Speech of Mr. Fouad Sinioraat the New Library of Alexandria during the Conference on:Democracy in the Twenty-First Century
Dear brother,Dr. Ismail Serageldin,
- Director of the New Library of Alexandria-
Dear Brohers and Sisters,
I am honored to be present here today in the new Library of Alexandria, this prominent scientific, cultural and civilizational edifice that well befits Egypt, and which Egypt is worthy of. It also well befits Alexandria, the metropolis of the Mediterranean Sea.
I am also pleased tospeak to you at the opening of the conference on “Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.” The subject in itself is not only thought-provoking and crucial, but it is also considered a necessity for Arab’s existence in the light of this difficult era of their modern and contemporary history. Herewith, we strive to come up with a vision to address this issue in our Arab world, and consequently the idea of a new social and political contract, which I will tackle accordingly in my paper.
In this perspective, the Director of the library, Dr. Ismail Serageldin, has advanced what has become a situation of severe pessimism and frustration in the Arab’s existence nowadays. Personally, I would not argue that the situation is any brighter. As a matter of fact, I find it much darker. What we are going through as Arabs, be it people, countries, nations, or communities, can be described as painful labor, and a very strenuous one.
In fact, there are reasons -common to most of us- forthe existing and growing imbalances which have caused these labors. Therefore, in order to remove these shortcomings, civil movements have taken place since the year 2011, and they are still taking place today throughout the Arab world. If that wave has turned inwards for reasons we are all aware of, then inevitably there will be a second and third waves of awareness. As a matter of fact, we need to listen to these demands and exert the effort to adapt to the changes in order to progress on the path of eliminating imbalances.
Let us reflect on these reasons for a moment. The Arab public that is eager to participate in the world’s civilization and its progress has not been lucky in the elapsed twentieth century. Following the decline of the Ottoman Empire, colonization came forth, and the struggles of the intellectuals, politicians, and the public mounted in aim to get rid of it.
We must note that there have been major achievements in the era of the struggle against colonization as popular, national and constitutional authorities, as well as modern representative institutions emerged. Then came the harsh conditions of confinement and restrictions in the Second World War, which aborted all efforts of progress, independence, and development when the Zionists occupied Palestine. Afterwards, came the military revolutions in the non-oil countries, which built the legitimacy of their presence on what they have declared as the will to work on the recovery of land and dignity, restoring the human esteem as a citizen, achieving public and private freedoms and unity, economic and social progress, and contributing to the argument of positive neutrality and independent development.
Nonetheless, for several decades, the land was never regained; conversely, we lost more lands, and the dignity of the human being in all its forms was never recovered. A number of our countries have suffered setbacks, several revolutions, invasions, clashes, and disagreements were marked by violence. Hereby, we have wasted a vast array of capacities, capabilities and opportunities as a result of abuse of power, bad governance, and mismanagement of public affairs. We have also lost representative governments while the constitutions, which protect public and private freedoms as well as the rule of law, have been violated. Hereby, the marginalization of the citizens and the public increased due to their lack of participation in political life and the persistent deterioration in the living conditions due to poor governance and mismanagement of the public affairs. Accordingly, all humanitarian, educational, health and social indexes worsened in the participation of the public life.
On the other hand, insome oil-producing countries, there has been an abundance, which cannot only be considered as a developmental practice. It was, however, in some of its aspects, a cover to some errors and to the absence of policies that are capable of bringing in qualitative progress. It also concealed sustainable development and with it the efforts to diversify these economies and reduce their dependence on oil. This aspect kept these economies stable and made them mostly rentier economies.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Over decades, many attempts took place in many Arab countries. However, these attempts were mostly unsuccessful in achieving the promises made. Hereby, maintaining security in these countries came at the expense of freedoms, while living at the minimum wage came at the expense of participation, and at the expense of the economic and social development, as well as at the expense of the sustainable economic growth. Attempts were also made in order to maintain macroeconomic stability. Notwithstanding, not enough efforts were deployed at the level required by the political and economic strong-willed people, who are well knowledgeable in the vital and production sectors, especially in terms of achieving sustainable development, raising the standard of living and the quality of life of citizens, nor in terms of advancing on the path for improving quality education that matches the scientific developments in the labor markets, nor in terms of improving the levels of healthcare, or the opportunity of finding new jobs for the large numbers of people acceding labor markets. Moreover, freedoms no longer existed, real political parties and civil society activists disappeared, and the political street was canceled in favor of more tyranny and suppression of freedoms at a time when many countries in the near and distant neighborhood were hustling with variables and transitions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In fact, during these past decades wherein many of our Arab peoples were subjected to oppression, practiced by the Israeli occupation and by foreign occupation and tyrannical dictatorships, before and during these times, a social and political contract emerged as a de facto in a number of Arab countries -where that coercion is not called a contract. The dictatorial and totalitarian regimes, which governed for several decades, were to provide security and political stability to their citizens, however, at the expense of participation and democracy. These regimes were also to secure macroeconomic stability within the overall framework.
