Tag Archives: Tunisia

Again the Mediterranean: Greek democracy and ISIS terrorism will change the 21st century of Europe and farther?

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“Events my dear boy, events”. This is what Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, had said when was asked by a journalist what is most likely to blow governments off course.
Events are what they are: events. But the context, the path that lead to them and the reactions that follow, make them fundamental shocks that impact the future of our lives, sometimes not only in the countries where they happen (like 9/11) or just random facts. Last ten days there have been two events that could have an impact much further than their short time and space range: the Greek referendum and the Tunisian attack. Let’s try to put them in perspective.
Many things have been said before the Greek referendum on the new proposal to “save” Greece, made by the ECB AND the IMF (even if many times we forget about it, the IMF is deciding on the future of European countries as much as the European Central Bank). There have been many attempts to jeopardize the referendum, trying to politically kill the Syriza party, after its “dangerous” victory in the last elections, as well as the democratic renaissance of a small country of few millions of people who invented democracy more than two millennia ago. Even not so much veiled threats and blackmails, like the one by Ms Merkel, the European substantial leader, who said “if the Euro falls Europe falls” (ironically she was not so wrong as the European Union until now has been a monetary union but the end of that could represent its renaissance).

Besides all that has been said the population of Greece demonstrated that even in mature democracies in crisis, like the European ones, we can give back power to the people, to empower the citizens, who has the right to decide on their future, instead of a bunch of technocrats and bankers, representing private interests of few European and world groups. Greece used the referendum as the tool to give back to people the sovereignty, a tool that, even on difficult things, should be used more as a democratic element in modern representative democracies in crisis of legitimacy. And it is not a case that Greece give us the example: we have to go always back to the original inventors if we want to retake that invention and give it vital lymph again. As Italians did for the Renaissance, going back to the Roman classics, also to remake the European integration and improve our poor modern democracies, we have to go back to the Greek classics. Greece demonstrated that the people can decide on their future, and not only on general things but also on technical decisions. Today everyone can get information through internet, and this give more power to the people who can express themselves on different things (like the referendum text, that gave the exact names of the documents so all who wanted could go to read them). And the referendum showed also another important element for the future of Europe and in general the international system: nation sovereignty is still the principal form of modern societies, and the integration of nation states needs to pass from the people, not from the technocrats, from the nations not from the banks, from the ideas not from the money. This is the Europe that we want today, not a fake supranational entity but a real confederation of states, made by all the national entity that compose it.

But in the Greek case there is even more than this, there is a fight between the old style welfare state, the third way between total capitalism and total communism that Europe had conquered with difficulties, and the modern capitalism. As Žižek masterly explained in its recent article (1) the real question today in Europe is the fact that global capitalism cannot afford a return to the old welfare state. And Syriza is a danger for this. A danger or a salvation, if we follow Varoufakis programmatic declaration: “If this means that it is we, the suitably erratic Marxists, who must try to save European capitalism from itself, so be it”. Future will say but for now we can celebrate as democracy and people’s voice are back to Europe, and they came back to remain.

Besides the Greek case there has been another event in the last few days in the Mediterranean that could represent another shift in the future of Europe and the Mediterranean (including the Middle East/ME): last attack at the Tunisia resort of Sousse ten days ago could represent the lethal hit to the Tunisian democracy. Unfortunately more terrorist attacks will follow probably, as there is a type of “state” now that finance these acts of “political-identitarian” mass killings, and this state is not Iran, the big devil, who the West accuses often to support terrorism (while in reality it supports self-determination and anti-discrimination Shia movements, that have been repressed for long time, in particular by the Sunni monarchies). There is a state now, the Islamic (or we should say Islamist) State that will not see its end soon, on the contrary it will probably expand more and sooner or later it will have to socialize with the other sovereign actors, nation states, of the region (unless some war will annihilate it, but this war is not on the horizon). Tunisia demonstrated again that even if the current international terrorism wants to destroy its experiment with democracy (that is quite dangerous for both the Islamists and the world powers, as it is not following the diktats of the international capitalism, including banks, international markets and finance, exactly like Greece) the right path is the path of the government “of the people, by the people and for the people”. That is why Tunisian democracy will not die, because it is coming from the people and it goes back to them, even if the ISIS, and probably many other regional or global powers, wants it to fail.

