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The Policy of All General Policies - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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I went to Washington to learn about how the Americans intend to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, but I found that nobody was interested in this issue, or should I say nobody except a small group of Jews and Arabs who have made a profession for themselves in the press and within research centres and television stations out of the never-ending conflict. I was thinking about whether it is possible to understand the wars going on in Afghanistan and Iraq and whether the war on terror still existed. All I could find was a small group of bureaucrats who were sick and tired of these conflicts. Nobody could remember when they began let alone think about how they would end. There was a strong belief that the Middle East region was experiencing a wave of state failure, because if the collapse of Somalia has led to the emergence of piracy, then the collapse of Sudan, Yemen and maybe even Iraq would provide terrorists, pirates and organized crime groups with unlimited bases for provisioning, training and for carrying out violence. But as frightening as it may seem, nobody is buying this. Perhaps that is the attitude of people who like the idea of the failed state. The conclusion is that those who were in Washington during August were not willing to add the issues of the Middle East to the heat, humidity and rain that they suffered from over there. But when was the Middle East ever a nice a place?

My flight landed in Washington at the same time as nine others and that was indicative of what was about to happen. The air in the waiting hall became heavy. As I walked out of the airport, the stickiness of the air had already reached its peak. With the lack of interest in regional affairs, it seemed to me that the entire trip was pointless. However, that was not the case at all. Something very exciting was happening i.e. the debate over the new healthcare policy proposed by President Obama. According to my information, the US President was staying at Camp David and enjoying the good weather on some kind of vacation that did not prevent him from appearing on television networks at the same time.

The story that gained everybody’s attention was related to America’s healthcare policy. For whoever thinks that the Middle East issue has become a real bore and no longer interests anybody whether in times of peace or war, the healthcare issue, despite the public attention it has received for such a long time, has not yet reached this level of dullness.

The healthcare issue in the United States has been on the table ever since I first set foot in the New World back in 1977 as a postgraduate student during the tenure of the likeable US President Jimmy Carter. In the early nineties, I went to America to follow the US presidential elections between George Bush Senior and his contender back then Bill Clinton. I found Clinton was not that concerned with the Arab-Israeli conflict but rather made the healthcare policy his main priority.

After winning the elections and entering the White House, Bill Clinton commissioned his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton to personally supervise the issuance of a new legislation for the healthcare policy. But time flew by as Bill Clinton spent eight years in the White House, only to be succeeded by George W. Bush for another eight years. Today, Barack Obama is re-addressing the same issue.

I have no intention whatsoever to try and explain the issue of the healthcare policy, not only because I do not understand it entirely, but because this is not the purpose of the article. We know that the US has a healthcare system that differs from the healthcare systems of other developed, capitalist, industrial states. In these countries, the state intervenes to guarantee healthcare services to each and every citizen regardless of their social class, whilst in the United States the entire issue is left in the hands of the citizen through insurance. Therefore, healthcare services vary from one citizen to another according to the financial burden they take on in order to pay insurance. However, and as a result of that, there are 47 million Americans who do not have any healthcare. This number represents the underprivileged of a total of 350 million Americans who cannot pay for any kind of healthcare. Apart from this number, there is a much larger part of society that pays for health insurance that does not cover critical and expensive cases. Therefore, if there is some kind of tragedy, the family is likely to suffer from bankruptcy and fall off the social ladder.

Honestly speaking, Americans have always argued well to defend this miserable situation in a developed country. They argue that their healthcare system is better than the systems in Canada and Europe, simply because there aren’t as many losses and it focuses its efforts toward scientific research to fight diseases and deal with incurable cases. In short, when it comes to general health, [the US argued that] this system is better than others where the state intervenes in individual decisions. That would be a case of uninvited Socialism that is unsuitable in a society that is based on personal freedom.

Of course those arguments were never convincing, and there were always counter-arguments. The early lawmakers were always accused of making America incapable of honouring its commitments to the poor and those with low incomes. This created a situation that could not be tolerated by successive Democrat administrations, the most recent of which is the administration of President Barack Obama, which wants to introduce a new healthcare program guaranteeing two factors: that all Americans will come under the healthcare insurance umbrella, and aid will be offered to the least affluent families, therefore enabling them to deal with major health crises.

Without doubt there are other details, and the issue would be more interesting if it is dealt with in depth. But what concerns us here is why these important debates on general policies aren’t taking place in our countries. By general policies I do not mean the healthcare policy alone but all policies that concern the public from urban planning, education and healthcare all the way down to major decisions that affect people’s lives and their standard of living. You could flick through Arabic newspapers, watch and listen to numerous television and radio stations and surf 270 thousand Arabic blogs on the Internet and you will still not find many discussions or interviews on general policies. You’ll find plenty on “normalizing” ties with Israel or debates about Hijab or Niqab but you’ll find that hardly any attention is given to general policies, which is everyday news in modern societies where certain matters affect people’s lives and when something begins to affect people’s lives, it becomes a fundamental part of the political scene.

The healthcare issue has been preoccupying the political scene in the US throughout the summer, whilst anyone flying in from the Middle East may have thought that the Americans were losing sleep over the region’s never-ending issues.

This might be the essence of the political crisis in the Arab world. Politics is as good as nothing in the absence of dialogue, competition and national interest in general policies. It is as good as nothing when people divide into lobbies and pressure groups.

The healthcare issue in the US – regardless of its worthiness and policies – deals with the conflicting interests of individuals, groups, companies, social institutions, doctors, hospitals and even universities. The same goes for other important policies that give significance to any political society and could even lead it towards democracy.

Nothing on earth can make politics more democratic than people being divided over a certain subject, united on another and allied on a third. Only then would politics be free of its stagnancy and acute polarizations that are common in pan-Arab “politics” – if it can be called that – in which such conduct takes place.

Those who really aspire to create healthier political societies must start by completely opening the door to discussing general policies, where no one would protest against a king, a sultan or a president but would rather search for better policies that would make their nations happier and more secure.

Abdel Monem Said

Abdel Monem Said

Abdel Monem Said is the director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

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