The Arab/Muslim Awakening Phase Is Over: Oped by NYT's Friedman

There Be Dragons

In medieval times, areas known to be dangerous or uncharted were often labeled on maps with the warning: “Beware, here be dragons.” That is surely how mapmakers would be labeling the whole Middle East today.

After the onset of the Arab awakenings, it was reasonable to be, at worst, agnostic and, at best, hopeful about the prospect of these countries making the difficult transition from autocracy to democracy. But recently, looking honestly at the region, one has to conclude that the prospects for stable transitions to democracy anytime soon are dimming. It is too early to give up hope, but it is not too early to start worrying.

Lord knows it is not because of the bravery of the Arab youth, and many ordinary citizens, who set off these awakenings, in search of dignity, justice and freedom. No, it is because the staying power and mendacity of the entrenched old guards and old ideas in these countries is much deeper than most people realize and the frailty or absence of democratic institutions, traditions and examples much greater.

“There is a saying that inside every fat man is a thin man dying to get out,” notes Michael Mandelbaum, the foreign policy expert at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “We also tend to believe that inside every autocracy is a democracy dying to get out, but that might not be true in the Middle East.”

It was true in Eastern Europe in 1989, added Mandelbaum, but there are two big differences between Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Many Eastern European countries had a recent liberal past to fall back on — after the artificially imposed Soviet communism was removed. And Eastern Europe also had a compelling model and magnet for free-market democracy right next door: the European Union. Most of the Arab-Muslim world has neither, so when the iron lid of autocracy comes off they fall back, not on liberalism, but Islamism, sectarianism, tribalism or military rule.

To be sure, we have to remember how long it took America to build its own liberal political order and what freaks that has made us today. Almost four years ago, we elected a black man, whose name was Barack, whose grandfather was a Muslim, to lead us out of our worst economic crisis in a century. We’re now considering replacing him with a Mormon, and it all seems totally normal. But that normality took more than 200 years and a civil war to develop.

The Arabs and Afghans are in their first decade. You see in Syria how quickly the regime turned the democracy push there into a sectarian war. Remember, the opposition in Syria began as a largely peaceful, grass-roots, pan-Syrian movement for democratic change. But it was deliberately met by President Bashar al-Assad with murder and sectarian venom. He wanted to make the conflict about his Alawite minority versus the country’s Sunni Muslim majority as a way of discrediting the opposition and holding his base.

As Peter Harling and Sarah Birke, experts on the Middle East who have been in Syria, wrote in a recent essay: “Rather than reform, the regime’s default setting has been to push society to the brink. As soon as protests started … state media showed staged footage of arms being found in a mosque in Dara’a, the southern city where protests first broke out, and warned that a sit-in in Homs … was an attempt to erect a mini-caliphate. This manipulation of Syrians meant the regime was confident that the threat of civil war would force citizens and outside players alike to agree on preserving the existing power structure as the only bulwark against collapse.”

You see the same kind of manipulation of emotions in Afghanistan. U.S. troops accidentally burned some Korans, and President Obama apologized. Afghans nevertheless went on a weeklong rampage, killing innocent Americans in response — and no Afghan leader, even our allies, dared to stand up and say: “Wait, this is wrong. Every week in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, Muslim suicide bombers kill other Muslims — holy people created in the image of God — and there’s barely a peep. Yet the accidental burning of holy books by Americans sparks outbursts and killings. What does our reaction say about us?” They need to have that conversation.

In Egypt, every day it becomes clearer that the Army has used the Tahrir uprising to get rid of its main long-term rival for succession — President Hosni Mubarak’s more reform-minded son, Gamal. Now, having gotten rid of both father and son, the Army is showing its real hand by prosecuting American, European and Egyptian democracy workers for allegedly working with “foreign agents” — the C.I.A., Israel and the Jewish lobby — to destabilize Egypt. This is a patently fraudulent charge, but one meant to undermine the democrats demanding that the Army step aside.

The Arab/Muslim awakening phase is over. Now we are deep into the counter-revolutionary phase, as the dead hands of the past try to strangle the future. I am ready to consider any ideas of how we in the West can help the forces of democracy and decency win. But, ultimately, this is their fight. They have to own it, and I just hope it doesn’t end — as it often does in the land of dragons — with extremists going all the way and the moderates just going away.

Middleeast

 

Indian Inequities: Great Stats and Facts via The Stream – Al Jazeera English

Indian inequities

Despite two decades of rapid economic growth, India’s wealth gap is worsening.

India inequities

Men sort out items for recycling in the Dharavi slum on February 2, 2009 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

In many ways India is an economic success story, showing record growth over the past two decades. But in that same period of time, income inequality in the nation has doubled, ranking India last among emerging economies. So why is the gap between the haves and have-nots widening? And how does this effect India’s aims at becoming a global superpower?

Despite two decades of rapid economic growth, India’s wealth gap is worsening.

Storified by The Stream · Wed, Feb 29 2012 08:26:05

India is the world’s fourth largest economy and has long been touted as a rising economic superpower. Its rapid growth has also been marked by growing social inequalities. As this cartoon by Ingram Pinn illustrates, many of the nation’s poor are being left behind.

