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The Failure of the Arab “State” and Its Opposition


Tribal fighters loyal to Sadiq al-Ahmar, the leader of the Hashed tribe, walk in front of a bullet-riddled building in Sanaa 10 April 2012. (Photo: REUTERS – Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

“If you want to live under sharia law, go back to the hellhole country you came from, or go to another hellhole country that lives under sharia law.”  ~ Mahfooz Kanwar, professor emeritus of sociology at Mount Royal University in Calgary, and a member of the Muslim [sic] Canadian Congress.

Ah yes, the “Islamic” hellhole meme. Islamophobes never tire of bashing Muslim-majority countries for their supposed backwardness.

Apparently they’ve never noticed that many Christian-majority nations savaged by Western colonialism aren’t faring any better. The centuries-long struggle with European colonialism–and neo-colonialism in the decades that followed–simply doesn’t factor into the dominant discourse.

Author and activist Hisham Bustani provides a fresh perspective, with a focus on  historical context and the popular uprising that began in late 2010, widely known as the Arab Spring.

The Failure of the Arab “State” and Its Opposition

By: Hisham BustaniAlakhbar

After one year of the Arab uprisings that initially exploded in Tunisia and swept like wildfire throughout the Arab world, it became very clear that the spark, which has resulted in the removal of three oppressors so far, was spontaneous. That does not mean that the explosion had no preludes. On the contrary, the people were squeezed with each passing day, but those uprisings clearly showed that even in the absence of an organized catalyzing formation (revolutionary party, revolutionary class), an explosion takes place when a certain threshold is reached, a critical mass.

Uprisings in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet-bloc states came about through the work of organized opposition groups and parties (like Solidarity in Poland), and by decades of calm covert undermining, infiltration, and propaganda undertaken by the West. By contrast, the Arab uprising was not led by an organized opposition. Instead, it came as a surprise to the imperialist circles that historically backed their client oppressor regimes.

The Failure of the Post-Colonial Arab “State”

Following the British-French-Italian colonialism of the Arab region, the Europeans left behind an area that they deliberately divided into “states”. These were designed so as to leave no possibility for their becoming truly independent and sovereign. They also left a watchdog and an easy solution to assuage their anti-Semitic-burdened consciousness: “Israel,” a colonial-settler state that would maintain the imperialist design in the wake of the physical withdrawal of its patrons.

The post-colonial states were subordinate by design, by their innate nature of being divided and incomplete, and by the ruling class that followed colonialism. The homogeneous collective of people that included many religions, sects, and ethnicities was also broken down. Colonialism fueled internal conflicts, and the subsequent Arab regimes maintained that tradition and kept in close alliance with the former colonizers. Alliance here is an overstatement. A subordinate structure cannot build alliances. It is always subordinate.

Thus, the post-colonial Arab “state” was everything but a state. Concepts like “the rule of law” or “governing institutions” or “citizenship rights” did not apply. Countries were run with a gangster mentality. There were no “traditions” or clear sets of rules that applied to all. Unlike the model of a bourgeois democracy where rules, laws, and traditions maintain and preserve the capitalist system and apply to all its components, this form was not present in the post-colonial Arab “state.” The ruling class were free to issue laws, revoke laws, not implement laws, not implement constitutions, amend constitutions, forge fraudulent elections, embezzle, torture, massacre, confiscate basic rights, indulge in blatant corruption, fabricate identities, and pass on the presidency from father to son.

The example closest to the modern post-colonial Arab state is the Free Congo State (1885-1908) which was the private property of the Belgian king Leopold II, along with all its people, resources, and 2.3 million square kilometers territory. The post-colonial Arab state is nothing but an expanded feudality. Its head answers to imperialist powers that pay certain amounts of “foreign aid” and finance and train armies and police, all to keep people beyond the explosion point using a composition of fear and the fulfillment of very basic needs that are portrayed as grants and the accomplishments of the ruler. The same imperialist powers that paid their bribes in “aid,” worked hard through IMF economic-restructuring schemes and World Bank loans to dismantle any possible internal independent growth, and worked hard to privatize the public sector.

The Arab regimes, reigning over a further subdivided space that is economically and politically destroyed, extracted their authority from external delegation and internal terror, and succeeded in transforming themselves into a buffer, a guarantor for all the divided segments. They succeeded in absorbing almost all opposition frameworks into their structure, and in producing coreless governing institutions, thus giving themselves much longer life spans than one would expect for such a system.

