Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Arabs in the African Tunnel | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It was in the mid-1990s, in this very column that I warned against the Arab world heading towards Africanization; that is, developing into a situation that is similar to the African condition which was then characterized by premature disintegration of national entities and the outbreak of civil conflicts of all kinds.

The scene had started in Yemen during the outbreak of the brief secession war; however, it left scars that still remain to this day (in the form of the ongoing Houthi rebellion, for example).

Following that, the situation changed and the Arab condition regained some vigor. Disorder in Algeria was extinguished after President Bouteflika came to power, especially as he had raised the slogan of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Lebanon almost regained its previous glory and restored its civilization; even Sudan had overcome the devastating plight of the separatist war.

Thus, we are only left with Iraq; the bleeding wound, devastated by the cruel blockade imposed on it and upon the southern and northern areas that are practically segregated from the rest of the country and with which all ties with neighboring states severed.

However, what many have failed to notice is that the trends of profound social transformation rarely surface; they follow a slow rhythm and their indicators are not publicly clear.

These indicators include the radical transformations that have inflicted the formation of Arab states and which have begun to be reflected in concrete cases. It is true that it is wrong to compare different Arab situations, wherein the contexts and domestic and regional determinants differ. However, the truth that is visible to all parties is the recent acceleration of Africanization in the Arab world.

The state of Africanization does not reflect a state of division and disintegration, which was a concern for Arab nationalist writers and politicians. This scenario is based upon, as widely known, the expectation of a new Sykes-Picot agreement that would disintegrate Arab countries into sectarian and ethnic statelets in order to ensure Israel’s strategic interests and defeat joint Arab security.

The Lebanese situation was regarded from this perspective, just as the Iraqi situation was viewed from the same perspective after the US occupation.

However, what many people failed to see is that such a scene requires international action (in the same manner as the Sykes-Picot agreement), which is no longer possible by virtue of the new shifts in global strategy. Meanwhile, we can see a phenomenon of internal collapse which undermines national entities that are already witnessing a state of crises in terms of internal integration, whether the reasons are ethnic, cultural or political.

This pattern had started in Africa after the Cold War and coincided with crises of disintegration of communist federations in Eastern Europe (which is characterized by its own special context). The dark continent had seen over 15 national conflicts in which the area of the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa have witnessed the most overt and most severe of these conflicts.

While many had expected the disintegration of these countries and their division into small, tribal, scattered and isolated statelets, another scenario had emerged. This scenario was characterized by two contradictory phenomena; the first was maintaining the bureaucratic core of the state, which although emptied of all its actual authority still remained in its present institutional form as a guarantee for the survival of the state and a framework of communication with the international arena. The other phenomenon was the emergence of self-regulatory patterns that maintained the cohesion of the social fabric  even in the form of secessionist entities governed by warlords and leaders of rival gangs.

What is interesting is that at the time when internal conflict was at its fiercest in Congo (Zaire), the Congolese embassies abroad remained open after all the conflicting groups unanimously agreed to keep these embassies open as a minimal opportunity for the recognition of the state abroad. At the same time, separate statelets had developed their mechanisms of regulation and survival, including the mechanism of economic production, which is based upon smuggling precious minerals through an active and influential international network.

What was truly surprising was that these fragile and artificial borders, which were inherited through colonialism, remained unaffected by these devastating wars. In fact, the continent was able to overcome many of its internal conflicts. Thus, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia and Congo regained their strength. Moreover, other systems had emerged against the backdrop of armed conflicts, with a democratic scenario and foreign aid in most cases.

However, the civil experience resulted in a new equation for the continent whose most prominent feature was the privatization of the military-security institution, which no longer constituted a component of the central authority.

Contrastingly, national security had become guaranteed through balances of terror between militias, which transformed into political fronts, and through the permanent presence of foreign military. In return for the privatization of the security institution, another complimentary path had emerged, namely, the globalization of the local economic structure and the litigation and penal system, which came as a result of the erosion and collapse of local central institutions.

The economic factor is evident in the population’s dependence upon foreign humanitarian aid for their basic needs and also in the dominance of international financial institutions in economic policies. It is likewise clear in the limited production activity (the exploitation of natural resources and raw materials) and its integration into the new system of globalization that is inseparable  as stressed by Antonio Negri  with the internal state of domestic sedition, since it is based on the abolition of the principle of national sovereignty.

As for the judicial factor, it manifests in international courts that were established in many African countries to prosecute those responsible for crimes of genocide and torture. The most recent example of which is the former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s tribunal [war crimes trial].

Although Arab crises have not yet fully reached that critical stage, the indicators are starkly visible: the international tribunal in Lebanon, the militia war in Iraq and Palestine, the humanitarian intervention in Sudan, the hotbeds of separatism in Iraq, Yemen and even in Algeria (the desert area that is controlled by Salafist fighters).

But states will not divide and neither will the regional entities, however the Africanization process with all its atrocity is starting to take shape  and may God protect us against this evil.