Unfortunately, this has been achieved at the expense of the deep structural reforms that were needed by those Arab states to secure the highest growth of economic, social, and regional development expense ratios. In addition, this did not also come with acceptable levels of necessary structural reforms needed to improve governance levels and public affairs issues, or to promote the production culture and raise competitiveness and productivity, transparency and disclosure, participation and to reduce corruption levels, and whatever allows those countries to ensure the levels of development and the necessary growth required to face the large and growing rise in population. Thus, this impeded the creation of jobs needed for the millions of young people, who had been eager and needed to join the labor market over the past three decades.
Consequently,the levels of unemployment have exacerbated and brought with them even more of the rampant corruption, thus more despair, frustration, and loss of hope among a large group of the citizens, especially the youth.
Thisrise in unemployment, particularly among young people, came jointly with the lack of effective initiatives to come out of the growing dilemmas along with the growing awareness of the need for an initiative due to the implications of the technological revolution, especially at the level of the means of social media. This broke all barriers of time, place, nations, groups, silence and fear, and formed the tool and the main catalyst for the outbreak of the spark of the uprisings as well as the turmoil in some Arab countries.
A large fragment ofthese young people have realized that the cost of the brittle political stability, in both its security and economic parts, was very expensive in terms of the loss in the areas of freedom, justice, and dignity in all their forms. These young people became also aware that this brittle stability has not led, in fact, to the application of what has been achieved at the macro-economic level but to breakthroughs with regards to improving the performance and growth of the various economic sectors. Thus, all of the above mentioned aspects did not lead to a qualitative leap in terms of creating new job opportunities, especially among the young generation, nor did it lead to the improving the standards and quality of living, or reducing the hotbeds of exclusion, marginalization and the hindrance of participation.
Most of these regimes thought or hoped that this economic stability will encourage investment in projects that are able to expand the levels of development and growth, and thus, create jobs that are needed to employ the young people. However, in fact this achieved investment remained minimal, especially in the vital sectors. That said, the reforms taking place at the governance level and issues of public affairs were not sufficient and did not also include or were enough to promote competitiveness, enhance productivity, facilitate transactions and procedures of doing business, approve the necessary legislation to stimulate investment and protect it, expand its range, increase its effectiveness or promote transparency, increase disclosure, reduce corruption, amend labor laws, improve education and match it with the business market needs, and promote acquisition of the young people of the required skills levels. These are all necessary reforms that have not been implemented to the required extent or with the required aptitude, because they were also, in many cases, directly clashing with the current stable interests among large companies which were related to these regimes or to people who were responsible for them.
This brittle macroeconomic stability that was present before the uprisings, has led to the strengthening of the financial judgment of the governors. That, in addition to what they had at the political level, has led them to forming, along with their in-laws and relatives, a new category of obscene wealth. On the other hand, the gap between those groups and between other classes has widened. The negative impact of this growing gap doubled with the decline or the weakening of the new real middle class, one that was set to potentially form a safety valve to groups’ stability. These practices have banned fair competition by leading to the creation of family cartels, which in turn have increased their slipping wealth at the expense of productivity efficiency and competitiveness. This has prevented the development of other economic sectors, particularly the industrial and agricultural ones, which are capable of creating new jobs and developing of the areas of benefit provided by the modern economy based on knowledge and skills, which are established on the sufficient and sustained improvement in the levels of education as well as the quality and diversity of the compatibility with the development of these economies and their growth needs.
The incident of thevegetable seller who set himself on fire in Tunisia has accurately expressed the expiration of this social and political de facto contract in the last two decades.
TheArab Spring movements came as an expression of the rejection of the Arab peoples of this bitter reality and their desire to reformulate the social and political contract de facto, which some Arab regimes were based upon over the past three decades.
Accordingly,the Arab world has entered a turbulent phase as an outcome of the militarization of some systems of the uprisings –who, for a fact, represent the Arab Autumn- through resorting to extreme violence, which ultimately led to the chaotic conditions similar to the civil wars in a number of Arab countries.
