders. Next to Algeria's traumatised society, Tunisia's police state or Libya's sheer hell, who could disagree? Morocco has made great strides since the 90s in terms of human rights, notably holding the Arab world's first (if somewhat flawed) national reconciliation process and passing progressive laws on women's rights.
But for the last few years something has been increasingly rotten in the kingdom of Morocco. Advances for press freedom made in the 90s have been reversed. A political transition that had been made possible in the late 90s by a historic reconciliation between the opposition and the palace has stalled. A fragile economy has been hampered by a predatory royal holding that creates monopolies for itself.
More and more Moroccans want something akin to what they see in Britain or Spain: a constitutional monarchy where the king is head of state but does not interfere in government. Like the protests elsewhere in the region, the peaceful demonstrations that have taken place in eight cities are about dignity. Moroccans, like other Arabs, are tired of being subjects: they want to be citizens.
They would also like solidarity from the outside world, and to be seen as more than an exotic tourist destination. Outside the palm groves of Marrakech is a university where students are frequently beaten up by police; not far from Tangier's glitzy casbah are young Moroccans who have to bribe their way to a menial job. Their voices deserve to be heard, and concentrating all power in the hands of one man – even one as popular as King Mohammed VI – is no model for 21st-century governance.
In both Libya and Morocco, citizens are speaking their mind. It is not surprising that Libyans are angry, nor that they are being violently suppressed: they represent the death knell for Gaddafi's grotesque regime. And it is not surprising that Moroccans, despite police intimidation and incitement by some pro-regime media, have broken their wall of fear and asked for the regime's promises of reforms to be implemented. No matter how different their situations, they ask for the same thing: dignity and the world's recognition of shared humanity. Libyans are not condemned to be ruled by Gaddafis for eternity; Moroccans do not have to settle for an absolute monarchy, no matter how enlightened. Encouraged by their neighbours' example, they have higher expectations for their future, and so should you.