Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The president and his government of pupils | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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One scene in particular has recurred a lot over the past few years: The president, leader, or whatever title the official media wishes to label him, holding an “important” meeting with the cabinet ministers he has appointed to run the affairs of the country. Here we would see everyone listening politely and taking notes. We never heard of anyone who aroused controversy, or disagreed with the president over anything. Should such an event occur, the troublesome individual would be put in the shade, and no one would know anything about them as they would receive explicit instructions not to talk to anyone.

In most cases, decisions are issued in accordance with the president’s ideas, directions and instructions. Meanwhile, cabinet ministers appear like elementary school pupils, with nothing to do except be on their best behavior. Even if they convene on their own, there is always a large picture of the president or the beloved leader gracing the background, and looming over their meeting.

This stifling atmosphere contributed to the outbreak of the revolutions and popular uprisings we have seen in several Arab countries, after people felt that this tiresome scene was overly drawn out.

Regimes governing these countries seemed in total control, resting on solid foundations and infiltrating all security apparatuses to protect them. The regimes did not see the storm coming. Then people suddenly discovered that termites had eaten into the regimes’ foundations, and were astonished at their rapid collapse and their short-sightedness which prevented them from foreseeing their demise, fueling them instead with obstinacy.

Such regimes were born in the post independence or national liberation period, at varying dates ranging from the 1950s to the 1960s. And just like any newly born regime, they had founders who upheld slogans and general ruling principles, like the famous six principles of the “July 23” Revolution. The founders implemented their ideologies regardless of whether they were right or wrong. As a character trait, revolutionary founders usually possess a spirit of adventure, and the courage to rise against an established order and build a new one on its ruins. Naturally, these founders are endowed with intuition and political skills, most notably self-esteem.

As years passed over this newly born legitimacy, the first generation, with its courage and political resolve, began to erode whether through disagreements, exclusions, or by virtue of a generation succession. Experience has proven that these regimes were not capable of creating sustainable self-developing mechanisms to cope with the increasing needs of the country and the changing times. Due to the totalitarian ideologies which prevailed during that era, and the intense centralization of power, those regimes emptied their local arenas from politics, and prevented the emergence of a new generation of experienced politicians.

Over a span of several decades, multiple governments have been formed with one preferred and prominent feature, namely the “technocrat” characteristic. Plenty of reasons have been set forth to justify adopting such a trend, most notably the excuse that the problems facing the cabinet are complicated in nature and need specialists and experts to tackle them. Hence it might be that some or all of those cabinet ministers are experts in their field, but in the end, we are left with an entire government that has no political minister in the true sense of the word, in a government where the first priority is politics.

A good example of the political minister can be seen in the governments of Western democratic states. A minister here is the political head of the ministry’s apparatus; he represents the government and works on implementing its policies. In parliamentary states, a minister is usually chosen from the parliamentary bloc of the majority-winning party. Meanwhile, the responsibility for executive affairs, which require specialization and expertise, lies with the undersecretary or the technical and administrative apparatus in the government department. The good thing about a political minister here is that he wouldn’t normally accept being just a pupil in the cabinet. He would argue, disagree, and even resign if he has to; counting on the weight his name carries in the world of politics.

We used to see the exact opposite of this in the Arab countries where recent revolutions have emerged victorious, and we still see this in countries where the popular uprisings are stumbling…governments of employees and pupils, where no one can raise their voice. It seems that over time this infection has spread to the head of state, rendering him a man without imagination, political views or future vision; a man who can only resort to suppression to deal with the people when they protest.

For this reason, those countries moved at the speed of a tortoise, whereas the rest of the world made great strides, until everyone grew tired. It became clear that such regimes had reached an impasse when the leaders attempted to introduce the bequeathal of power to their sons, thus creating a new legitimacy with no foundation.