The failure of the Arab “organized” opposition

Just as the imperialist centers and Arab regimes failed to predict the time of the onset and the magnitude of the Arab uprisings, so did opposition organizations. The latter were not part of it. Nor did they work toward it. Nor did they add any value to it after its onset.

With a few exceptions (like the Kifaya movement in Egypt, the Islamic al-Nahda Party and The Workers’ Communist Party in Tunisia, and some intellectuals in Syria), the organized Arab opposition (political parties, unions and other organizations) seldom challenged the Arab regime and its system. While the interwar period saw the emergence of a number of ideological movements that sought to rectify the colonialist design for the region, many such groups were either tamed or became absorbed in the status quo. The opposition regularly sought acknowledgement and legitimacy from the Arab regimes. The opposition wanted to be “legal,” and it followed the “rules” set by the regimes and accepted their reign.

Thus, the organized Arab opposition was actually a factor of stability for the Arab regimes, adding to their longevity. It was not until people took things into their own hands, rejecting the legitimacy of the Arab regimes and acting autonomously, away from the established opposition via more creative forms, that things started to move.

A quick review of how the organized opposition behaviour following the uprisings can provide a clue as to how they acted during the uprisings and in the period that led up to them. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt never challenged the Mubarak regime. On the contrary, it periodically sent comforting signs showing that they wanted the Mubarak regime to continue. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did not participate in the early days of the uprising, and after the uprising it backed the Military Council and its oppression of the demonstrations of January 2012. Many of the so-called leftist and nationalist organizations in Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon are currently backing the Bashar Assad regime and its massacre in Syria.

The organized opposition often dreamt of a moment when the people would rise up against their oppressors. Rightfully, they diagnosed the Arab regimes as tools of imperialist intervention and the main obstacles to any liberation project. Now they ally themselves against the people and with the regimes. They do so because they are empty. Over the years they failed to present any alternative, neither in theory or in practice. They are empty and they are afraid of a future outside they are unable to control, comprehend, or contribute to. Like Israel, they “know” the current regimes. What will happen next is something they don’t know, and they lack the capacity to influence it. So – just like Israel – they’re willing to stand against it.

The Unity of the Oppressed in the Arab World

Pan–Arabism often dreamed about a unified Arab homeland, but other than military coups that ultimately transformed into local oppressive regimes, it lacked any tools to fulfill that dream. Some independent Arab Marxists worked for some sort of “union of the oppressed.” The people of the Arab world are diverse and were fragmented by different factors along sectarian, religious, and ethnic divides. It is only when the oppressed realize that they are united by their own miserable status that people tend to mobilize en masse and achieve their common goals. This was what actually happened in 2011.

The mobilization in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen fulfilled that requirement, so it was partially successful. By contrast, the mobilization in Jordan was made along the local pathogenic divide (those of Palestinian origin vs. those of East Jordanian origin), so it was doomed to failure and can be understood as a movement within the regime rather than one from outside it.

Another key lesson was proven by the immediate contagion of the uprising phenomena throughout the Arab world. What started in Tunisia echoed with different volume levels from Morocco in the West to Bahrain in the East. There is a material integration of people’s interests. For example, continuity can be seen in the almost automatic demonstrations across the Arab world against Israel when it regularly and bloodily attacks Palestinians. This was further stressed by the same continuity when confronting the Arab regimes. The people of the Arab world find depth, support, and power in one other, and they tend to be inspired by each other, and they still think that their cause is one. No wonder, then, that the colonialist powers and their successor dependant Arab regimes fought hard to maintain the isolationist division of the post-colonial states.

It is no surprise then that Arab uprisings are finding it difficult to proceed beyond the conditions of colonially-fabricated states. The uprisings must seek solutions beyond the crippling designs in order to break from subordination and become a true revolution.

Hisham Bustani is a writer and activist from Jordan. He has published three volumes of short fiction in Arabic.

