Turkey’s president is fighting a new battle with the Europeans, this time regarding the rights of his country in the eastern Mediterranean. Recep Tayyeb Erdogan threatens to use force if necessary in order to preserve his country’s interests.
While President Erdogan was directing his warnings at the “greedy” enemies, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was issuing similar warnings to use force, but against his own people; Sisi pledged to send the army to demolish homes over the heads of Egyptian citizens.
Of course, building violations and trespass cannot be condoned, but I am drawing this comparison between the ease with which Arab rulers use force against their own people — Sisi has a track record of doing this; remember the Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda massacres? — and the way that a president elected by his people uses his popular mandate to confront greedy foreign forces. This is the difference between those who win proper elections and those who stage coups against the people’s choice. This explains Sisi’s threats to his people and his truce with Ethiopia, which is threatening the security of his country.
In the context of the crises and the leaders’ decisions on how to deal with them, I predict that the roots of the problem in the Arab world lie in its leaders’ dependence on “legitimacy” granted by foreigners, at an exorbitant cost, in return for marginalising their people and ruling with an iron fist. No nation or state can rise up for justice while its leaders have pawned themselves to foreign interests and foreign agendas, because the price of this is too high. We can see the consequences of this today in the failure of our countries to develop and progress, while countries and nations that have fewer financial and human resources and wealth than we have are far more advanced.
Observers conclude that there is no development unless corruption is eradicated, and we cannot do that without elected and national governments. Such governments and leaders must have national interests at heart with clear intentions and specific goals.
I will look beyond the Turkish experience in order not to be accused of being pro-Turkey and pro-Muslim Brotherhood. Instead, let’s look at the experiences of some countries which developed around the same time that the Arab states gained their nominal independence. There is a clear gap between them and many Arab countries.
Malaysia, for example, has seen a great renaissance since the early 1970s, just a few years after independence. Good governance and the eradication of corruption were the key policies, as well as investment in education. South Korea’s planning has played a major role in its development, as has the efficient use of its human resources, which are generally wasted in the Arab countries.
Just fifty years ago, Singapore was an underdeveloped country with widespread poverty among its citizens, 70 per cent of whom lived in overcrowded accommodation. A third of Singaporeans actually slept on the ground and its GDP was no more than $320. Today, it has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, the key being the vision of its founder and first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. He believed that self-reliance and hard work were the only way forward after the world basically abandoned his country and left it suffering in poverty.
From 1965 to 1972, and after a series of economic reforms accompanied by some strict measures imposed by the state, Singapore turned into an attractive environment for investors, and capital increased 33 times thanks to the measures implemented by the Economic Development Board. It now has foreign reserves of more than $300 billion, according to economic reports. The public sector operated and continues to act as an investor and an incentive for foreign investment.
I do not believe that the Arabs are backward by nature or are meant to be remain underdeveloped and lagging behind the “first” world. The number of well-qualified professionals in every sector confirm that the problem does not lie in Arab minds. Rather, it is the lack of political will to benefit from such talent and skills, and the lack of national leaders dedicated to the development of their countries. Too many Arab leaders are preoccupied with viewing their own people as a threat to their power base and acting against them, rather than seeing them as a national resource and valuing them as such.
Arab minds are creative, but they are generally absent in the development equation. Let us remember that today the lead scientist in America’s search for a Covid-19 vaccine is Moroccan-born Dr Moncef Slaoui, who has found in America what he did not find in his country of birth or wealthy Arab countries. Let us remember that while Europe and the US are mobilising their doctors and scientists to find a vaccine, Arab countries are throwing their best doctors and scientists in prison solely because they express political opinions.
In short, the beginning of our development starts from within. The existing regimes and way of thinking need to be replaced with patriotic leaders ready to put the interests of our countries over and above those of foreign states.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 31 August 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.