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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Tuesday, August 20, 2002 at 1:36PM :

Oh! I see! It runs in the MidEastern family! What a disease! It is time, has been time for a long while, for all MidEasterners to unite, regardless of religion. Otherwise, we all lose.
15 - 21 August 2002
Issue No.599
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM

Disunity and factionalism
What lies behind the Pavlovian regularity with which Arabs try to hurt and
impede each other rather than uniting behind a common purpose, asks Edward

Underlying most of the findings in the much cited 2002 UNDP Arab Human
Development Report is the extraordinary lack of coordination between Arab
countries. There is considerable irony in the fact that the Arabs are
discussed and referred to both in this report and elsewhere as a group even
though they seem rarely to function as one, except negatively. Thus the
report correctly says that there is no Arab democracy, Arab women are
uniformly an oppressed majority, and in science and technology every Arab
state is behind the rest of the world. Certainly there is little strategic
cooperation between them and virtually none in the economic sphere. As for
more specific issues like policy towards Israel, the US and the
Palestinians, and despite a common front of embarrassed hand-wringing and
disgraceful powerlessness, one senses a frightened determination first of
all not to offend the US, not to engage in war or in a real peace with
Israel, not ever to think of a common Arab front even on matters that affect
an over-all Arab future or security. Yet when it comes to the perpetuation
of each regime, the Arab ruling classes are united in purpose and survival

This shambles of inertia and impotence is, I am convinced, an affront to
every Arab. This is why so many Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Moroccans
and others have taken to the streets in support of the Palestinian people
undergoing the nightmare of Israeli occupation, with the Arab leadership
looking on and basically doing nothing. Street demonstrations are
demonstrations not only of support for Palestine, but also protests at the
immobilising effects of Arab disunity. An even more eloquent sign of the
common disenchantment is the frequent, wrenchingly sad television scene of a
Palestinian woman surveying the ruins of her house demolished by Israeli
bulldozers, wailing to the world at large "ya Arab, ya Arab" ("oh you Arabs,
you Arabs"). There is no more eloquent testimony to the betrayal of the Arab
people by their (mostly unelected) leaders than that indictment, which is to
say: "why don't you Arabs ever do anything to help us?" Despite money and
oil aplenty, there is only the stony silence of an unmoved spectator.

Even on an individual level, alas, disunity and factionalism have crippled
one national effort after the other. Take the saddest of all instances, the
case of the Palestinian people. I recall wondering during the Amman and
Beirut days why it was necessary for somewhere between eight to 12
Palestinian factions to exist, each fighting over uselessly academic issues
of ideology and organisation while Israel and the local militias bled us
dry. Looking back over the Lebanese days that came to a terrible end in
Sabra and Shatilla, whose purpose did it serve to have the Popular Front,
Fatah, and the Democratic Front -- to mention only three factions --
fighting among each other, to have leaders within Fatah proclaiming
needlessly provocative slogans like "the road to Tel Aviv goes through
Jounieh" even as Israel allied itself with the right-wing Lebanese militias
to destroy the Palestinian presence for Israel's purposes? And what cause
has been served by Yasser Arafat's tactics of creating factions, subgroups
and security forces to war against each other during the Oslo process and
leave his people unprotected and unprepared for the Israeli destruction of
the infrastructure and re- occupation of Area A?

It's always the same thing, factionalism, disunity, the absence of a common
purpose for which in the end ordinary people pay the price in suffering,
blood and endless destruction. Even on the level of social structure, it is
almost a commonplace that Arabs as a group fight among themselves more than
they do for a common purpose. We are individualists, it is said by way of
justification, ignoring the fact that such disunity and internal
disorganisation in the end damages our very existence as a people. Nothing
can be more disheartening than the disputes that corrode Arab expatriate
organisations, especially in places like the US and Europe, where relatively
small Arab communities are surrounded by hostile environments and militant
opponents who will stop at nothing to discredit the Arab struggle. Still,
instead of trying to unite and work together, these communities get torn
apart by totally unnecessary ideological and factional struggles that have
no immediate relevance, no necessity at all so far as the surrounding field
is concerned.

A few days ago, I was startled by a discussion programme on Al-Jazeera
television in which the two participants and a needlessly provocative
moderator vehemently discussed Arab-American activism during the present
crisis. One man, a certain Mr Dalbah, identified vaguely as a "political
analyst" in Washington (without apparent affiliation or institutional
connection) spent all of his time discrediting the one serious national
Arab-American group, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC),
which he accused of ineffectiveness and its leaders of egoism, opportunism
and personal corruption. The other gentleman, whose name I didn't catch,
admitted that he has only been in the US for a very few years and didn't
seem to know much about what was going on, except of course to argue that he
had better ideas than all the other community leaders.