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  • zangi

    i meant because not barbeque. sorry

  • zangi


    If you are arguing that Jews have right to Palestine barbecue 2000 ago their ancestors lived there, then you should have no problem with these

    *The rights of native American to drive out (former) Europeans who settled in their land and ethnically cleansed them?
    *And the aborigines in Austria will have right to drive out the (former) Europeans in the same way.
    *Or to give the land back to Palestinians and give then the right to drive out (Israeli)Jews . after all if its ok to repeat 2000 year old history then it should be Ok to repeat 64 year old history.

    I am not an anti-semite and never will be insha allah as my religion doesn’t tell me to hate Jews, but it does tell me to stand up for justice. and when someone uses these type of unjust reasoning to justify a monumental injustice it drives me nuts.

    BTW no amount of arguments from Zionists can obscure the fact that Israel was created and made possible only by ethnic cleaning of Palestinians (Muslim and Christians). It was not accidental, it was planned. And the plan hasn’t ended, it is still work in progress.

    Using religion (Judaims) to decimate Palestinians from the lands of their ancestors (yes the Palestinian are still alive and they have been made refugees in their own land) is as evil as using religion(Islam) to commits acts of terror against innocents. In both cases rights of innocents has been violated. and i don’t see how any human being with any iota of humanity left in him/her can possibly support creation of state of Israel or of any other state at the expense of another group of innocent people.

  • Tina.Carrington

    JT Does that mean that the Jews today are Muslims? If so why are they denying Jews, Israel? And how does he judge when judgement is from God?
    It is a convenient ID theft. The Quran itself contradicts what this fatwa says. If the Jews were Muslims, then why are not accepting Israel as a Jewish state. He is pretending that all Israelis are atheist when in fact the religious Orthodox are growing. Since they are Muslims according to this fatwa, they should recognise Israel, and welcome Jews. I didn’t misread, at the end the fatwa says the giant disbelievers are the Israelis there today. This is identity theft.

  • JT

    Tina.Carrington, the answer is actually pretty obvious. The Muslims he is referring to are in fact the Jews. They are Muslim because they submitted themselves to God (just like today’s Muslims) and they were righteous and followed the commandments of their Prophet (again, like today’s Muslims). God promised the land to the Jews, and the Jews at that time were Muslims. Being Muslim is not an ethnicity, it’s defined by your belief in one God. So there’s no contradiction in saying the ancient Israelites were Muslim.

    That’s basically what he’s trying this say. It doesn’t seem like the guy Is re-writing history or lying about the past, he’s just using terminology that you might not be familiar with. All the Prophets of the past and their righteous followers are referred to as Muslims.

    Also, you misread the fatwa. The “giants disbelievers” are not the Jews. They are the pagans that used to live there but were kicked out by Moses and his army.

  • Tabetha

    There is no author name on the fatwa about Moses leading Muslims into Israel. Who was the cleric? It most certainly is not an isolated case of ID theft.

    Official network re-writes Passover story

  • Tina.Carrington

    If leftism and pro Assad (alavi) are what they are fighting, here is something I came across. How many Arabs believe this? and follow these fatwas? HOw can they believe that the ancient Isrelites were the Moslems of today? and the Jews are the giants, It’s no wonder the war in the Middle East is going nowhere, when these type of fatwas incite to hatred and revisionist history.

    How many Arabs or Muslims follow this or believe in it? To my knowledge even the Quran distinguishes between who the Moslems are and who the Israelis are, so how can he make this absurd claim?

    Fatwa No : 88185 Palestine was /is/ and will remain a Muslim land forever Fatwa Date : Jumaadaa Al-Oula 17, 1425 / 5-7-2004 Question
    Jews claim that Allah gave them the Holy Land forever. So, Muslims don’t have any right over Palestine. Please explain in details. If promise of Allah is true, then how can we deny the claim of Jews?

    Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds; and may His blessings and peace be upon our Prophet Muhammad and upon all his Family and Companions.

    Palestine is a Muslim land. It is the land of the prophets. So, no disbeliever (Jew, Christian or atheist) has any right in ruling it or governing it with disbelief and atheism.

