Era of legitimacy

Apart from Colonel Gaddafi, I believe that every other leader in the Arab world now understands that it is no longer possible to continue to rule his country just because he happens to be in power. The ‘glue’ that used to keep their asses stock on the thrones has melted with the heat of the demonstrations that have been sweeping the Middle East during the last two months or so. Fear is no longer enough to guarantee unchallenged authority.

Along with the collapse of the dictatorship in Tunisia, the illusion of almighty leader collapsed, and leaders found themselves naked, with no mean to sustain power, and no legitimacy to do so whatsoever. People are no longer afraid of them, and there’s nothing they can do to make the people afraid again. If they confront the public with force, there will be blood, and that will cause more anger, and more determination to topple the dictator. The more people Mubarak killed, the more reassured were the Egyptian people in the legitimacy of their demand to overthrow his regime. This applies to every other uprising.

Fear is gone once and forever, and there’s nothing anyone can do to bring it back. That is why it has become beyond prudent for Arab leaders (and non Arab leaders for that matter) to find new ‘glue’, or a new tool to allow them to practice their powers, or to leave their thrones with dignity.

Arab leaders should now put efforts into gaining legitimacy, by becoming ‘reformists’ themselves, and giving as much power as possible back to the people, or they will be in serious risk of losing everything. To be legitimate is to rule with people’s consent, not against their will. And to do that, every leader should find a way of allowing people to have a say in the course their country chooses to go.

Of course the monarchies in the Arab world will find doing this easier than other states. Kings can keep their status if they pass the leadership to the people. Morocco, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, can all easily be transformed into constitutional monarchies, pretty much like the United Kingdom, where the royal family keeps its status, but the real power goes to the public. The rest of the Arab Gulf states can somehow ‘dance around’ this principle, each in its own way. Kuwait for example can widen its democratic process by allowing the public, or the parliament, to elect the Prime Minister. UAE and Qatar should seriously consider establishing real parliaments with real powers.

The biggest challenge, however, is that facing the republics. Yemen and Alger are already facing demonstrations demanding the removal of presidents Saleh and Butafliqa. This is where the situation becomes really tricky. The ruling ‘elite’ in these republics cannot claim a symbolic status like monarchs can, and they don’t seem to want to give away their power to the people either. The leaders of the Arab republics are facing hard choices; if I were in the place of any one of them, I would immediately start political and social reforms to prevent a possible revolution, hell I will launch my own ‘revolution’ to reform the whole regime according to the aspirations of the nation.

I think that eventually those leaders should be prepared to give away power in one way or another, especially in Syria, with its relatively young president Bashar Al-Assad. I don’t think even he expects to rule Syria until the day he dies (of natural cause!). So, he better begin the transformation of Syria, and give away power in a legitimate way to an elected successor. Something like the process that Boris Yeltsen did when he gave power to Vladimir Putin back in the year 2000.

This way, these presidents can ‘keep face’, assets, and even life, while leaving office, and enter the history as leaders who willingly transformed their nations into democracies, and be remembered for that. Otherwise, I can’t possibly think of any other reason why the revolution pandemic would spare them.

Lastly, I want to quickly refer to Iraq, with its unique position in this part of the world. Back when the US and UK invaded Iraq, I was among few people who opposed this invasion. Some of the people I knew argued that they can’t think of any other way, with which Iraqis could’ve got rid of Saddam Hussain and his regime there. I hope now they can understand that they were wrong, and that now would’ve been the time for Iraqis to get rid of Saddam, without all the losts of lives that happened there.

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