Foreign Policy Program
The Arab Street had to contendwith a political culture that hada track record of failed grandnarratives, with only Islamism leftstanding.
is a combination o components that add up to dictate theattitude o the citizen vis-à-vis the state: 1) legitimacy, 2)the level o implication and complicity o the citizen inthe state institutions, 3) the ability to mete punishment,and 4) the ability to bestow rewards. Legitimacy, in turn,is derived rom dynastic, revolutionary, and charismaticsources.Te actual dosage o each o these components varies romone Arab state to another. Te Egyptian leader Gamal ‘Abdal-Nasir remains the archetype o the Arab charismaticleader, with many others, rom Iraq’s Saddam Hussein toLibya’s Gadda, having striven to emulate him. With theexception o Jordan, all the monarchies o the Arab worldrely on a dynastic legacy that pre-dates the emergence o the nation-state system, with established social mecha-nisms to reiy legitimacy. Te Arab republics, on the otherhand, base their legitimacy on the “revolutions,” in reality the military coups, which swept away many o the weakermonarchies o the region that were perceived as ailingto represent the aspirations o the nation, starting withthe 1952 Egyptian Free Ocers action. Jordan borrowedits legitimacy rom the deunct Shariate o Mecca, andwas thus able to leverage both the genealogical link to theProphet, and the role o the last Shari o Mecca (Shari Husayn) as instigator and leader o the Arab revolt againstthe Ottomans in 1916, to acquire dynastic legitimacy whilepartially immunizing itsel against the “republican” conta-gion.Irrespective o the distribution o the components, theArab state, when not weak and ragmented, is essentially an autocracy. Te autocratic grip was achieved through alayering o the population into three tiers:1. Te inner circle o the ruling amily or clan: kleptocratswith a lot to gain rom the existence o the regimeand a lot to lose rom its departure (the nominal “1percent”).2. Te regime base: implicated in and complicit with theregime, with little to gain rom the regime and a lot tolose rom its departure (the nominal “10 percent”).3. Te rest: the majority o the population with little togain rom the regime, and little to lose rom its depar-ture (the nominal “Arab Street”).Te Arab Street had to contend with a political culture thathad a track record o ailed grand narratives, with only Islamism le standing. Te three grand narratives that havepopulated the 20
century prior to the rise to dominanceo Islamism, were all elitists, based on the notion o a smallgroup leading the nation to salvation: liberalism, nation-alism, socialism. All three, together with the Islamism thatsucceeds them as the ourth grand narrative, were rich inhigh concepts (civilizational concerns, colonialism, impe-rialism, Zionism as a conspiracy to undermine Arab unity,modernity as an assault on authenticity, and clash o civi-lizations) while being poor in concrete concerns (develop-ment, demography, governance, inrastructure, ood andenergy security, the environment). Islamism displayed thesame characteristics o elitism, high concepts, sloganeering,with a dearth o actual programmatic approach.Yet, the choices or the citizen o the Arab state werelimited: either 1) submitting to the autocrats and acceptingcomplicity with the control apparatus o the state, 2) joining the theocrats in dissent, through the identicationwith and/or participation in the Islamist opposition, oralternatively 3) seeking escapism through a popular culturethat promotes consumerism, the realization o whichwas oen rustrated and unachievable due to the lack o economic means.Islamism as a grand narrative came in two main versions:accommodationist and radical. Te ormer acceptedelements o the existing order while seeking its reorm,while the latter rejected the existing order in its totality. Inact, Islamism was more o a wide continuum than distinctcamps, with the progression o militancy moving invariably rom the accommodationist to the radical.
The Transformations and Their Implications:A Preliminary Consideration
Te three tables on the ollowing pages provide a summary description o the state o the transormations in the Arab