x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Don't despair of the Arab revolutions

The road from dictatorship to democracy is long and difficult, and the Arab Spring countries are still travelling, an Arab editor says. Other topics: the risk of war, and film festivals.

Still in its infancy, the Arab Spring is undergoing ups and downs along the road to democracy

Was the Arab Spring just a "false pregnancy"? Have fundamentalists turned the spring into a dismal autumn? Were change-enthusiasts, who sought to bring down Arab dictatorships, rather naive when they believed that societies could give birth to a wave of democratisation, along the lines of Eastern Europe in the early 1990s?

"All these questions are legitimate," wrote Taoufik Bouachrine, managing editor of the Morocco-based newspaper Akhbra Al Youm. "What is not legitimate is to believe that Arab authoritarianism could stay in power until the end of time, ruling impoverished, scared and marginalised peoples."

The Arab Spring is still in its infancy. Democracy could not be installed the day after Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak was ejected, Muammar Qaddafi killed, and Ali Abdullah Saleh weakened.

The road to the rule-of-law state is a thorny and long one, with ups and downs, steps forwards and steps backwards, he wrote.

Arab societies have been plagued by tribalism, sectarianism and tyranny. For decades they have coexisted with such ills, so much so that the Arab nation has become resistant to change, according to the writer.

Take a look at United Nations human development reports on Arab states over the past ten years, and you will realise how bad the situation in every sphere had been in this lagging-behind region. And so the collapse - or feebleness - of dictatorial regimes, which have caused this situation, was predictable. They had it coming.

Islamists who are now ruling many Arab countries did not lead the youth revolution. They just cashed in on it. Without the youth, Arab regimes would have stayed in power for more years.

Islamists are part of this region. They rose to power through the fairest elections ever - and elections will send them back to opposition status in the future.

From rushing into taking office to lacking a "renaissance" platform, Islamists have made numerous mistakes. All their legacy of opposition, Islamists now realise, does not qualify them to run a single ministry, let alone a state, which is why they have sought aid and loans from several quarters, including the US.

Islamists' opponents are no better. In fact Islamists, despite all their shortcomings, are rooted in the common people, while liberals, leftists, and secularists are not.

Yet there is a silver lining to this cloudy picture. Freedom in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Morocco is now greater than before. That is not because Islamists have come to respect this blessing; it is because societies have become less afraid of authorities.

This, Bouachrine concluded, is the major feat of the Arab Spring. The rest will come over time, through ups and downs.

All signs point to war over Syria and Iran

Political solutions to the Syrian and Iranian crises have evaporated in favour of military options, said Abdel Al Bari Atwan, editor-in chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, said that the Syrian regime has supporters who will not let it fall. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN League envoy for Syria, has announced that he intends to resign in the coming weeks due to his disappointment about finding a political way out. And the US has announced drills in Gulf waters to practice mine countermeasures and prevent Iran from closing the Strait of Hormuz - a route for 20 per cent of global oil.

This is evidence that military solutions are rapidly gathering momentum. The "council of war" held recently in Washington, with Arab and Turkish leaders in attendance, apparently made a decision to go to war, the writer argued.

Hence the US statement that it is rethinking its opposition to supplying advanced weaponry to Syrian rebel forces.

"The region stands at the threshold of war," Atwan suggested. "The US arming of the opposition … is one sign." Others include US underwater exercises involving 40 nations this month, the bunker-buster bomb upgraded by the US to strike Iran's nuclear plant, the US providing Israel with jet fuel and leaked reports of Jordan allowing Israeli jets to fly in its airspace.

Does the Gulf need films, or festivals?

With every Gulf film festival, the million-dollar question is repeated: should money be allocated to making movies or to holding more festivals?, Egyptian film critic Tarek El Shenawi asked in the Cairo-based paper Al Tahrir.

Instead of wasting money on a festival that has short-term influence, shouldn't there be enough films before festivals are set up to feature these films?

A new model has emerged which could provide a practical answer: films co-produced by Gulf-based festivals, including in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha.

The critic added that making movies is the ultimate goal. And festivals and film need not be exclusive. But festivals have produced more festivals, instead of producing films.

The Abu Dhabi Environmental Film Festival is the last one to emerge, the oldest being the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), which will mark its tenth anniversary in December.

The DIFF, launched in 2004, has proven a success. This spurred Abu Dhabi to establish its festival with a different dimension. Then came the Doha Festival two years after, while the low-budget Muscat festival still struggles.

Cinema festivals should be about films in which the public can see their hopes and suffering on screen.


* Digest compiled by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni