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On our Dead, Who Do not Die

On our Dead, Who Do not Die

Wednesday, 4 March, 2020 - 10:45

Achieving Arab unity, liberating Palestine, building socialism that corresponds, in some way or another, with the Soviet model: three headlines-slogans that dominated Arab political and intellectual life between the mid-1950s and early 70s. Towards the end of the 70s and for a few years, the Khomeinist version of what had been known as the Islamic Republic came to the fore.

Unity, Palestine and socialism formed the essence of the Arab Nationalist cause led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Khomeini Republic was the reference point for the radical Islamists who were inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini.

Today, only a small minority raises these headlines–slogans or takes them seriously. Sometimes, one of them is invoked, under a weight of anger, bitterness and disappointment, but it is quickly taken back once things turn serious. Sometimes they are invoked by nostalgia as well, but, like all forms of longing, this nostalgia is quickly forgotten and the nostalgic are forgotten along with it.

These four projects have been defeated several times, whether in terms of their image of themselves or the perception of this image by the outside world. They were defeated in war and in peace, and defeated economically, politically, culturally and socially.

Arab unification was dealt its first defeat in 1961 with Syria’s secession from the “United Arab Republic”, which brought it together with Egypt. Its second defeat took place in 1970 with Nasser’s death, the champion of this unity and who sought to unify Egypt and Syria. This was followed by the failure of the “party of unification”, the Baath, to unite the two countries that it ruled. A murderous hostility then prevailed between them. Later on, Saddam Hussein permanently destroyed any hope for unity, even an imaginary one, when he invaded Kuwait in 1990.

In the meantime, and in light of the civil wars and the explosion of minor identities (sects, ethnicities...) in the Arab world, it has become difficult to preserve the national unity of the existing nation-states. So, how could one seriously consider the establishment of Arab unity "from the ocean to the Gulf?"?

The slogan of liberating Palestine was torn apart by the adoption of the strategy of establishing two states based on the 1967 borders. It was preceded by the famous Nasserite call to make do with “erasing the traces of Israel’s aggression”.

The two civil wars in Jordan and Lebanon in 1970 and 1975 turned “liberation”, as a principle and a possibility, into mere fiction. The withdrawal of Sadat’s Egypt from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict deprived it of its most important tool. Hafez al-Assad’s long battle with the Palestinian Liberation Organization ensured the total transformation of that slogan into a mere pawn in the hands of Arab regimes.

The Oslo Agreement of 1993 illustrated the limits of what could be achieved, and subsequent developments came to demonstrate that this was indeed the case. Twenty years before that, during the 1973 war, the Arab regimes announced their modest limits.

Soviet socialism collapsed in its motherland. About ten countries in Central and Eastern Europe revolted and overthrew their regimes, while their Arab imitators' extremely limited achievements could not justify their imitation. What remained of this legacy are military and security dictatorships, accompanied by resounding defeats.

In the meantime, the rest of the world recognized and began discussing the superiority of capitalism: Do we need a humane capitalism that blends its liberalism with some democratic socialism, or a cruel and neoliberal capitalism that is concerned only with profit at the expense of man and his environment and physical health?

The Islamic Republic of Iran was exposed much faster: with the war between Iraq and Iran, it became apparent that the Khomeini revolution was in no way seeking “Islamic unity” that cuts across the different Islamic sects and doctrines as promised. But it also turned out that it would not become the superior alternative model to "western capitalism" and "eastern communism". The Iranian revolution took its place as part of the history of sectarian strife in the region, not the history of a supposed revolutionary process. Much of what is happening today in the Arab world confirms that.

So, four slogans-headlines have practically died at the cost of much blood, effort and money.

However, psychology says that death cannot be final until the deceased has been mourned. For mourning solidifies death as a concrete fact, while also opening the door for a new life devoid of its sadness. Mourning is the obligatory passage one must take to reach beyond death.

In our case, death is not complete because we do not mourn. In other words, we are satisfied with forcing ourselves to mumble, “Yes, these projects are finished.” We do this though we do not review the dead projects. We do not revise and discuss the causes of death except according to clichés about conspiracies and so on. Thus, our dead could return with different names so long as we have not buried and mourned them. They could return as nightmares or as caricatures, but they return. As for the distance they need to cross to reach us, it will not be long. Once they return, they will force us, whether we like it or not, to live among corpses. This is a sign that we have not left death, and that we may not leave it for long time.

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