Embassies Dialogue on Asia
toward robust democratic systems. Despite social andcultural afnities between the two regions, the respectiveactivist communities have not established meaningul ties.For example, while having succeeded in establishing itsel as an international gathering or democracy, the yearly commemoration o the 518 movement in Gwangju, SouthKorea, has so ar included ew participants rom the MiddleEast North Arica (MENA) region. Yet, the negotiatedmodel o economic growth and political liberalization thatSouth Korea has undergone may be o particular relevanceor activists in the Arab world seeking practical ormula-tions outside the West-centric realm, and thus less subjectto the polemical attacks o nativist ideologues. Indeed, theAsian experience o negotiating native authenticity and amodernity originating rom the West has itsel the potentialo resetting the debate and problématique aecting the Arabworld today.
The “East versus West” Dichotomy
Recent events seem to conrm a tumultuous history ladenwith religiously phrased conrontations and may havepushed many on the Southern and Eastern shores o theMediterranean — Arabs and others — to understand theburden o their past, as well as the dilemmas o their presentand uture, as conditioned i not outright determined by therelationship with their Northern and Western neighborsacross the sea. Without a doubt, the intra-Mediterraneanexchange o ideas, goods, and populations has been thedynamic engine o many waves o change that have aectedthe region and beyond. However, the dichotomy o an“East versus West” conict, even when rephrased as a“South versus North” one, has oen been used to obuscateinternal cleavages and to thwart the development o localphenomena. Tus, by relegating many o the progressiveideas to the category o “Western import,” both the region’sautocrats and their theocratically inclined rivals sought topreserve a patriarchal order in which the ew maintain priv-ileges, while wide segments o society, including women,youth, and minorities, are bound by dependence.Te transormations in the Arab world, ushered in by theall o the long-term unisian president, and reverberatingover the past months in North Arica and the Middle East,have recast the plight o the region’s societies away romthe authenticity/modernity paradigm that had dominateddiscourse and analysis, into the demand o progress on aset o concrete issues — governance, development, employ-ment. Te eorts o rulers and the ideological oppositionto reclaim the center stage or grand narrative concerns(the angst vis-à-vis the West, the alleged “assault” on Islam,the Palestinian question) have so ar not been successul inchanging the tenor o on-going uprisings. More promisingresults (or the autocrats and theocrats) seem to be possiblein the post-revolutionary phase through the leveraging o the existing imbalance in organization — which disavorsthe proponents o positive propositions — and through thedisproportionate material and media support provided by regional and international players to “moderate” Islamistactions. Still, as demonstrated in particular in the Libyancase where the military contribution o the West was instru-mental in toppling the despotic regime, the “East versusWest” rhetoric no longer provides a credible discursiveramework.
By relegating many of theprogressive ideas to the categoryof “Western import,” both theregion’s autocrats and their theocratically inclined rivalssought to preserve a patriarchalorder in which the few maintainprivileges, while wide segments of society, including women, youth,and minorities, are bound bydependence.