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Checkbook diplomacy - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The checkbook is a very effective tool in the secret diplomacy of the Middle East, everyone is aware of it, everyone talks about it in private, but no one declares it publicly. With the checkbook, loyalties and political positions can be bought, and it has resolved crises and changed attitudes in many cases. Indeed, everyone participates in the practice in one way or another, the rich and the poor, depending on their capabilities and their roles.

It is a part of the longstanding practice of covert regional warfare over influence or disputes, exercised by regional parties, Arab and non-Arab, in countries in crisis or at crisis point, in order to strengthen their influence. It is one of the negative trademarks of an unhealthy phenomenon that has existed in the Arab world for decades. It may solve crises or ease situations in the short term, but it has also been the primary cause in fuelling political crises, civil wars and bloody conflicts. It has never been a factor in permanent stability or healthy long-term relations, for this is not the nature of the practice, unless the checkbook is used openly and transparently in the financing of genuine projects for sustainable development and solid links.

Thus, it is not surprising that after the fall of a regime and the exposure of its secret documents, we see some of its scandals or at least exclamation and question marks over who gets what and the relationship between this and that. This happened after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, and the exposure of a list of sycophant beneficiaries. These days there is talk about similar documents being uncovered from the Gaddafi regime, and the revelation of a list of beneficiaries, financiers and so on. Even the regime itself implicitly alluded to this in its final days, when it practically attempted to blackmail the French President by talking about Libya’s assistance during his election campaign, despite his knowledge that the regime was subject to international sanctions.

It is important to stress that these details should not stand in the way of an analysis of the phenomenon, the reasons for its emergence, its implications in political corruption, and whether we now need new rules for such dealings, particularly in countries that have witnessed uprisings and revolutions seeking to change the reality, which are now drafting their political and constitutional rights.

The point is that if we really desire genuine change, and if we really want to correct a course that in recent years has led to nothing except an abyss characterized by self-indulgence and corruption, to the extent that it has caused mass unrest amongst the people, then political funding must be clear and transparent for all, in order to regulate the practice and do away with phenomena such as vote buying and so on.

Here I am specifically referring to countries where the regime has changed, such as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, or where this is expected to occur like in Syria and Yemen, and where political forces of change are building for the future and shaping the political system either through constitutions or new political laws. It is vital that they think about codifying and organizing the process of political funding.

In these countries it is clear that there is an agreement between the forces of political change to build societies based on freedom, and to form parties and elections in various forms to regulate the process of the devolution of power, media freedom, and the establishment of institutions. However, if this is implemented without the existence of laws governing the financing process, insisting on sources being declared and budgets for parties and electoral campaigns being public knowledge, then the door will be open for a return to corruption through political finance. Also, such laws would put an end to, or at least restrict, the entry of funds from abroad to finance certain campaigns or candidates.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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