Arab Governments Should Pay Heed To Aspirations Of Their People
by Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (Feb. 17th 2011)
AS RECENT as a few weeks ago a mantle of anxiety, melancholy and, dare I say, fatalism was shrouding the youthful face of the Arab world. Anyone who socialized, worked with or communicated with the young through Twitter, Blogs or other social media sites could sense a gradual erosion of the spirit, albeit one that fueled a stirring sort of activism, which wasn’t palpable in the past.
There was a growing disconnect between governments and the young, a feeling that the priorities of the state did not synchronize with their own desires; anxieties stemming from corruption affecting their job and financial stability, their environment and quality of life.
A glimmer of hope, however, gleams on the horizon; recent tumultuous developments in Tunisia and Egypt — leading to the removal of their long-standing leaders through peaceful civil disobedience -are a turning point, a testimony to this. Idyllic eras, in government eyes, who manipulated media via their state television, state news agencies, state cabinet press releases and newspapers — laying the foundations of their unfeasible utopian state — have come to an end.
The fusion of technology and the internet via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as the revolutionary, divisive Wiki Leaks, are shedding light on the Arab world’s traditionally hidden, obscure cigar-and-aperitifs political backrooms where both blunt talk and cagey subtleties of diplomacy are king — shoving much needed political reform into the faces of traditionally closed, autocratic states.
The young are mobilizing swiftly, one step of the government, bypassing blocked sites, proxies and IP’s, releasing new information concerning fraud, human rights abuses and Machiavellian political machinations.
The fact that our very own Kuwait Twitter feed is an resourceful amalgamation of activists, MP’s, journalists, bloggers, and other members of society is a testament to the power of social media and the rapid flow of information among participants and instant feedback.
Incidents such as the unsettling attempts by authorities to infiltrate, monitor and intimidate Kuwaiti Twitter users via ‘moles’ members of State Security is a direct violation of the Constitution, notably Article 39 which states: “Freedom of communication by post, telegraph, and telephone and the secrecy thereof is guaranteed; accordingly, censorship of communications and disclosure of their contents are not permitted except in the circumstances and manner specified by law.”
Even the above ominous challenge, however, was met with acerbic wit and fortitude by Kuwaiti men and women of Twitter, cracking jokes at ghostly Security operatives, “I am getting a cheeseburger, can I order you one?” or “I am logging off now, will you be alright without me?”
Undeniably, Kuwait is not immune to the ‘perfect storm’ (as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently affirmed) concerning social and political change. The toying with people’s liberties in Kuwait, frustration with government, rise in political prisoners, and the increase in corruption has fueled this rage against the machine, the catalyst that has also lead individuals to social network sites to exchange information, blow steam and highlight any injustices they may have encountered or heard of — not to mention deride any statements or actions by self-deluded, ostentatious officials, who have contributed little to this country’s development, merely epitomizing Iago’s classic line to Roderigo in ‘Othello’: “Put money in thy purse!”
Government statements including those of our Council of Ministers highlighting ‘brotherly nations,’ ‘exterior threats,’ and ‘steering the Kuwaiti ship safely to shore,’ have become absurd verbal footnotes, relished as hors d’oeuvres of glee at any gathering — or Twitter feed — treated as comedy gold due to the fact that young people aren’t naïve or dim-witted, they’re wired, mopping snippets of information every minute; aware that the issue of ‘security’ in oppressive regimes has always been exploited as a justification to curb freedoms and hamper queries into fraudulence and mismanagement. They aren’t going to buy into that kool aid anymore.
Arab regimes need to wake up to the fact that their systems are analogous; inequality and corruption are the common denominators, directly permeated into Kleptocracies — regimes that utilize control fraud (bureaucracy and forgery, for example) to exploit governmental corruption to extend personal wealth and power of government officials alongside a specific inner circle or class via misappropriation of state funds and natural resources — at the cost of the rest of the population.
Fifty years following its independence from the United Kingdom, twenty years following its liberation from Iraq, Kuwait remains a ‘closed’ state — wary of foreign investment and participation, unable or unwilling to even free a portion of 90 percent of unused government land to the private sector — more willing to invest its riches outside the state than internally, limiting and keeping a tight lid on who benefits from its development — a Kleptocracy under the guise of a Constitutional monarchy. The Young Activists and Wired Intellectuals are aware of this; God bless them — they are nobody’s fools, and they realize that we are not impervious to recent geopolitical developments.
Arab Leadership — the management of a country — should not be on a lofty platform, impervious to censure. The term ‘public servant’ applies to everyone in government from the lowliest clerk to the head of state. Governments, their decision-makers, their entities, their ministries, their employees, are there to serve their people; not vice-versa.
The Arab people are leery of the usual gaudy summits, conferences, communal, sycophantic lip service between their leaders and their extravagant hand-outs to one another. Arab governments should pay heed to the aspirations of their people or regret the consequences. Ultimately, no power anywhere can restrain the fervent, conscientious spirit of the young — demographically, the majority — particularly those who have nothing to lose.
A golden opportunity exists now for all regimes to reassess their modus operandi, correct past errors, and realign their policies to erect healthy, dynamic states that focus on elevating their people, not their own persistent survival.