Christina/ April 16, 2011/ Culture

Even though is it just a mistranslation from Arabic into English the line “The mob welcomes you” (like Lüders has seen it on the Tripolis’ airport) summarizes the situation in North Africa by now to the point. Themed: “Living together in Brunswieck” Dr. Michael Lüders reported on April, 13th, 2011 on the topic: “Processes of democratization in the Islamic countries – problems – solutions – perspectives”.

It started with the self-immolation of a man mid december 2010. The man was called Mohammed Buazizis, a greengrocer in Tunis. According to his widdow, he had asked a police man to give him a job. Thereupon he was slapped in the face. This humiliation (it might have been one of many) was too much for Mr. Buazizis. He inflamed himself right after that incident. This death marks the start of an unprecedented revolutionary movement in the Arab World (Link: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,740901,00.html). Meanwhile we know that this incident ignited a spark that spread firstly from Tunisia to Egypt and then to Lybia. And there’s no end in sight yet.

The starting point of the uprising is unreproducible so far said Dr. Lüders at the beginning of his lecture. However, the reasons for the rebellion are explainable. Mainly the social structure of the Arab countries are to be blamed, Lüders continued.

It is a Wednesday evening on a sunny but chilly April day. Many listeners appeared at the Brunswieck Alte Waage, a beautiful timber frame construction, to see Dr. Lüders and listen to his explanations. Lüders know from radio and TV shows and an expert on politics in Arab countries spoke of the cuff for 1, 5 hours.

The social structures of the Arab World can be illustrated as a pyramid, where the elite (3-5 %) is on top, followed by a (lower) middle-class of approximately 25-30 % and bases on the so called informal sector – how Lüders called it – which makes up to 70 % . The elite, however, is unmeasurable influential and rich and ruls the country without any check. (Link: http://www.wissen.de/wde/generator/wissen/ressorts/finanzen/wirtschaft/index,page=1128806.html). The people belonging to the informal sector, Lüders claims, live “hand-to-mouth”. Thereby one has to picture the greengrocer from around the corner or a daytaler.

Such social coherences are due to the ongoing transformation process from a feudal to an industry nation, Lüders said. Those feudal structures which can be traced back to two kinds of government systems: one is kingdoms, like we know them from the gulf states. The others are republican structures of persons, who came into power by putsch or struggle for independence.

Those absolute regimes oppress any promotion prospects for the people. Social status of the individual is determined by the own family, from there there is no promotion possible. A clan-oriented politic from the elite shapes those countries additionally . “Those ever rich parasitic potentates are not interested in their countries’ development”, Lüders claimed. Investments are only done, Lüders added, where short term benefits are luring. That does not apply for the infrastructure of a country. Repression and family ties have kept the system alive so far.

A circumstance that especially influences the Western mindset is the question whether Islam and democracy are generally compatible. Previous assumptions had it that the fact that no Arab country has a pure democracy – according to Western standards – is evidence enough that both systems are not consistent. The society got radicalized and blocked by that as only mosques could be used to let off some steam. That’s how radical movements came en vogue.

According to Lüders the riots are either politically motivated nor is it about building a theocracy. In this context, Lüders mentioned later, that political islam already had its best time.

The social discontentment is, except Bahrain, less distinct in the gulf states. This is not due to a bigger popularity of the rulers but to the fact that a smaller population faces a bigger amount of money. Sovereigns like to use this windfall to buy slashers.

Moving on to the role of new media, Lüders explained, that basically young well-educated people between 18-30 years form a new social stratum, (generation faceebook) who dispose of money and influence. The money comes from new digital business models.

Lüders returns in his lecture back to the reasons for the conflict and explains how Ben Ali and Mubarak could be displaced so quickly. In Tunisia Ben Ali could not get shelter from the army. Out of mistrust he had built a private police troop that could not stop the overthrow.

After Ben Ali’s displacement who had ruled the country for 26 years the egyptians equally draw hope from that and started their revolution on January, 25th, 2011. Ironically enough that day marked the official “police day” in Egypt. Different from Tunisia Mubarak admited extensive privileges to the egyptian army such as army-owned hospitals, high income and old-age pensions. Lüders describes Egypt’s army as a big economic factor which accounting for around 10-20 % to the BSP. Already three days after the beginning of the turmoil Mubarak had shot his wad. His refusal to recession on January 28 th broke his neck. The army finally refused to shoot – that is Lüders assumption – as too many victims might have been a possible outcome. On February 11th, Mubarak finally had to step down.