Thus, we have seen the evaporation of political stability, in its security and economic aspects, without it leading to achievements on the levels of political or structural economic reforms.
In the period between2011 and 2015, the growth rates have decreased in the Arab world from 5%, before the start of the uprisings, to reach a rate of 2.5% thereafter. The deficit in the trade balances and in public budgets increased to reach 15% of the gross domestic product after it had reached five percent before that period. The inflation rise increased from 5% to 10%, while the foreign currency reserves deteriorated, impacting the value of many national currencies. This basically is what impacted the purchasing value of the low-income strata and their levels andquality of life. Thus, this intensifiedthe feeling of constraint andrestlessness, promoting a sense ofloss of hope, the need for changeandtherefore, uprisingon theprevailingsituation.
Ladies and Gentlemen
This has coincided with major shifts in terms of mixing political affairs with the religious ones, and some extremists resorted to violence, which began to take serious terrorist dimensions. A number of regimes have contributed to the launch of these extremist groups, and before that, the accumulation of political and social problems over several decades. These problems, which remained without real lasting solutions, contributed to the severity of the loss of hope and faith in the future among citizens, especially among the younger groups. These falloffs also multiplied the negative effects of these problems, especially when it comes to the Palestinian cause, which still remains without any fair and lasting solution, in addition to the increased foreign and regional interventions, which a number of individuals and groups to retreat or to seclusion or isolation, leading them to propagate and justify the culture of rejection of others. These groups have been pushed to that sick mindset, one that rose from the womb of the devastating experience of Afghanistan and then from the womb of the systems that practiced various forms of exclusion and which was set on fire by the entire religious education curriculum that is not really prudential of the Qur'an and the tolerant teachings of Islam. All this has contributed to sabotage some of the young minds who gave themselves the validity to inspect the consciences of the faithful or to resort to their expiation, and therefore, all of that has contributed to some of the people resorting to violence without any religious or moral constraint, falling by that into the abyss of the transition to terrorism.
As a result ofall this, the region has entered in a very crucial period, where those countries lost the security and stability without gaining freedom. These countries have lost economic and political stability without gaining a structural and institutional reform, while militancy and religious intolerance, as well as recourse to violence and terrorism intensified instead of striving to the realization of the action plans and broadening prospects to openness, moderation, and tolerance.
Duringthe last five years, our public has learned harsh lessons. Our youth and our public wanted change, and they still want it. However, the events of the past years have arisen many concerns. Many of the change seekers were met with exclusion, marginalization, and excessive violence. That has ultimately led to the collapse of the structure of the state in each of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.
As a result ofthese serious and successive shocks, the Arab public now fears two things: First, the demands for change had their outcome flip to the opposite side. At the same time, returning to the past is no longer possible and totally unreasonable. Second, the collapse of the state does not absolutely leave alternatives to work on, and it may lead to complacency and to deepening the state of despair which lead to the growing flow of extremism and the resort to violence. Therefore, politicians, intellectuals, and activists in the public affairs issues should bear in mind these two realistic things while trying to think about the future or while planning for it. While as it is neither acceptable nor correct to remain prisoners of the current deteriorating situation on both sides, there is a need for apositive and enlightened change in the way of thinking. It is a must to make room for new and alternative thoughts and for procedures that effectively put us on the way out of these thriving problems and which lead us to the other future, where prospects wave in the horizon to these young people, who have learned from the horror of these painful experiences.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When it comes to facing theextremist currents, it has simultaneously become clear and inevitable that it is necessary to save Islam and retrieve it from those who are trying to kidnap it, and hereby, saving the Arab world from falling into the misfortunes of deadly fundamentalisms conflict through addressing the extremist terrorist movements. This can be achieved by adopting the initiative to undertake efforts designed to fight for the religious reform and by preparing curriculum aimed at reforming the religious education we provide for our youngsters. Also, this reform should include clerics, who have to be pioneers in the call for openness and modernization, and it should also emphasize on the importance of moderation, outspokenness, and tolerance. This reform should also ensure and maintain the respect for human rights, public and private freedoms. It should also push people towards what is more beneficial like education, culture, employment, and production. There is an urgent need to encourage critical thinking in our communities in order to change the vision of the world to the coming generations, especially after decades of subordination to the military and security systems of the religious institutions and of oppressing peoples’ freedoms. It is time for Muslims to contribute, irrespective of their nationalities, to the Islamic religious reform mission by enriching the religious perspective and deepening it through the rehabilitation of science, knowledge acquisition and propagation, and by confirming the claim of providing human rights and openness to the world based on the brotherhood between human beings, their meeting and their cooperation in things that are common as well as in the many and big interests that bring them together in the present and in the future.
