Rami G Khouri writes: Hold on to your seats, for the four most powerful and influential Arab countries – Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – are all experiencing significant, sometimes violent, internal changes that touch on the most basic elements of identity, power and national authority. What happens in those countries in the years ahead will shape the Middle East for generations perhaps, creating new patterns of stable statehood on the way. Saudi Arabia is not experiencing the upheavals of Iraq, Syria and Egypt, but its new internal dynamics portend historic changes underway in that country and throughout the Gulf – because some citizens no longer accept blindly to follow the rules of the foundational tenets of Saudi-Wahhabi doctrine.
The worsening carnage in Syria, the sharp increase in bombings and ethnic cleansing in Iraq in the past few months, and the confrontation between the armed forces and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are stark reminders of where the modern Arab world stands today on its road to modern statehood. Syria, Iraq and Egypt embody the leading political challenges the Arab world faces: how to shape a stable and equitable pluralistic society; how to achieve an acceptable balance of authority among military and civilian forces; and how to assert religious values in daily and public life without falling into the trap of theocratic autocracy or artificially imposed secularism from above.
That these three historical Arab powerhouses all are experiencing deep conflict or uncertainty is the inevitable consequence of our recent history since the 1950s. We are today dealing with the national wreckages, social carcasses and political diseases of several generations of security-based state-building that provided a thin veneer of stability, but never buttressed this with the durable substance of genuine citizen-anchored nationhood. [Continue reading…]