Although many of India’s major cities have experienced construction booms, widespread slums remain. About 410 million of India’s 1.2 billion people still live below the poverty line.

India has had one of the strongest GDP growth rates of the last decade, surpassing many other emerging economies, as shown below. But that growth is now slowing as foreign investment dwindles and inflation remains high.

According to some metrics, the wealthiest, as a group, in India are only equal to the poorest in the United States. 

India is home to more than half the world‘s malnourished children, more than the number found in all of sub-Saharan Africa.

Internet and mobile penetration in India is growing rapidly as well. The numbers of both rural internet and mobile users are expected to nearly double in the next year.

India’s rising internet use comes at a time when the government is mulling restrictions to some online content deemed culturally inappropriate. Kapil Sibal, India’s Minister of Communications and Information, was widely mocked online, with the hashtag #IdiotKapilSibal trending across India after the news broke.

Kapil Sibal may have absolutely no idea how the Internet functions but damn he sure does know how to troll an entire nation.rishi alwani

Earlier this year, the country saw massive rallies, organised primarily via social media, in support of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, who led a hunger strike that ended only after the government passed new graft legislation.

To address growing inequality amid rising costs of living in India, some 800,000 workers participated in what organisers billed as the world’s largest labour protest on Tuesday. The general strike, which involved major Indian workers’ unions, demanded improved labour laws and a higher minimum wage. 
India-flag-jpg

 

On This Day: February 29

Updated February 28, 2012, 1:28 pm

NYT Front Page

On Feb. 29, 1968, President Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (also known as the Kerner Commission) warned that racism was causing America to move “toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”
Go to article »

On Feb. 29, 1840, John Philip Holland the Irish-American inventor known as the father of the modern submarine, was born. Following his death on Aug. 12, 1914, his obituary appeared in The Times.

Go to obituary » | Other birthdays »

 

On This Date

By The Associated Press

1781 The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation.
1790 Congress authorized the first U.S. census.
1845 President John Tyler signed a congressional resolution to annex the Republic of Texas.
1867 Nebraska became the 37th state.
1872 Congress authorized creation of Yellowstone National Park.
1922 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was born in Jerusalem.
1940 The novel “Native Son” by Richard Wright was published.
1954 Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire from the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives, wounding five congressmen.
1961 President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps.
1968 Country musicians Johnny Cash and June Carter were married.
1974 Former Nixon White House aides H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman and former Attorney General John Mitchell were indicted on obstruction of justice charges related to the Watergate break-in.
1981 Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands began a hunger strike at the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. (He died 65 days later.)
1990 The Seabrook, N.H., nuclear power plant won federal permission to go on line after two decades of protests and legal struggles.
2003 Suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured by CIA and Pakistani agents near Islamabad.
2005 BTK serial killer Dennis Rader was charged in Wichita, Kan., with 10 counts of first-degree murder. (He later pleaded guilty and received multiple life sentences.)
2005 A closely divided Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for juvenile criminals.
2010 Jay Leno returned as host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”

Current Birthdays

By The Associated Press

Javier Bardem, Actor (“No Country for Old Men”)

Actor Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men”) turns 43 years old today.

AP Photo/Evan Agostini

Justin Bieber, Singer

Singer Justin Bieber turns 18 years old today.

AP Photo/Peter Kramer

1926 Robert Clary, Actor (“Hogan’s Heroes”), turns 86
1927 Harry Belafonte, Singer, turns 85
1927 Robert H. Bork, Former U.S. solicitor general, turns 85
1935 Robert Conrad, Actor, turns 77
1944 Roger Daltrey, Rock singer (The Who), turns 68
1945 Dirk Benedict, Actor, turns 67
1947 Alan Thicke, Actor (“Growing Pains”), turns 65
1954 Catherine Bach, Actress (“The Dukes of Hazzard”), turns 58
1954 Ron Howard, Actor, director, turns 58
1956 Tim Daly, Actor (“Wings”), turns 56
1963 Ron Francis, Hockey Hall of Famer, turns 49
1966 John David Cullum, Actor, turns 46
1967 George Eads, Actor (“CSI”), turns 45
1973 Chris Webber, Basketball player, turns 39

 

Historic Birthdays

John Philip Holland 2/29/1840 – 8/12/1914 Irish-bn. American “father of the modern submarine”.Go to obituary »
81 Paul III 2/29/1468 – 11/10/1549
Italian noble and last Renaissance Pope
48 Ann Lee 2/29/1736 – 9/8/1784
English-bn. American religious leader
84 Karl Ernst Baer 2/29/1792 – 11/28/1876
Prussian-Estonian embryologist
76 Gioacchino Rossini 2/29/1792 – 11/13/1868
Italian operatic composer
69 Herman Hollerith 2/29/1860 – 11/17/1929
American inventor of a tabulating machine
70 Augusta Savage 2/29/1892 – 3/26/1962
American sculptor and educator
99 Morarji Desai 2/29/1896 – 4/10/1995
Prime Minister of India (1977-79)
53 Jimmy Dorsey 2/29/1904 – 6/12/1957
American musician and orchestra leader
63 Fyodor Abramov 2/29/1920 – 5/14/1983
Russian writer, academic and literary critic