Lüders equally gave rise to doubt that Mubaraks downfall means the end of the “System Mubarak” as well. For a sustainable change in social structures it will at least take two to three generations. The „Generation Facebook“ of Egypt is numerically underrepresented and politically not influential enough. In the end Lüders concludes it might come to a symbiosis of old and new generation. Moreover, the change of the political systems will cost a lot of money and nobody knows where it is supposed to come from. (Annotation of the author: The accounts of the Mubarak-family might be a big help in the first place).

Finally Lüders moved on to the current situation in Lybia. Again, we are talking about a ruler who has been in power for more than 40 years. Two significant characteristics of Gaddafis are described as follows: on the one hand he kept his people on a comparatively low level concerning education, even universities operated on such a low level that even “German junior high schools are to be considered talent hotbeds compared to that”, Lüders claimed. On the other hand Lybia is determined by rigid clan structures. The lybian state according to Lüders resumee is Gaddafi and the whole state is centered around his family.

After Saddam Hussein’s downfall through the Americans Gaddafi had been smart enough to change his political attitude. He renounced terrorism and paid compensationden to the Lockerbie victims. As a result from his catharsis the western states incorparated the „Enfant terrible“ again into it’s European club. Finally the European Union was more than willing to pay a whole lot of money(something like 50 Million Euros) to the dictator to ensure that he would keep away disagreeable refugees from the “fortress Europe”.

Lüders delivered a pleading for assisting the Lybian issue. A non-engagement into the conflict according to his opinion would set the development back for more than a century.

Lüders finanlized his lecture with a bird’s eye view of Europe’s ambivalent handling of the Islam. „What is labelled Muslim contains a Neandertal“, Lüders provocatively said. Ever since the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt such platitudes are unsustainable. With a side blow to an author who created a furor especially with his critics on the German muslim popultation shortly, Lüders commented „Islam does not contain of a genetic defect towards democracy.“ “Political Islam” has gone beyond its zenith, Lüders said.

The Egyptian Muslim brotherhood that still “enjoys” the reputation of a radical and backward movement, changed its attitude in 2002/3. The brotherhood got more liberal and and formed a secularistic opposition. Islamophobia which prevails in Europe and therefore is being exploited from politicians. Ever since the end of the so called Cold War it replaced the former concept of enemy, the “Iron Curtain”. It turned into a political project after 09/11 . Lüders however has hope for an opinion change. The incidents in the Arab World allow for differentiated views on the perception of Islam and the Arab countries.

Diskussion:

Following the lecture there was a half-hour discussion. Questions, such as how the situation in Palestine might be influenced in the course of insurrection were answered by Lüders to that effect that Israel has to come up with new concepts if the turnaround in the Arab countries stands the pace. Being asked what kind of interests the West persues in Lybia, Lüders laid anxieties to rest that geopolitical interests are behind it. Current supply agreements for oil have all been concluded with Gaddafi. Thereby the West should be rather interested to keep Gaddafis leadership up. Despite that the situation is quite chaotic to his mind. Especially the course of action taken by the European heads of state who acted at variance. Lüders was not willing to make a prediction for the concerned countries how they will move on. Everything is still to vage. Moreover the mentality of the elite has to change in order to enable reforms. The relationship between tradition and modernity is difficult to change.

Debriefing:

Many problems, political acumes, little solutions or prospects. In those few words, Lüders lecture can be characterised. Elsewhere, lastly 2006 in Bonn at the “Deutsche Welle”, previously on TV I experienced Lüders giving more pointed remarks. It is a pitty as in my mind he missed the opportunity to grant access to a unprejudiced and optimistic insight to the lives of Arabic (intentionally not islamic!) youth which tries to make a difference in their country. By that I don’t mean the spreading of maybe premature euphoria that everything is going to be “fine” in the Arab World. But the acknowledgement for the political venture and the peaceful transformation of the same and maybe the corresponding confession that the Euopean approach towards the Arabic World, often condescend to them, has feet of clay.

Further readings: