Former Jordanian FM: Arab leaders have yet to learn lesson

‘Every country needs to initiate long-term, sustained and serious political reform before it’s too late,’ Marwan Muasher writes in op-ed piece.

January 31, 2011 10:10
2 minute read.
Former Jordanian FM Marwan Muasher

marwan muasher 311. (photo credit: AP)


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“It’s essential that Arab leaders draw the right lessons as they look to avoid the same fate as Tunisia’s former president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

If they don’t, crises will continue to roil the region – Egypt is not the only country at risk,” former Jordanian foreign minister Marwan Muasher said Monday, in an article in the British newspaper the Guardian.

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“Although the wave of protests was set off by economic complaints, it’s wrong to think that it was all about the economy – the true threat to stability in the Arab world is poor governance,” he added.

Echoing the sentiments of many Arab political analysts, Muasher wrote that the crisis in Tunisia has altered the status quo in the Arab world.

“It’s critical that the region doesn’t go back to business as usual,” he cautioned. “There are unavoidable lessons that Arab leaders can’t ignore.”

He said that while it was easy to point the finger at high prices and unemployment as the principal reasons for the protests, “real solutions need to improve democratic and political rights, fight corruption, and defend the rule of law.” He added that everyone needed to realize “all Arab countries are under threat.”

There’s a tendency among Arab leaders and their advisers to take comfort in the differences that their countries have with Tunisia and to assume that knee-jerk handouts can easily deal with economic grievances, Muasher noted.

“But this is a false sense of safety and obviously doesn’t hold with the unfolding events in Egypt,” he said.

“The tumult wasn’t supposed to happen in Tunisia – it’s one of the last countries in the Arab world where people expected things to go wrong.

The country experienced relatively good economic growth, the government faced a mild opposition, and the ruling regime enjoyed a strong security force. But this didn’t prevent people from taking to the streets. With this in mind, no leader is immune.

“And the last lesson is that old arguments rationalizing tight controls on politics to keep Islamists from gaining power are fundamentally undermined. Governments use the fear of Islam to justify closed political systems that clamp down on all forms of discontent.”

The Jordanian politician said that the question now becomes whether or not the Arab world will learn from these examples.

The signs so far are disappointing, he pointed out, “as it doesn’t appear that Arab leaders are following the right lessons. Every country needs to initiate long-term, sustained and serious political reform before it’s too late.”

He concluded: “Looking around the region – from Ben Ali’s fall in Tunisia and rising tensions in Lebanon to questions about the secession in Egypt and the birth of a new nation in Sudan – it’s clear that the Arab world is in turmoil.

The thing that ties it all together is the low quality of governance.

“Unless Arab leaders, who so far are reluctant to give up their absolute power and lives of privilege, take immediate steps to improve democratic and political rights, the Arab world is destined for more crises.”

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