The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Khouri on reconfiguration of state power

Rami Khouri has written a series of thoughtful articles about the restructuration of state power in the Arab world -- both the power shift away from the military towards the security services as well as wider issues of the failure of public institutions. His his latest piece he explores the subject further:

What is significant is that the centralized power of Arab states is slowly fraying or dissipating, even in strong states with emphatic central governments and efficient, self-assertive security organizations, such as Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

Power is decentralizing in many cases because governments simply do not have sufficient money to maintain the welfare, employment, subsidy and state-building services they provided very efficiently for half a century after the surprise of their own statehood in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

The decentralization and dissipation of state power into the hands of Islamicized urban quarters, armed militias, ethnic-based parties, neighborhood thugs, autonomous regional authorities, multinational corporations, and private sector commercial real estate firms is an important sign of several simultaneous phenomena: the fraying credibility of state authority, the determination of concerned citizens to take charge of their own life needs and well-being, and the enormous power of the globalized commercial marketplace.

As Arab power configurations evolve, it is critically important that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past 75 years on authoritarian governance; instead, we must prod sensible statehood by consulting rather than ignoring the Arab citizen. Coming to grips with the evolving realities of power and authority requires much more honest, integrated and sophisticated analysis than has broadly pertained in recent years in the public discussions of what is wrong with our societies and how can we make things better. Much of this debate has been driven by ideological zealots, and a few naïve rascals in the Anglo-American-Israeli-dominated West, who tend mainly to focus on Islam and Arab violence -- or by elite Arab autocrats who are equally blind to the powerful currents of their own fellow citizens’ discontent and fear.

The reconfiguration of power and authority is the big, new, historic and pervasive macro-development now taking place in Arab society, as the prevailing power structure of the past 75 years reaches the limits of its abilities. Not surprisingly, concerned citizens, agile gangs and efficient businessmen alike are moving in to grab their share of power in those spaces where the state is retreating, or franchising its own legitimacy and authority. Handled wisely, this could be a heartening and positive development that allows Arab society to define itself according to the consensus views of its pluralistic citizens -- unless American, British, Israeli or other Western armies invade again and try to re-configure us to their liking, rather than to our rights and wishes.