In his new book, the Lebanese historian Georges Corm criticises the tendency in the West to see the conflicts in the Arab world almost exclusively in a religious context. In reality, he says, the struggles in the states of the Arab Spring are for the fair distribution of economic power and democratic participation. By Kerstin Knipp
Corm writes that the West is making a mistake by concentrating primarily on the religious aspect. In actual fact, he explains, the Arab world is concerned with very different issues: the just distribution of power and resources, a functioning state based on the rule of law and democratic participation. However, Corm elucidates, an adequate language has not yet been found for these concerns, or rather, it has not yet been able to make its voice heard over the dominant religious discourse.
Over the course of three or four decades, he writes, every significant political opposition in the Arab world has placed itself in the religious camp. That has left traces that cannot be erased from one day to the next.
Exporters of fundamentalism
Corm sees the reason for the dominance of religion in deliberate support for religion, which is mainly provided in the Arab world by Saudi Arabia. He says that with its high financial and ideological firing power, the oil state exports a fundamentalist reading of Islam, which has consistently elbowed aside the left-wing secular discourse.
After World War II, he writes, Marxist analyses were very widespread in the Near East. However, they became increasingly unable to maintain this status from the late 1960s on, after the shock of the lost Six-Day War and the oil boom that began shortly afterwards.
The Lebanese historian and economist Georges Corm was his country’s finance minister from 1998 to 2000. He studied in Paris, teaches at St Joseph University in Beirut and advises international organisations. Corm has written seveal books on the Near East
The wrong perspective: instead of focusing on economic problems, the West hones in on cultural issues in the Arab world. In his latest book, Georges Corm explains why this is a serious mistake
Corm’s culture-based interpretation of the Western perception of the conflicts currently permeating the Near East is fascinating. The only question is whether it still holds true. After all, many people in the West have indeed learned to take a closer look, to take the demands of the first protesters seriously and at face value.
Many now also share Corm’s assessment that Arab secularism has sacrificed its own good reputation. Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Assad Senior and Junior in Syria – all of them built up dictatorial regimes that trampled their citizens’ rights underfoot and unleashed their secret services on all those who dared to question their rule and demand reform. And where words like democracy and the rule of law have not only lost all value but even have to serve as excuses for the crimes of allegedly progressive regimes, promising political ideals are turned on their heads.
The fact that European states and the USA worked with these regimes has done additional damage to these values. The realpolitik of Western states, which so enjoy playing the moral preacher, has made it difficult for even their most idealistic supporters not to lose faith. “An important economic treaty, the establishment of a military base against the wishes of the local population, a spectacular gesture of support for Israel, soon silence these moral lectures, which are becoming increasingly difficult for the political groups in the countries in question to bear.”
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