By Jamal Khashoggi
1 September 2014
Dear Arab pessimist, don’t limit your observations to Iraq and Syria where there are floods of blood and hatred fragmenting both countries. Don’t limit your observation to Libya, which replaced its freedom and salvation from the dictator with chaos, conflicts and fighting between its rebels. Don’t limit your observations to Yemen, which lost its government. Look at Jordan and Morocco where there is hope and where reforms are paving the way for a better future, despite all the mayhem in the region.
These two non-oil-producing countries had almost witnessed what happened to other Arab countries during the wave of the Arab Spring that did not regress yet. However, they were able to overcome it through working on their own elections or postponing them. They have not resorted to force, oppression, security and detention, rather they transferred the Arab Spring’s protests and anger into positive energy and reconciliation between the government and the people. They worked on the reforms and labelled them as a need for both the king and the citizens.
Jordan and Morocco are two models - those who did not miss the train. The countries that missed the train are those that have dragged themselves into a civil war like Syria, or countries that are about to witness a war like Yemen and Libya, or fragmentation like Iraq. Reforms are no longer useful in these countries. They need an external intervention to contain the damage caused in each of them. The longer they are neglected, the more their situation will crumble and the more it will drag its neighbours into their turmoil.
Learning from the Arab Spring
The cohesive Arab countries are those that still have healthy political and social infrastructures. At times these countries might be exposed to the harsh waves of the Arab Spring and at other times to its soft breezes. These countries are endowed with people who now fear the Arab Spring and the idea of a full “Western-style democracy” after what happened in some Arab Spring countries. Such democracy is now being seen as a historical process of development, modernization and education. It is now common to hear that “our society is not ready for democracy” and that expression can now get unanimous approval, with the exception of the silent educated person sitting in the corner. The others want him to repeat what they are used to hearing from him, but he remains silent. In the end, he agrees with them after what he has seen, heard and tried. His pride pushes him to remain resilient even if it was through a negative, silent reaction. He is convinced that “the old Arab regime” will not tolerate a full dose of democracy, nor power-sharing, especially after recovering from the 2011 earthquake and the shocking successive collapse of five presidents.
Therefore, let us exclude the “full dose of democracy” from the reform recipe concocted to face the storms of the Arab Spring and ISIS. The observer can no longer differentiate between the pain of the Arab Spring and the anger of ISIS.
But if we could go back in time and listen carefully to the demands of the Arab Spring, when it was still emerging without the hustle and bustle of al-Qaeda and ISIS or the sound of explosive barrels or the crying of the detainees and whips of the jailers, we would notice that its demands revolved around the desire for a better life and some political participation so that citizens could preserve their dignity and right to have a homeland.
This is what happened in Jordan and Morocco. Added to that, the Jordanian-Moroccan treatment did not only heal the Arab Spring, but political Islam too, which worried the old Arab regime that loves stability. In Jordan, the king opened his arms to proponents of it, but they refused to participate so a large number of their supporters abandoned them because they saw that they ran away from their responsibilities. Many Jordanians say that they do not want speeches but desire a better life, and a better life comes through participation and assuming political responsibility. Today, new powers are emerging, forming a popular alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood who will downgrade themselves more if they do not seize the opportunity to participate in the upcoming elections which will result in the first parliamentary government in the Hashemite Kingdom. This is the good news that got lost amid the bad news prevailing in the Arab region.
The Moroccan Experience
The contrary happened in Morocco; the Moroccan king preceded his Jordanian counterpart and resorted to a parliamentary government. He shifted the people’s anger directed against him and his government, towards a parliamentary government chosen by the people. So now, the people should be held accountable and not the king. It so happened that an Islamist became prime minister, as if everyone discovered each other, the king, the people and the Islamists, and they even liked each other. Today, there are excellent relations between the Moroccan king and the Islamist prime minister. The people are now supporting the regime; they protest sometimes over living conditions, but the people are no longer angry and “revolutionary.” The violent demonstrations that formed the new Morocco after 2011, have disappeared.
I will choose statements to explain this important transformation in these two countries. The first expression was made by Jordanian King Abdullah II last week: The Hashemite Kingdom has neither political nor security issues, but only economic and developmental challenges that are at the forefront of national priorities, he said. In a country where the population is increasing by one million whenever one of its neighbours collapses, the real priority is indeed a developmental one. The development needs responsible experts to be held accountable through the parliament. It does not need the monopolization of power. At the same time, the king and his partners agreed on the importance of the stability. The parliament unanimously voted last week that the appointment of the commander of the army and the intelligence chief shall be done by the king alone, and not the prime minister-elect who will appoint the rest of the government, including the newly formed defence minister position which is considered as an administrative position.
Let us move to the other country, Morocco. Moroccan King Mohammed VI was proud last week that his country was able to consolidate the democratic and developmental model and that it can now join the emerging powers. He called for a fair distribution of the growth outcome so as not to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, pointing out that the coming years will be crucial to fortify the gains and fix imbalances.
Moroccan Prime Minister Abdul Ilah Bin Kiran responded in a speech in front of his party, saying that the king’s statement is praise that his government is working for the sake of the progress of the country. He also pointed out that Morocco is witnessing security and stability, allowing for major reforms.
This positive harmony between the king and the elected prime minister, along with real achievements in the two countries (the growth rate in Morocco is better) with their internal stability amid an Arab world facing deadly turmoil, sounds like a great symphony for the Arab pessimist. There is certainly hope, but it needs reforms that can be felt by the ordinary citizen. It is important for the citizen be benefited by those reforms and feel that his life is improving and that his voice is being heard.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.