Posted tagged ‘Middle East’

Why democracy?

August 5, 2010

First things first. There is not one democracy in the Arab region. It’s a fact that we have accepted as a given, a fact that makes most foreigners scratch their heads in confusion.

If you listen to the talk on the street, most Arabs don’t even want democracy. They find current governments more powerful, more stable. So I started asking myself what are the benefits of democracy in the region?

– Better representation for minorities: Your rights are recognized by law, you are a human and a citizen of the country.

-Less opacity in government transactions: You know your rights, which forms to use, what is ok, what is not.

-Better business: mainly because of the above. Corporations are stronger, they can take more risks.

-Less wars: In the history of the world, only twice have democracies fought. There’s just too many disincentives

-A more secular government: Here’s where most people get it wrong. They think voting will result in a politically Islamic government taking control, hence democracy=political Islam, like what happened in Gaza. But you see, what happened in Gaza hardly was democracy, it was just Bush inspired voting. Democracy, ladies and gentlemen has pillars, central of which is…

1- The Constitution: The central authority, more powerful than votes, judges, anything. You see if the constitution is secular, then even if Hamas gets to power, it can’t do anything. Ban male barbers? Overruled. Ban scantily clad mannequins? Unconstitutional. The most powerful government can’t do anything in a democracy because it just doesn’t have enough power. It has to share it with…

2-The rule of law: If something is against the law, you can’t do it. If the law is bothering you so much, you have to rally to change it, and in a constitutional way too. The law is a thorn in the back of the powerful, and gives the weak a good card to play when cornered. But law is abstract, and can be inhumane and ridiculous. That’s when you go to…

3-Free media: Depending on how shocking it is, your story can go to the press, blogs, tv, you can have your own facebook group, maybe a documentary. Your story becomes popular, with many people working for you to get your rights back. But these concerned people won’t be the poor, who barely get through with life, or the really rich who are sheltered from your troubles. The real vanguards of democracy are the…

4-Middle Class: When there’s enough of them, they have ultimate power, and they take the country anywhere their heart desires. You find them in every democracy, usually disappointed with the way the country is going. Their purchasing power is what matters, their votes and attention are paramount.

Democracy hasn’t come to the ME because we don’t even know what a nation is, let alone a democratic one. As Azmi Bshara said, we need an oppressive government just to remind us that we are one nation and distract us from our tribal mindset. Never mind the religion nations: whenever a group in this region has tried to built a religion nation, whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic, it has always resulted in a truckload of stupid.

But I’m proud of efforts made to build democracy foundations everywhere in the Arab world. Whether it is a rise in middle class, a regional free media, building a national identity. Our formal constitutions and laws were put by occupiers, we don’t relate to them. Tear them down, write a 21st century constitution, share power (you may like your current president/king, but remember, you wouldn’t want so much power to fall in the wrong hands), separate religion from power, so that one interpretation isn’t forced on everybody, and religion is free to thrive and grow.

I know we took our time, but the Arab renaissance is coming soon. It has to be, and it has to be from within.


Public health’s “elephant in the room”

July 6, 2010

Public health in the Middle East… we have so much to work on.

Let’s start with what it means. Public health is all about awareness (fatty foods cause diabetes and atherosclerosis,  having children after 40 raises the chance of birth defects…)  and prevention (screening, early diagnosis, limiting bad habits). Public health advocates respect your freedom in general, unless your actions can hurt someone else, then it’s downright war, as all the poor smokers can tell you.

But there is an “activity”, very common in the ME among all classes of society,  which has potentially tragic consequences on the most vulnerable among us, and which many of us are oblivious to… Consanguinity “Marriage between cousins”.

