Reform, stability, peace

Abdel-Moneim Said
Tuesday 7 Nov 2023

Abdel-Moneim Said reviews the history of peace-making in Egypt



eform, stability, peace”: this trinity has rescued so many countries and regions from backwardness, warfare, violence, and extremism. This applied in 19th-century Europe, after the French Revolution and after World War II. It was borne out again in Southeast Asia in the late 1970s, after the Vietnam war. Having awoken to the reality that the continuation of leftist radical movements would bring about only more conflict and destruction, the people of that region produced the Asian tigers and leopards who chose their own path to advancement and progress. South America opened its eyes to the products of the Cuban, Bolivian and Venezuelan revolutions, the squabbling leftist movements, and their reactions in which drug cartels mixed with idealist revolutionary slogans. By the end of the 20th century, South American countries gradually began to produce a different mixture that likewise resulted in development. The process there has not yet fully matured, but it is on the way, as can be seen in Brazil, Chile, and Mexico.

In the Middle East, the change came from Egypt, and from a person who had not been very visible among the Free Officers. President Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, who came to power in the early 1970s, addressed the challenges of an occupied nation and a country weary of the costs of war. After fighting a victorious war, rather than exploiting the victory for vain media glory, he channelled it into the pursuit of peace and the full and undiminished restoration of all occupied territories. At the same time, he launched the open-door economic policy, which was the Egyptian translation of the processes that took place in China, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia to end the cycle of poverty, warfare and endless cultural and other revolutions that continually rocked those countries. Domestic answers to him came in the form of the “bread uprising” on 18-19 January 1977 and then assassination after he had established peace. The Egyptian environment was not yet mature enough. Nor was the region ready for a wave for profound reform, taking it beyond the boxes of left and right with their various forms of folly that substitute passionate slogans and rhapsodic speeches for the hard work of reform and change through production.

The above-mentioned trinity found welcoming Arab shores at last in the middle of the last decade. The region had been shaken by years of chaos from the Arab uprisings and religious extremism, which had surpassed all previous heights of fanaticism, backwardness, violence, and terrorism. It had also become clear that former revolutionary orders of the 1950s and 1960s were bankrupt. They had assumed many uplifting Arab nationalist forms but yielded little change and much infertility. The Arab reform “visions” launched in the mid-2010s shared many common features. They set themselves deadlines, such as 2030, to achieve radical changes in economic structures, religious thought, and resource development and allocation in their countries. Chronologically, these drives are halfway to the target date. Unfortunately, they have had to contend with formidable challenges such as terrorism, the Covid-19 pandemic, and a major war in Ukraine with grave worldwide repercussions.

On top of these, there are three main concerns in the Middle East: first, the Palestinian cause which has always been in the hands of “revolutionary” forces opposed to reform; secondly, the residual effects of the Arab Spring in the form of civil wars and permanent revolutions; and, thirdly, regional powers utilising non-state militia actors instead of governments to manage the affairs of peoples and the protection of “national security.” The ongoing fifth Gaza war is, essentially, the militarised face of the opposition to the reform trinity in progress in many Arab countries. To these countries, reform is the frame of reference for building the nation state, the pursuit of peace is the path to creating an environment conducive to nation-building; and peacebuilding necessitates countering the results of the so-called Arab Spring in Arab countries where the idea of the state has collapsed and all that remain are the structures of violence and anarchy.

The fifth Gaza war has loomed as a huge barrier to reform, the pursuit of peace, and the reconstruction of a stable region conducive to diverse forms of regional cooperation to ensure optimal use of its hydrocarbons, tourist capacities, and service sector resources so that this region can assume a historical and civilisational role, like Europe and Asia have done before us. It is as if a militia organisation bent on eliminating the Palestinian Authority (PA) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people had colluded with a religiously fanatical and extremist government in Israel to go to war and compete in fanaticism. To the militia entity and its regional backer, reform, peace, and stability are a threat to the survival of these militias and extremist groups.

The peace conference that convened in the New Egyptian Administrative Capital expressed the Arab opposition to the tide of war. Afterwards, there was much to-do about who attended, who left early and who did not attend at all, but that does not diminish the result which was a joint statement by nine Arab countries: the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. All are firmly united behind the need for domestic reform aimed at stimulating a historic renaissance in the Arab region, and all are committed to peace, development, and all possible efforts to promote stability. Six of these countries have peace agreements with Israel. The other three agree with them in terms of strategic orientation. Their statement was sober and balanced. It condemned the attacks on civilians, urged the resumption of the peace process, and called for the rehabilitation of the PLO and the PA. The resolution of the current crisis starts here.

“Reform, stability, peace” is ultimately a key to dealing with an Arab reality that exploits the Palestinian cause and the folly of the extremists who are in power in Israel in order to hobble the processes of peaceful change underway in Arab countries. It will take considerable work and close coordination for the Arab reform states to put the principles of the Cairo peace summit into effect successfully.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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