As for thedevelopment on the path of the building process, I can start by saying that there must be compatibility in order to achieve the development of a new social and politicalcontract, which should be accomplished together by the civil societies, the governmental authorities, and young people with strong participation. It has become clear that there is no need, nor benefit, nor interest as it is totally not acceptable to use violence. It is not tolerable by any party, because violence leads to more destruction and loss of more opportunities and aptitudes now and in the future. It is a new partnership that is based on holding the appellant, says Ibn Khaldun, that is, to renew the ancient heritage of solidarity, harmony, as well as mutual interests and interdependence within the Arab region. This means building an individual human being and an entire human community as well, where enlightened leaders have faith in a real reform emerge, and where they can be held accountable on the basis of performance through true and honest exercise of democracy assets, which, in turn, shall contribute to the peaceful circulation of power and authority.
Thisgreat deterioration at all levels will not change until a new transparent social and political contract, based on honesty, and that defines to the citizen what he has to offer, in terms of sacrifices, compared to what he will get in return, is implemented in the medium run.
The basicelements that must be included in this new social contract are the following:
- Emphasis onrestoring our faith in enlightened Arabism as an association, as a cultural and civilizational document that is based on the integration and interdependence among its countries and peoples, and not as a political project. Over the past decades, the degeneration of the concept of Arabism has led to bringing into surface many issues and matters relating to loyalties, which in turn, encouraged the partition among the Arab peoples themselves, on the basis of identities, sectarian and ethnic affiliations, and which contributed to the deepening of shocks, internal practices that are violent and non-democratic, and other foreign interventions as a the result.
An Arabismthat brings Arabs together and encourages all the meanings and values of mediation, moderation, openness, dialogue, tolerance, freedom and democracy. An Arabism that believes in the legitimacy of pluralism within the respect of the national framework for countries that sponsor the right of difference and reject violence and tendencies of exclusion and atonement or inspection in the consciences of the faithful.
An Arabismkeen on respecting diversity and others.
An Arabism that believes in a civil state which recognizes the equal rights of citizens and which respects human rights on the basis of recognition of the rights and duties of citizenship without any discrimination when it comes to ethnic, religious, ideological or territorial basis.
- Emphasisthat it is neither acceptable nor possible that the only available choice for our Arab societies is to fall into the trap of choosing between religious or totalitarian regimes, or those which claim one or the other. On the other hand, our bitter experience over the past decades was based on the fact that we had to choose between totalitarianism and extremism, which are in fact two sides of the same coin. Now this has become not only a duty but a necessity to withdraw that coin and that currency from the market and to access the era of a civil state.
The Arab Springhas shown that in spite of various failures and occurring bottlenecks, the Arab peoples, and Arab youth in particular, are eager to live in modern, moderate civil societies far from totalitarianism, tyranny, extremism and auctions.
Acivil state incubates all components without exclusion or marginalization. It is a state, which respects the plurality of religions, and it is neither a military nor a religious state. A civil state remains the first element and the foundation in this new social and political contract.
- Emphasis thatthe rights of individuals, the public and private freedoms as well as the rights of groups are only guaranteed by the constitution, which should be fully respected, commitment to, and implemented.
Thetotalitarian regimes, their military and intelligence apparatuses still exercise political and security extortion on the minorities in an aim of misleading them to believe that they are able to protect them; a matter that has been proven as a failure and had no continuity.
Infact, one cannot give what one does not have. These systems do not believe in pluralism, neither in participation, nor in individual freedoms and civil liberties. Based on this, they cannot give real freedom to groups, whether these groups were a majority or a minority.
Similarly, the recourse to the so-called coalition of minorities in order to protect them is a described recipe that is quick to ignite wars and endless conflicts. It does not lead to any outcome but is likely to lead to real and existential risks.
Thepluralism, which is one of the most prominent features of the East, is a blessing indeed and should be a source of richness to our Arab societies.
- Unfortunately,some Arab regimes have turned this blessing into a curse, and based on the aforementioned, the main third element in any new social contract must be to ensure and consolidate the rights of all our Arab societies’ components, to consider them as citizens within a clear constitutional framework that unambiguously respects the unity of the homeland and through effective and guarantor institutions, committed to respect the constitutions and the laws decreed.