Let’s start with the science:

The danger of marriage between relatives is that pesky “Recessive Gene”, which can cause many serious and usually fatal diseases. Luckily, those disorders are extremely rare, with the whole bundle affecting 3-4% of the population. That figure rises up to 6-7% in first cousin marriages, and to 12% if the offspring are the result of a double first marriage (as in the married couple are also offspring of first cousin marriages). This is no joke people…

10% of marriages worldwide are consanguineous, with skyrocketing percentages in our region. As we all know, the practice is encouraged in our culture. I have never seen its implications discussed before me, except for a casual racist remark I heard once in my life. Neither have I heard any attempt to raise awareness, except for my college pediatrician who shouts at villagers bringing children with heartbreaking conditions.

It’s understandable why the practice is attractive, the social benefits are vast. I also get why no government is attempting to tackle this behemoth. But wouldn’t you agree that this is a public health cause of utter importance? When the decisions of people can harm nobody except those who are closest to their heart, don’t they at least deserve to be aware about it? Is a long term goal of outright banning the practice ridiculous?

Please keep the comments lengthy, diversifying and personal 🙂

What Obama meant

May 5, 2010

The Obama administration decided to celebrate Star Wars day, by renewing the economic sanctions against Syria.

This is in no way surprising since we aren’t exactly at the best of terms with the U.S’ closest ally, guys are looking after their turf, it’s politically sound.

What I’m sick of is the constant volleys of political word-twisting heading against Syria every day. Some of the biggest words a politician can use against a country’s image… Supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction… I’m glad they didn’t accuse us of raping something holy.

Any political enthusiast with moderate to high knowledge of world politics would start getting images of this sort: A loose cannon, exporting terrorist cells left and right, threatening to nuke every country on the map, and even crazy enough to do it. Fuck, they probably have gulags too.

I’m going to be kind enough to do the US a favor, and explain to everybody what was exactly meant by what they said:

1-Syria supports terrorist groups:

What this statement made you think:

The Syrian administration are probably the guys behind the underwear bomber, the Madrid train bombings, the Texas chainsaw massacre etc. Those jerks train and send people to perpetrate killing and random violence around the world. Syria bears an extremist  radical interpretation of Islam, and helps promote it around the world.

The truth:

Syria is a multi-cultural society and has a leadership that is… secular. Nope we don’t go to madrasehs where K is for kalashnikov. Sorry for ruining that for you guys.  Syria is a really pragmatic country with some non-negotiable principles (The poor man comes first, whether it be subsidies or closing outside markets. Golan is kinda ours)… None of them religious. It’s pretty normal to walk around in Syria without a hijab.

By far the number one ideology for Syria is stability. To stability, all else comes second. And with neighbors like Israel, Iraq and Lebanon (no offense), who could blame us? And for that, Syria does “support terrorist groups”. The guy didn’t say anything wrong, we support Hizbullah and Hamas, which are terrorist groups. But they’re not terrorists like post 9-11 terrorists. They’re the 70s South America,  Guevaraesque, hit-and-run, jungle guerrilla kind (there’s no jungle, I’m just drawing a mental image here). You know, the “in front of oppression my brothers, all we can do is fight” kind. The kind that gets called freedom fighters in history books a century later…

2-Syria’s pursuing weapons of mass destruction:

What this made you think:

Those guys are a cockroach antenna’s breadth away from obtaining nukes, and as soon as they do, they’re gonna unleash the fury! Or just be kinda annoying like Kim Jong-Il

The truth:

Syria has no nuclear agenda, the idea of obtaining one has never been put on the table. Officially it supports a nuclear free Middle East. The WMDs it has are a couple of rockets equipped with mustard gas. We’re not “pursuing” it, we already have it, we’ve stated that we have it. It’s the only deterrent we have against a heavily funded, trigger-happy enemy with a nuclear arsenal big enough to obliterate the whole region. We’ve got the chemical weapons, the guerrilla guys, and the fact that it doesn’t make logical sense to attack us (but we all know how reliable logic is here)

So guys, sanction us. It’s your right, and we really don’t care. But when you go on your podium to explain, just say because it makes diplomatic sense to support our allies. Don’t turn us into fresh demons from the seventh circle of hell….that’s below the belt.