Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A year of fading myths | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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What a year 2011 has been! Its drab start a distant memory, 2011 is ending as one of those calendar piercing years that burn their way into history.

In a sense, 2011 has been a year of demystifications.

In the so-called “industrial world” it has witnessed the end of the globalisation myth.

A decade ago, many believed that globalisation would deliver endless prosperity. Suddenly, the world seemed awash with capital that, combined with cheap labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America, was supposed to subsidise ever-rising living standards in Europe and North America.

However, 2011 showed that much of the capital circulating around the world consisted of credit generated by diabolical mathematical formulae. Having started by spending our dollars, or euros, twice, we ended up spending the shadow of our dollars and euros countless times.

The experience revealed that, having tolerated the breaking of its rules, capitalism ends up by re-imposing them with a vengeance. Thus, it remains the best-worst system it has always been.

Another myth debunked is that of the euro which marked its 10th anniversary in 2011. This was the first time in history that a group of bureaucrats were creating a supra-national currency in the hope of using it as a step towards political union. In other words, they were putting the cart before the horse. Those who devised it could not make up their minds whether they meant it as a single currency or a common one.

By 2011, however, it had become clear that, although a currency, the euro had not become real money. For purposes of exchange, anything could serve as currency. At various moments in history products such as sugar or saffron, and metals such as bronze, silver and gold, have served as currency. Sometimes, animals or even human slaves have performed that function.

Money, however, is something more than a currency. It is a symbol of stability and power, generating confidence. Money is essentially a political device performing functions that transcend the economic domain while currency is a mere vehicle for trade.

As far as the greater Middle East is concerned, 2011, the year of the “Arab Spring”, resembled 1848 in Europe.

As for how far the comparison might go, it is too early to tell.

In Europe, having started in the name of freedom and democracy, the revolutions of 1848 ended up creating new dictatorships under Bismarck and Napoleon III. Could the same thing happen with the “Arab Spring”?

The honest answer is that we don’t know. However, the “Arab Spring” destroyed at least two myths.

The first was that of the military-security regime as the ideal model for Arab nations. Although the model is still resisting in Syria, Sudan and Mauritania, no one now dares advocate it as ideal for any Arab country.

The second myth was that, given a chance, Arabs would jump from the frying pan of military despotism into the fire of Salafist tyranny.

That has not happened. In elections from Morocco to Jordan, passing by Tunisia and Egypt, avowedly Islamist parties failed to win the support of even half of the electorate. Entering the race camouflaged within various coalitions, Islamists did win a plurality in most places. However, they know that support from 10 to 30 per cent of the total electorate is not enough to sustain religious tyranny.

This is why they took double care not to offer any hint of their routine rants, appearing as moderate, conservative parties with a pro-market economic policy.

More importantly, perhaps, Islamists of all colours have had to admit that power emanates from the will of the people expressed through elections, not from any claim of divine mandate. This means that while Islam may be incompatible with democracy, democracy is not incompatible with Islam or any other religion.

Yet another fading myth concerned the so-called Islamic Republic in Iran.

As 2011 draws to a close, it is clear that all three words in the official name of the Khomeinist regime are redundant. This regime is neither Islamic nor republican nor yet Iranian. It is a military-security regime disguised as an “imamate”. This is why Islamist parties across the globe insist that they do not wish to repeat Iran’s tragic experience. Even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters now understand this and claim to be trying to inject at least some republican and Iranian features into the regime, but with little hope of success.

Another myth exposed in 2011 is that of the uselessness of external pressure against despotic regimes. Towards the end of the year one of the most hermetic and durable Asian despotic regimes began to crack in Burma. Unable to cope with external pressure, sanctions, and domestic opposition, the military junta in Rangoon, operating under the banner of “Myanmar Socialism”, realised that the game was up.

Russia was the scene of another exposed myth. Until a few weeks ago, most experts believed that the tandem of Vladimir Putin and his ventriloquist’ dummy Dmitri Medvedev would remain in power until 2036.

Now, however, few are prepared to wager that Putin would win the next presidential election.

Iraq witnessed another debunked myth. The Americans were supposed to have invaded Iraq to build permanent bases there and steal its oil. By the end of 2011 there were no American bases and no American oil company has shown interest in entering Iraq’s complicated oil business.

The end of that myth was the start of another one: that of Iraq being swallowed up by Iran’s moribund Khomeinist regime.

Yet another myth was that of Osama bin Laden as the un-dead, if not the undying of global terrorism. In 2011, the myth morphed into farce as we were told of how the great Jihadist tried to hide behind his wife to avoid being shot by American SEALS.

Well, what kind of a year was it, then? All in all, not a bad one.