- Emphasison the necessity of embracing the institutional reform through the incitement to adopt an institutional mindset, work on creating institutions, activate their work and ensure their ability to work in cooperation, harmony and respect among each other. But it is also necessary to ensure their ability to control each other (checks and balances).
The constitutions,which guarantee the freedom of individuals and groups as well as the property rights and other important foundations to establish a modern compatible civil state, are not enough alone if they were not associated with existing acting institutions that ensure their implementation within a framework of transparency and disclosure.
The globalexperience, at the level of economic and developmental progress, is clear and unambiguous in terms of the importance of institutional reform. However, the continued vitality of this institutional reform initiatives are needed to achieve progress and economic growth.
In this context, we must emphasize on the necessity of activating the parliamentary councils, which undertake both missions of legislation and supervision. It is also necessary to promote participation through the elected local councils.
At the level ofthe executive authority, which is approved to maintain the general economic and political framework, we must launch workshops that tackle the administrative reform level. In this sense, we must deploy significant efforts that are needed by these societies and economies to expand and strengthen the infrastructure, which actually needs developmental plans just like the Marshall project in Europe, within the framework of the Arab integration policy, based on mutual dependence and interest in the Arab system. It should also be based on the respect for Arab national security rules so as to bring about a paradigm shift, particularly in terms of transport and communications as well as energy and water sectors. All of the aforementioned contributes to increasing transparency and disclosure, and therefore, to improving trust between the citizens and the government.
Last but not least,on the institutional reform level, it is necessary to establish a judicial authority and another independent and efficient constitutional authority that guarantee the rights and duties, and ensure the proper implementation of this new social and political contract as well as to keep pace with workshops pertaining to reconstruction and investment in order to achieve better ratios of development and sustainable growth as well as of production and economic competitiveness, and thus, achieve tangible increases in new jobs level.
- Emphasison the necessity of having two tracks: macroeconomic stability and structural reform at the same time. In many countries, experience has shown, as mentioned above, that the economic stability is of importance and necessity, but is not sufficient ifit does not coincide and keep pace with the deep radical structural reforms to stimulate the process of creating new jobs, and thus, reduce poverty and unemployment rates experienced by the Arab world. The required structural reforms are those that address the problems of monopoly and increase the flexibility and transparency of the various sectors of the economy, which trigger the competitiveness, enhance productivity and growth as well as improve the regional development ratios.
These five pillars, namely: enlightened Arabism and the civil state, protecting the rights of individuals and groups that should be sacred in the constitution, the establishment of effective institutions and the inseparability of the economic stability with the structural reform, are the foundations for creating a new social and political contract that is in line with the wishes of our Arab peoples and that achieves their yearning for communities, providing them with freedom, dignity and justice. That is why we see that any current or future authority in the Arab world has to implement a road map, allowing the formulation of this contract within a specified time frame. Then it could restore hope for the future among our citizens, especially among young people and also enhance the trust in governments on the basis of performance and, therefore, then and only then, it would be acceptable and feasible to ask of these peoples, who have suffered so much to date, to offer more required sacrifices, but then again, it has to be asked fairly between the components and as much as these components can take in the short and medium terms, so as to achieve the desired goals in the reform and development.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
These years are tough, real tough. Terrorism has drastically emerged; tens of millions of Arabs fled from their homes, and all regional and international states intervened in our countries. But what are five or ten years in the lifespan of nations? We are one fine nation, a nation made of ancient civilizations and countries, and we are definitely able to restore development. However, let us always remember that success can be conceived from the womb of failure and from the problems that afflicted our nations or the ones we have contributed to ourselves. Let us also remember that sparkles can emerge from the darkness, and the darkness of the Arab governance can happen if we really want it.
It was a pleasureto talk to you about democracy and about my perception of implementing it in the Arab countries in the twenty-first century, especially in the light of these bitter experiences the Arabs went through over so many decades. I truly hope that these new practices will be adopted by the Arab countries, by reaching a drafting of a new social and political contract, which renounces exclusion, marginalization, and violence, and believes in participation, depends on development, and brings stability. I hope that the leaders will work on strengthening and stabilizing the economic, social, and political developmental process so as to contribute to the restoration of the civility these nations and the Arab nation as a whole have always had.
I hope I haven’t kept you for long, and I hope that I have put forward new ideas that are worthy of thinking through. Thank you for your patience, and until we meet again…