    The Jewish claim that Allah promised them the Holy land is baseless. It is only a falsity. In fact Allah prescribed this land for Muslims in all times. He prescribed it for believers (Muslims) in the era of Prophet Musa (Moses),may Allah exalt his mention), who was himself a Muslim as were all the prophets. Allah Says (interpretation of meaning) that: “Musa said to his people: “O my people! If you have believed in Allah, then put your trust in Him if you are Muslims (those who submit to Allah’s Will).” (Yunus 10:84)

    Allah ordered Prophet Musa and those who followed him to enter the sacred land and expel the giants (animists who used to live in Palestine) away from the Bayt Al Maqdis which these giants took over earlier- Allah says that Musa said to his people: “And (remember) when Musa (Moses) said to his people: “O my people! Remember the Favour of Allah to you, when He made Prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the ‘Alamîn (mankind and jinns, in the past). “O my people! Enter the holy land (Palestine) which Allah has assigned to you, and turn not back (in flight) for then you will be returned as losers.” (Al-Ma’idah 5: 20-21)
    Allaah ordered them to invade this Holy land because it is a Muslim land that should not be ruled by the giant disbelievers who ruled with polytheist and Kufr judgments.

    The same thing applies to the contemporary era. The Jews who did not believe in the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) and indeed in Musa, as disbelieving in one prophet means disbelieving in all the prophets, these Jews have no right to rule Palestine. And Allah never promised it to them. Indeed the contemporary Jews are no better than the giant people whom Musa expelled from Palestine.
    Palestine was a Muslim land and will remain as such forever.

  • Arab Atheist – ملحد عربي

    Very good article.

    “Many of the so-called leftist and nationalist organizations in Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon are currently backing the Bashar Assad regime and its massacre in Syria.”

    Sadly, this is very true! Leftist organizations have always been loyal to Saddam Hussein and Alasad family for very obvious reasons: those dictators associate themselves with and supported the Left. For them, the sugar-coated anti-imperialist rantings of those dictators is all that mattered. The would frown at me when I used to say Saddam is a dictator. They were like: “but at least he supports Palestinians”

    But the bright side is that revolutions started as non-partisan (some movements jumped in later and mobilized further, though). Even brighter is that those who support dictators are a hated minority. Most Muslims and Arabs do not associate themselves with any party anyway. This is simply because–although parties in most Arab countries are legal–you get yourself in trouble if you subscribe to them. Also people have dire problems to care about like putting bread on the table.

    Anyway, those who blindly support Alasad are frowned upon and disdained. I used to hang out with a group of Arab atheists while in college in Jordan, some of my friends almost worshiped Alasads as their religion instead of Allah. I am glad I cut years-old ties with one of those guys because I could not stand his pro-Asad views.

  • mindy1

    Interesting viewpoint

  • mjasghar

    OMG this is incredible – and the media is burying it when it should be headline news:
    The former head of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency has accused the country’s leadership of “misleading” the public on the merits of a possible military strike on Iran.

    Yuval Diskin said an attack might speed up any attempt by Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb.

    The comment follows remarks by other leading figures contradicting the prime minister and defence chief’s views on the subject.

    Iran denies it is seeking nuclear arms.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak have repeatedly said Iran must be prevented from building nuclear weapons and have not ruled out military action to disrupt its nuclear programme.

    Mr Diskin, who stepped down as Shin Bet chief last year after six years, said he had “no faith in the current leadership” of Mr Netanyahu and Mr Barak, according to Israeli media reports.

    “I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” he said at a public meeting.

    “They are misleading the public on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won’t have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race.”

    The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says this was by any measure a stinging attack on the Israeli prime minister and his defence chief.

    Mr Diskin’s harsh criticism appears to be another sign of deep disquiet within the Israeli military and intelligence community over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s threats to attack Iran.

    Dissenting views

    The former Shin Bet chief’s comments come days after Israel’s military chief said he did not think that Iran had yet decided to build nuclear weapons.

    Chief of Staff Lt Gen Benny Gantz said he believed international sanctions against Iran were bearing fruit in dissuading it from taking such a decision.

    In March, the former head of Israel’s foreign intelligence service, Mossad, publicly opposed military action against Iran.

    Meir Dagan said an Israeli attack would have “devastating” consequences for the Jewish state and would not prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

    Such views are at odds with those of the prime minister and defence chief. Prior to Mr Dagan’s remarks on US television, Mr Netanyahu had inferred he would not countenance a long delay before taking direct action against Iran’s nuclear programme if all other options failed.

    He said he hoped “we can peacefully convince them to tear down their nuclear programme”, but that either way “the result has to be that the threat of a nuclear weapon in Iran’s hands is removed”.

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