The probable escalation of future ISIS attacks will have strong consequences for Europe and the ME like 9-11 had, both internationally and internally, for the US. Specifically the ISIS violent escalation, could have three main consequences during the first half of this century, in Europe, the ME and also inside Islam.
Europe evidently will have to deal with it not only military, but culturally, socially and economically, engaging with the south coast of the Mediterranean that after the events of the Arab Spring and Western wars (direct of proxy) ended the post-Ottoman order of the region. Europe in particular will have to decide if it wants to remain a fortress with lack of visionary politics of integration (substituted by a superficial multilateralism that make society ghettoized and open to the problems of radicalization of conflicts) or to improve its process of integration, in particular for the thousands of refugees that are knocking at its doors. Will Europe close or open itself to the world? If it doesn’t want to end in the arms of a never ending Cold War with Russia, Europe has to embrace Africa, as Mahbubani says (2), rediscovering its Mediterranean identity and making of it a real “Sea between lands” (from the Latin Mediterraneus) passing from fortress to square, and becoming a real democratic space that lives up to its values of diversity and tolerance creating a new experiment of melting pot, with equal possibilities for all, on the US style.

The ME will have to solve its problems of poverty and backwardness respect to the rest of the world, and this unfortunately will not come without more conflicts and suffering. Not that the ME didn’t suffer until now, with colonialism, occupations and dictatorships sustained by the West, but this century could be even worst. Hopefully will be the last one of great suffering, as it has been the 20th century for Europe. There will not be another world war for the ME, as the world is too big, too interdependent and too dangerous today to be involved in a total war, but to avoid regional wars, we will need to create among the regional powers, in primis Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that order ended in the last few years. And the democratization will arrive to the ME too, facilitating hopefully the creation of a regional unity, a sort of confederation similar to the one that Europe started to build after the WWII (even if is still trying to complete it today). In particular if the West will leave the ME to work on itself without much interference. Finally Islam will have to reform, like Christianity did, following its own path but doing it in order to integrate itself in the modern world, where globalization doesn’t allow intolerances or lack of fundamental human rights for the future “planetary citizens”.
We will not see all of this but that’s why we have to help to build it.

(1) http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/07/Slavoj-Zizek-greece-chance-europe-awaken

(2) http://europesworld.org/2013/10/01/if-it-stays-on-that-course-europe-will-become-geopolitically-irrelevant/

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Tunisia and the democratic failure in the Middle East

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Among all the Arab Spring countries Tunisia is the only one that had a successful transition, at least until now. In the rest of the countries the democratization process failed, having as a result civil wars and failed states like in Syria, Libya or Yemen or praetorian regimes like in Egypt. But the recent attacks in Tunisia, that killed many tourists at the Museum of Bardo, seem to tell us that also Tunisian transition risk to fall in the hands of Salafists and Jihadist terrorists, also considering that thousands of Tunisians went to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But the Tunisian people are a democratic and republican people in the marrow of their identity. The republican values have been displayed even during the attacks against the Bardo, when the members of the Congress, hided in their Parliament, started to sing the national anthem, as a demonstration of their principles to be held even until the death. It was a way to say to the terrorists: they shall not pass. Will this save the Tunisian transition?

We shall see, but for now we can analyze what make of Tunisian people a people that could empower their transition fighting for its success and saving the country from failing backwards. One of the main reasons that made the transition in Tunisia more successful respect to Egypt and the other countries is the maturity and democratic identity of the civil society. The Tunisian population is the population among Arab countries that is the closest to European, and particularly French, identity. Tunisians enjoy one of the highest level of education in Maghreb and the Arab World, with a high number of civil society organization (including an important trade union) and many NGOs that work for civil rights that have been either reconstituted after the revolution or born new. Tunisia has a diverse and mixed ethnic identity (between Berber, Arabs, Europeans, Jews, Centralafrican etc.) and a diverse and mixed cultural identity, with outside influence during its history from many populations such as Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks, Italians, Spaniards and finally French. This gave to the country a custom of diversity and openness to external views of political institutions and state forms that was useful during the moment of transition towards a new democracy. Another important element for the success of Tunisian transition until now has been that the Tunisian military is a small army, composed by less than thirty thousand people, professional and with an apolitical role, that account just for 1.6% of the GDP, that means a much different situation from Egypt. Instead the trade union is a very big institutions, trusted, powerful and representative of those secular and democratic values that helped Tunisia to strengthen its institutions. So Tunisia has a civil society, institutions and history that can defend her from the attacks of the Salafists and make her stand for the democratic transition. But in the long run, to really win against the possible Jihadists metastasis that from Libya could reach their country, Tunisian people need to address the root causes of their problems, that are similar to all the Middle East and that have been until now facilitated also by the West that supported dictators for its neocolonialist interests.