Although I only watched the first and last parts of the programme, I was thoroughly
disillusioned and even disgraced by the discussion. What was the point, I
asked myself? In what way is it useful to tear down an organisation that has
been doing by far the best work in a country where Arabs are outnumbered and
out-organised not only by all the many, much larger and extremely well-
financed Zionist organisations, but also where the society itself and its
media are so hostile to Arabs, Islam, and their causes in general? None at
all, of course. Yet there remains this pernicious factionalism by which,
with almost Pavlovian regularity, Arabs try to hurt and impede each other
rather than uniting behind a common purpose. If there is little
justification for such behavior in the Arab lands themselves, surely there
is less reason for it abroad, where Arab individuals and communities are
targeted and threatened as undesirable aliens and terrorists.

The Al-Jazeera programme was more offensive by its gratuitous inaccuracy and
the needless personal harm it did to the late Hala Salam Maksoud, who
literally gave her life to the cause of ADC, and to its current president Dr
Ziad Asli, a public-spirited physician who voluntarily gave up his medical
practice to run the organisation on a pro bono basis. Dalbah kept
insinuating that both these activists were motivated by reasons of personal
monetary gain, and that whatever ADC did it did badly. Aside from the
scandalous untruth of such allegations, Dalbah's idle and malicious
gossip -- it was no more than that -- harmed the collective Arab cause,
leaving anger and more factionalism in its wake. Moreover, it should be
noted that given the extremely inhospitable American political setting to
the Arab cause, ADC has been very successful in Washington and nationally as
an organisation rebutting charges against Arabs in the media, protecting
individuals from government persecution after 9/11, and keeping
Arab-Americans involved and participating in the national debate. Because of
this success under Asali, factionalism has infected the organisation's
employees who suddenly embarked on a campaign of personal vilification
masked as ideological argument. Of course everyone has the right to
criticise. But why, in the face of such threats as those we face in the US,
should we splinter and weaken ourselves like this, when it is clear that the
only beneficiary is the pro-Israel lobby? Organisations like ADC are first
of all American organisations and cannot function as partisans in struggles
of the kind that recall those of Fakahani in the mid-seventies.

Perhaps the main reason for Arab factionalism at every level of our
societies, at home and abroad, is the marked absence of ideals and role
models. Since Abdel-Nasser's death, whatever one may have thought of some of
his more ruinous policies, no figure has captured the Arab imagination or
had a role in setting a popular liberation struggle. Look at the disaster of
the PLO, which has been reduced from the days of its glory to an old
unshaven man, sitting at a broken-down table, in half a house in Ramallah,
trying to survive at any cost, whether or not he sells out, whether or not
he says foolish things, whether what he says means anything or not. (A
couple of weeks ago, he was quoted as saying that he now accepts the 2000
Clinton plan, though the only problem is that it is now 2002 and Clinton is
no longer president.) It has been years since Arafat represented his people,
their sufferings and cause, and like his other Arab counterparts, he hangs
on like a much-too-ripe fruit without real purpose or position. There is
thus no strong moral centre in the Arab world today. Cogent analysis and
rational discussion have given way to fanatical ranting, concerted action on
behalf of liberation has been reduced to suicidal attacks, and the idea if
not the practice of integrity and honesty as a model to be followed has
simply disappeared. So corrupting has the atmosphere exuded from the Arab
world become that one scarcely knows why some people are successful while
others are thrown in jail.

As a terribly shocking instance, consider the Egyptian sociologist Saadeddin
Ibrahim's fate. Released by a civil court a few months ago, he has now been
tried, found guilty and sentenced to a cruelly unjustified sentence by the
state security court for exactly those "crimes" for which he was earlier
released. Where is the moral justification for such toying with a person's
life, career and reputation? A matter of months ago, he was a trusted
adviser to the government and on the boards of several Arab institutes and
projects. Now he is considered to be a condemned criminal. Whose interests,
whether by virtue of national unity, or coherent strategy, or moral
imperative, does his gratuitous punishment in this way serve? More
factionalism, more disintegration, more sense of drift and fear and a
pervading sense of frustrated justice.

Arabs have for so long been deprived of a sense of participation and
citizenship by their rulers that most of us have lost even the capacity of
understanding what personal commitment to a cause bigger than ourselves
might mean. The Palestinian struggle -- that a people should endure such
unremitting cruelty from Israel and still not give up, is a collective
miracle -- but why can't the lessons of living (as opposed to suicidal,
nihilistic) resistance be made clearer, and more possible to follow? This is
the real problem, the absence all over the Arab world and abroad of a
leadership that communicates with its people, not via communiqués that
express an impersonal, almost disdainful disregard of them as citizens, but
through the actual practice of concerted dedication and personal example.
Unable to move the US from its illegal support of Israel's crimes, Arab
leaders simply throw out one "peace" proposal (the same one) after another,
each of which is dismissed derisively by both Israel and the US. Bush and
his psychopathic henchman Rumsfeld keep leaking news of their impending
invasion for "regime change" in Iraq, and the Arabs have still not
communicated a unified deterrent position against this new American
insanity. When individuals and organisations like ADC try to do something on
behalf of a cause they are gunned down by troublemakers who have little else
to do but destroy and disturb.

Surely the time has come to start thinking of ourselves as a people with a
common history and goals, and not as a collection of cowardly delinquents.
But that is up to each one, and it's no good sitting back blaming "the
Arabs" since, after all, we are the Arabs.

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

-- Lilly
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