Sunday, January 30, 2011

20 - The Middle Ages of the Middle East

"Like Beads of a Tesbih"
Lebanon, with the takeover by a terrorist party, Tunisia, with the fall of an authoritarian regime, Egypt, with demonstrations derailing, those are just the latest Arab countries’ convulsions to fill the news. Others will follow. The American and European governments walk the razor sharp path between supporting popular aspirations and propping up unreliable allies. Helpless politics complicated by clashes of cultures, medieval versus modern mindsets, runaway demographics and survival in a global economy.
The idle males of all ages, loitering, milling around streets and squares: boys, youngsters, grown men, old men, beggars, street vendors of all stripes. Women just pass by, most of them bundled up, veiled or scarfed. This is the usual human scenery of a Middle East city, a view that strikes every visitor from developed countries. A population explosion as a result of relatively better availability of food and health care, contrasted by a continued lack of proper education. No economic development can ever catch up with such a galloping increase of population and so little improvement of skills.
Like beads of a tesbih, several nations of the Middle East and Africa are falling one after the other into chaos, war and desperation. Not a big fall from their previous authoritarian regimes, skewed economies towards ruling classes corrupted and retarded, a few privileged lording over populations shackled, poor and ignorant. These countries’ travails have unfolded faster since the last world war’s redrawing of borders. Not that the situation before was any better.
In Europe, the Middle Ages were a period haunted by the forces of darkness, the same forces still at work in the Middle East: tribalism, sectarian disputes, superstitious beliefs capturing the minds. In the Middle East, still crossing their Middles Ages period, add to this a resistance to modernity, cultural complexes of inferiority towards “the West” and a plethora of extremist groups supported by rival factions, but poorly controlled by them.
What we see now in the news is neither the beginning nor the end. It will be pursued in the Maghreb and impact the whole of the Arab world. Unfortunately, democracy and development are not granted for tomorrow, the educated middle classes are minorities easily outvoted by the masses of the poor, who may fall prey to the religious and fanatic. The situation can get worse before it will, hopefully and in the fullness of time, get better.      
Meanwhile, the European countries may well anticipate an increase of refugees, which will boost the problems of the existing and restive communities already there, to an unbearable extent.

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