The real problems that Tunisia and in general Muslim communities of the Middle East face today lies not in the theological debate if Islam is compatible with democracy and neither in the religious foundations of terrorist groups that mixed political Islam with violent Islamism, but in dealing with the root causes of social conflict, economic backwardness and lack of freedom that, together with doomed foreign interventions in the Middle East, caused the growth of violent Islamist movements. As Abu-Nimer (1) among other scholars argues, the real root causes of underdevelopment to address in the Middle East are several: the economic deprivation first of all; then the global cultural invasion in communities unable to integrate it; the authoritarian states with a legitimacy based on external Western support and internal acceptance of authoritative-security practices; the theology of stagnation, with lack of space for reinterpretation of Islamic history and traditions; the patriarchal structures and tribal loyalties, that limit the freedom of individuals, especially women; and finally a disempowering educational system, without emphasis in critical debate, self-examination, and openings to global societies, even if as I said Tunisia is probably in the best position in the Middle East.
Hopefully the West will help the Arab countries to come to terms with these problems instead of keep creating a narrative of clash of civilizations useful just for imperialistic interests, a la divide et impera. Even the threat of ISIS should be treated in these terms, clearly identifying it with Salafist or Jihadist terrorism and not ‘Islamic terrorism’. To speak about Islamic terrorism today is an big mistake, as the word Islamic has to do with the ideals of Muslim religion (like to say Christian or Judaic) and we cannot identify the criminal actions of a group with the ideals of a religion. That is why even President Obama refused to speak of ‘Islamic terrorism’, in order not to fuel the idea that a religious tradition authorize the deployment of terrorism, while there is no religions that look for that, being it an oxymoron. The risk in the “West” is to follow the narrative of Islamophobia, facilitated by the masses that have no time to think or reflect deeply on how words are used and identities are constructed for political reasons. As Juan Cole remembered in a recent article (2), when a sectarian religious group start doing crimes or using violence (either it be the Ku Klux Klan or ISIS) we have to speak of “destructive cults”. Destructive cults appeal to people on the basis of religious symbols, as they go at the core of the identity of the people. We need therefore to deconstruct realities to understand deeply the development of the current international terrorism instead of following essentialist ideas.
History is made of men and women, besides institutions and policies, and the people can make it and remake it. Therefore we need to turn to the wish of the people to understand the future of regions like the Middle East. The Arab Spring brought many hopes, even if obviously it was not easy to respond to such high expectations as democracy is always a long transition, a ‘never ending’ process. But it demonstrated that people can change regimes and ask for what they believe not what their leaders or foreign countries want. Today we can say that the Arab Spring practically failed everywhere, from Syria to Yemen, from Libya to Egypt, apart only from Tunisia. In the Arab world the answer to a very common question today in international studies, “is democracy in decline?” (3), is unfortunately yes. The reasons may be many, from the weakness of local political institutions, to the ‘winner take all’ mentality, the type of ‘political culture’ as Lipset would have said, as well as indicators of the modernization of the country, like the rates of education and the female emancipation. But as Courbage and Todd argued in a recent book (4), there is a current spread of massive ‘modernization’, based on reduction of fertility and raise of female literacy, throughout the Muslim world, similar to the history of Christianity. The hope is that sudden events like the Arab Spring and social trends like the ‘modernization’ process in the Muslim world, are signals that also the Middle East will be able to free itself from conflicts and disempowerment that kept it going backward instead of forward. And maybe one day not far also the Middle East will enjoy the stability, security and prosperity that many other parts of the world live in this so called ‘post-modernity’ of the contemporary world.

1)Abu-Nimer, Mohammed. Peace building principles and values in Islam. In Matyok, Thomas et al. eds. “Peace on earth. The role of religion in peace and conflict studies”. Lexington books, 2014. P. 375-390

2)Juan Cole, “How ‘Islamic’ Is the Islamic State?” The Nation, February 24, 2015

3)Is democracy in decline? Journal of Democracy, Twenty-fifth anniversary issue, Vol. 26, Number 1, January 2015

4)Youssef Courbage, and Emmanuel Todd. A convergence of civilizations: the transformation of Muslim societies around the world. Columbia UP, 2011.