Oh pessimistic Arab, do not limit your field of vision to Iraq and Syria, their collapse, and the rivers of blood and hatred that now flow in both countries. Do not limit your field of vision to Libya, which has traded its freedom and victory against dictatorship for chaos, turmoil and conflict between yesterday’s revolutionaries. Do not limit it either to Yemen, which has lost its wisdom. Look to Jordan and Morocco, for in those countries there is hope and space for reform, news of which has been drowned out in the clamor of the Arab Spring.
These two Arab countries, neither of which is an oil state, were almost struck by the same misfortunes that struck other Arab countries amid the still ongoing wave of the Arab Spring. However, they were both able to ride that wave. They did it not by setting aside or delaying its demands, nor by resorting to force, tyranny, security and arrests. Rather, they turned the Arab Spring and its demonstrations and anger into positive energy. They effected a reconciliation between the government and the people by raising the standard of reform and making reform a demand shared by king and citizen.
Jordan and Morocco are two models that can be emulated by those who are still holding firm and have not been left behind. They include states that collapsed into civil war, like Syria, are in fear of doing so, like Yemen and Libya, or fell apart, like Iraq. Reform in these states is all but too late, and they require external intervention. The longer their situation is neglected, the worse they will become and the more they will affect their neighbors.
Coherent Arab states still have a sound political and social infrastructure. They sometimes are exposed to the Arab Spring’s harsh flames, but at other times they face its soft breezes, as if to remind the believers. God bestowed upon these states peoples that have begun to fear the Arab Spring’s winds and breezes, to the extent that the examples of the states and regimes that fell during the Arab Spring made them distance themselves from the idea of “total Western democracy.” This came to be viewed as a historical outcome of societies that enjoyed development, years of modernization and the spread of education. It has become common to hear in assemblies the expression, “Our society is not ready for democracy.” Heads nod in agreement, with the exception of a silent intellectual sitting in the corner and watched by the assembly. They want him to say something that they have become accustomed to hearing from him, but he is silent. Inside, he has come to agree with them because of what he has seen, heard and experienced, but his pride forces him to respond, if only with silence. He has been convinced that the “old Arab regime” will not withstand a full dose of democracy, nor even the handover of power. This has been especially true since it regained its strength following the quake of 2011, and the shock of the rapid fall of five presidents.
We must therefore set “total democracy” aside and adopt a recipe for reform to face the storms of the Arab Spring and the Islamic State (IS), which sank its teeth into the Arab Spring’s back. The view of those two together became awful to behold, and the pain of the Arab Spring mixed with the anger of IS, so that the viewer could not distinguish between their two screams.
However, if we looked back and listened well to the demands of the Arab Spring, back when it was a dreaming youth, and without the clamor of al-Qaeda and IS — those who use explosive barrels or the screams of the arrested and the whipping of the prisoners — we would hear demands that revolved around “a better life, and some participation in politics,” so that citizens of Arab nations feel that they have honor and that their rights are being respected.
This is what happened in Jordan and Morocco. Indeed, the Jordanian-Moroccan medicine did not just cure the Arab Spring, but also political Islam — feared by the old, stability-loving Arab system. In the beginning, the king of Jordan gave political Islam the opportunity to participate, but it refused to do so and lost its popularity, because it seemed to be shirking responsibility. As more than one Jordanian has said,”We do not want sermons; we want a better life.” A better life comes with participation and taking up political responsibilities.
Today, new forces have emerged in Jordan that have begun to represent a popular alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood — who marginalized itself by wasting the opportunity to participate in forthcoming elections — which will produce the first parliamentary government in the Hashemite Kingdom. This is the good news that was lost in the clamor of the Arab Spring’s bad news.
In Morocco, the opposite happened. The Moroccan king preceded his Jordanian equivalent in forming a “parliamentary government.” Popular anger resulted, leading from a system of rule restricted to the king and his government to a parliamentary government chosen by the people. This government began undertaking the responsibilities of governing, and not the king. It also happened that an Islamist had won the opportunity to administer that government. It was as if everyone discovered each other — the king, the people, and the Islamists — and found that they loved each other. Today, relations are excellent between the Moroccan king and his Islamist PM. The people have become attached to this system. They occasionally demonstrate over living conditions, but they are no longer angry and “revolutionary” in their demands. The sharpness that characterized the demonstrations that led to the new Morocco has disappeared entirely since 2011.
I will choose expressions that elucidate this important shift in these two exemplary countries. The first was expressed by King Abdullah II of Jordan last week: “The problems that the Hashemite Kingdom faces are not political or security-related, but are economy and growth-related. They are at the forefront of our national priorities.” In a country whose population grows by 1 million people whenever one of its neighbors collapses, development is indeed the real priority. Development needs the participation of responsible experts and accountability. It does not need an autocratic government. At the same time, the king and “his partners” agreed on the importance of stability. The parliament voted with a huge majority last week that the appointment of the leader of the army and the head of the secret police would remain in the hands of the king alone, not the elected prime minister. The premier, however, will appoint the remainder of the government, including the recently created minister of defense, whose role is limited to administration.
In Morocco, King Mohammed VI expressed his pride the week before last that his country was able to consolidate its democratic and development model, and that it joined the ranks of the rising powers. He called upon the just distribution of the fruits of Morocco’s growth, so that the wealthy do not remain wealthy and the poor do not remain poor. He also indicated that the coming years would be decisive in ensuring the gains and appraising potential obstacles.
Talking in front of his party’s cadres, Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benikrane said that the king’s speech was equivalent to “praising the efforts of his government, which is working on improving the situation of the country.” He indicated that Morocco lived in a climate of security and stability that allowed it to restructure itself and undertake large reforms.
This positive accord between kings and elected prime ministers — alongside the two countries’ real accomplishments (though the growth rate in Morocco is better) and their enjoyment of internal stability amid an Arab world that is entering deadly strife — comes as wonderful music to a pessimistic Arab’s ears. Of course there is hope, but it requires reform that is felt by the citizen and that reaches him. The important thing is for reform to reach him and for him to feel that his life is improving, and that his voice is heard.
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly