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Why can’t Arabs reconcile like Europe did?

European states that had been engaged in bloody conflicts — especially during the two World Wars — managed to bury their differences. Why can't Arabs do the same?

Ahmed El-Sayed Al-Naggar , Wednesday 13 Apr 2016

The last few years have witnessed — and are still witnessing — dreary regional disturbance due to Arab-Arab infighting, whether directly or by proxy, in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

Sectarianism has intensified as dreadful inclinations drag the region’s peoples into a bloody denominational swamp. Those conflicts are destructive to countries' unity and the idea of the national state established on citizenship, equating all its citizens regardless of ethnicity, colour, gender, religion and sect.

The two denominations deflect the struggles of the region’s peoples from national struggles for independence, development and confronting the usurping Zionist entity to sectarian and denominational strife and conflicts. Thus, the Zionist entity is the main beneficiary of this criminal sectarian and denominational deflection.

The environment has been favourable to the exponential growth of hard-line, violent and terrorist forces raising jihadist-Salafist banners. Such forces are getting support from some countries in the region, as well as Western countries that use them for their own purposes.

These forces were used in confrontations with the national liberation movements during the destructive colonial era, against the Soviets in the war in Afghanistan, and against their own countries — in Egypt, Algeria and other states established on citizenship.

What’s astonishing is that several countries in the region moved from using sectarian and denominational matters in an unethically political way, without being themselves sectarian or denominational, to entrenching mean sectarian and denominational racisms within these countries and their bureaucratic and security bodies. This represents a real danger for the superstructure of these countries.

The result is the damaging chaos of vertical conflicts springing from sectarian, denominational or ethnic bases. It also resulted in obscurist and fascist forces becoming gigantic entities financed from lurking and hostile international forces, along with regional forces more fascist and backward than the old despotic regimes.

This caused a sea of blood of innocent citizens and caravans of millions of displaced people inside their countries, or in other merciful countries, or in lurking and hostile ones. All in all, this human and financial bleeding and sabotaging has wrecked the service, industrial and agricultural infrastructures that peoples and governments built over decades.  

Social injustice and political despotism caused social conflicts and strife, while strife between Arab countries resulted in other forms of conflicts. All these conflicts revealed what is latent and unspoken in sectarian and denominational strife after social struggles for freedom and social justice were deflected into sectarian and denominational paths.

This destructive sectarian and denominational strife deserves to be given utmost attention from the countries of the region and the world, in order to be treated in a radical and decisive way, if anyone remains who cares about peace, ending conflicts and stopping the bloodshed in the region. Real determination is vital to set rules and lay foundations for living in peace in this region that is exploding and spilling over with chaos.

The Arab region's harvest of bloody conflicts

Despite the existence of rules that govern relations between states, to ensure avoidance of such conflicts (for example, respecting the sovereignty of states, non-interference in internal affairs, and respecting peoples’ choices), sectarian extensions and national conflicts underlying them, along with external ambitions for control, domination and revenge towards national states that opposed Western destructive forces in the colonial era, and in the frame of the Arab-Zionist conflict, have blown apart those international rules in practical reality.

This resulted in the chaos of damaging interventions in the internal affairs of the region’s countries. Those interventions came from big international forces and some countries in the Arab and Middle East region. As a consequence, service, industrial and agricultural infrastructures were demolished. The Libyan national army, for example, was destroyed, while terrorist groups were armed with the latest weapon systems.

Libya became practically partitioned and on the brink of official fragmentation. What is astonishing is that following General Khalifa Haftar’s historic initiative to revive the Libyan national army, employing it to regain the cohesion and unity of Libya, an international resolution was issued preventing this army from being armed.

Powerful Western countries, especially the United States, obstruct rearming it. This Western option means that the West, especially the US, favours the continuity of chaos, and the splitting up and fragmentation of the Libyan state.

It also means that it is biased towards the control and hegemony of religious extremism and terrorism over the Libyan map. This map is already plagued by the NATO intervention and its evil objectives for partitioning Libya, drowning it in permanent chaos, and keeping it a source of terrorism and a threat to its neighbours.

As another consequence, the Syrian state suffered from a horrible terrorist war. International and regional forces, desiring to destroy the Syrian state and its national and territorial integrity, exploited popular protests for freedom and democracy and encouraged terrorist hoards to slip into Syria to sabotage it through militarising the conflict.

All forms of financial aid, enticements and armament were provided to those groups, leading Syria to turn into a grand inferno. About half the Syrian population was displaced inside and outside the country, and thousands of innocent citizens fell victim, and double that number were wounded and psychologically scarred due to the sabotage and devastation that happened to their homeland.

It is noteworthy to mention that the great popular revolutions of Egypt and Tunisia preserved their peaceful nature despite the bloody violence of the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes in confronting them. Thus, they maintained their civil rights, the social entity and state entity, aiming to reform it afterwards without ripping society and state apart.

This peaceful characteristic was one of the greatest achievements of the two revolutions that expressed popular carefulness with regard to preserving society and the state.

What is really astounding is that some countries that did not feel the breeze of freedom, such as the Emirate of Qatar, claimed to be defending freedom and democracy in Syria!

Even Turkey, which supports terrorist hoards in Syria under the same incoherent justification, was transformed in the hands of Erdogan into a stronghold of suppression, becoming a model of fascism and national aggression against the large Kurdish ethnicity, not only in Turkey but in Syria as well. 

The Russian Federation played a major role in revealing the intimate relation between Turkey and the terrorist hoards of the Islamic State (IS) group, Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar ash-Sham (Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant) and other groups. Through aerial surveillance, it clarified a shameful economic relation based on buying and marketing stolen Syrian and Iraqi oil from the gangs of IS, Al-Nusra and other terrorist groups, especially that such thieves sell the stolen oil at extremely low prices, which yields enormous profits for their partners in Turkey.

Moreover, several partial settlements scandalised the Turkish role in sponsoring terrorism. When Lebanon reached a settlement with the terrorist Al-Nusra Front to retrieve its abducted Lebanese soldiers in Arsal in return for the release of some Al-Nusra prisoners, the agreement was made through Qatari sponsorship and those released travelled to Turkey.

This simply means that they are not held accountable as terrorists in that country. Or, to be clearer, they have safe haven there.

In Iraq, the formula of the sectarian and ethnic quota system, which was laid by the destructive criminal American occupation of Iraq since 2003, led to ethnic, sectarian, denominational divisions damaging the structure of the united Iraqi state.

This state became practically divided into an area controlled by the Kurds, another by IS, a third under the control of the central government, which is characterised by a denominational Shia hegemony. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of victims of denominational, ethnic and sectarian violence have fallen, tearing this big and leading country apart.

Moreover, the historical crime against the Iraqi Christians and against the small Yazidi sect will remain a shame hanging around the necks of the Americans and those loyal to them in destroying the Iraqi state and its central army.

Despite the importance of the popular movement that aims at building a national state for its sons on the basis of citizenship, it was ignored and the focus was directed to another movement led by one of the abhorrent sectarian and denominational symbols.

The denominational and ethnic quota formula is still prevalent and feeding Iraq’s successive crisis.

As for Yemen, its former president, whom the Arab Gulf countries prevented being held accountable for the public funds syphoned and the blood spilt during the Yemeni revolution against him, returned in an alliance with the Houthis.  

This time, the Houthis were not satisfied with demanding a fair division of power, or reforming the Yemeni state. They even attempted to capture it totally. Internal conflict flared between sons of the same country.

Instead of attempts to solve the issue peacefully, the crisis was transformed into an open regional conflict. The result was more than 6,000 victims, tens of thousands of wounded, and more than 2.5 million displaced within their country as well as a huge number displaced outside.

Moreover, the service, industrial and agricultural infrastructure was torn down and the situation became tragic and catastrophic for all rival combatants in Yemen.

It is difficult to end most of the open bloody conflicts in the Arab world, which are feeding on the blood of innocents, decisively with a clear and complete victory for one of the parties. Even for Syria, which is supported by Russia and Hizbullah, that scored big victories over the terrorist hoards, the conflict that has spanned years created a new reality.

It would be difficult to treat this reality without local and regional consensus on the priority of peace, democracy and the culture of life, instead of death borne by the devastating conflict. It is right that establishing peace requires uprooting local and foreign terrorists. But it also requires a settlement and a new social contract in Syria.

All these horrific situations and damaging crises for homelands, states and peoples in the Arab world should put Arab politicians in front of a grand and historic obligation, in order to reach peaceful and just solutions that respect legitimacy and the free choices of peoples. Such solutions are the only sustainable ones.

This might require some concessions from different parties involved in Arab-to-Arab conflicts. However, these concessions seem meagre compared to the enormous achievement represented in regaining peace in Arab lands and shielding Arab peoples from the storms of death, homelessness and alienation, in a terrifying labyrinth damaging human dignity.

History will put everyone who seeks to regain peace, prevent bloodshed, protect innocent lives in Arab countries, preserve states’ territorial integrity and the free choices of its peoples, in a distinguished and exceptional standing. In contrast, it will cover in shame everyone who contributed in the continuance of the tragedies of Arab infighting, bloodshed, and the wasting of souls and dignity in that infighting.

Europe reconciled, why can’t Arabs do the same?

Europe was engaged in conflicts that were bloodier and more criminal during the two World Wars. In their essence, these wars were conflicts between capitalist predators for control over states and markets. In World War I, more than 10 million people died in Europe alone. In World War II, casualties ranged between 50-60 million people, the sweeping majority in Europe, and about 24 million people in the former Soviet Union alone.

Anyone who followed the paths of conflicts and the aforementioned two wars could not imagine that peace would be restored between those conflicting countries. However, the peoples, which the wars claimed, were ready for peace and for ensuring that wars wouldn't be waged between European states again.

Peace and cooperation were restored between these countries that also accepted changes to their borders of a punitive character. Economic-political organisations were established on the basis of mutual benefit in Eastern and Western Europe.

Afterwards, matters developed further, crystallising in the European Union, which comprises Eastern and Western Europe together in one giant economic bloc comprising the biggest market in the world.

Even the Russian Federation and Belarus, which the West took a negative standpoint towards, in regard to integrating them into economic and military cooperation systems, enjoy strong economic relations with European countries, regardless of temporary sanctions imposed on Russia since the flare-up of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s regaining of the Crimea region. There is also a partnership concerning peace and security between the two parties.

If Europe, which is divided into a great number of nationalities, religious denominations, languages and countries, has said goodbye to bloody legend and began weaving stories of development and mutual growth, the Arab countries, which speak in the same tongue and are tied together in a long and common history, sharing religion, culture, traditions and conventions, ought to be more expected to stop the tragedy of Arab-to-Arab conflicts and infighting, in order to open the gates of the future to peace and development for their peoples.

This matter requires solidarity in confronting forces of terrorism, so as to uproot it before any internal political settlements are made. It also requires mutual respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of any state by another state.

This governing principal has as a consequence stopping financial and military support for groups fighting governments and accepting a formula of settlements based on resorting to peoples to determine their own choices as to the way their countries will be governed.

Perhaps it will also be beneficial in this context that Arab countries that supported regime change in other Arab countries apply the same principal on themselves — i.e., to resort to their peoples to determine the shape and nature of their prevailing regimes in a democratic way, based on the peoples’ voices not on authoritarianism.

The writer is chairman of the board of Al-Ahram Establishment.

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