From Arab Predicament to a world catastrophe

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood hold up pictures of their ousted President Mohammed Morsi during a protest two years after
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood hold up pictures of their ousted President Mohammed Morsi during a protest two years after hundreds were killed in a single day when Egyptian troops moved in to disperse sit-ins by Islamist supporters of the Brotherhood, in the Talbia district of Giza, Egypt, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. International rights groups are criticizing the Egyptian government for failing to hold officials accountable two years after one of the deadliest dispersals of protesters in the country's history. (AP Photo/Belal Darder)

What is happening now in Europe is surely a major tragedy, a crisis of huge proportions, and we are not towards the end of it, but perhaps just the end of the beginning. A crisis of such magnitude calls for immediate solutions, the enormity of which extends beyond the urgent humanitarian needs. Indeed, there has to be a discussion on the root causes, in order to construct a feasible long-term solution.

What is really happening in the Middle East, and why are its conflicts spilling over to Europe and other continents? Is it just a couple of civil wars that should be resolved politically and then the good old days will come back? No more refugees from the Middle East, but rather the old refugees will be coming back to their homelands? Or is it something else, much bigger, perhaps with no solution in sight?

The late great scholar of the Middle East, Fouad Ajami, referred way back, after the Arab defeat in the Six Days War of 1967, to the Arab Predicament -- the crisis of a region, of a society. He wrote this three decades ago, when there were no civil wars, no mass massacres conducted along sectarian lines and no failed and collapsing states.

How would he have related to current events, if he was alive, as his dire predictions about the Middle East seem to have materialized with such ferocity? One can just imagine. Another Arab scholar, Paul Salem, published a decade after Ajami, in his 1993 analysis of the Arab crisis, in his book, arguing that the Islamic alternative (Islam ul hal, which translates to Islam is the solution, a banner used by pro-Islamist groups) failed to give a proper response to the sense of crisis. ''If such is the case, then even if a considerable appetite for ideology exists in the foreseeable future...it may have a difficult time finding a satisfactory ideological expression that has not already been tried and compromised."

Syria and Iraq, the countries that are NOW in the eye of the storm, provide us a good proof for this state of affairs. Syria, the Heart of Arabism (Qalb ul Uruba in Arabic), and Iraq, always a claimant for Arab leadership with Baghdad being the seat of the great Abbasid dynasty for five centuries, now lay in ruins as a result of sectarian conflicts. These two countries have experienced it all, and nothing seems to have worked. Their current predicament, which is a disaster in progress, is not the result of some misguided policies of despots, but rather it is the inability of Arabic-speaking people to live side-by-side in democratic and prosperous states, when their strongest and most fundamental sources of collective identity are sectarian. It is about primordial loyalties, not present-day ideologies , which Arabs find themselves fighting over. The ideologies, be it Western Liberalism, Pan-Arabism, either the Nasser style or the Syrian and Iraqi versions of Ba'athism, Arab Socialism, or military dictatorships did not work. It is Syria and Iraq, but also Libya, Yemen and the countries of the Maghreb, whose largest export to Europe are their youth, at least, those who are lucky enough to flee and find refuge.

The Islamist solution is not new. It was in 1928, when Hassan Al-Banna established the Muslim Brotherhood; and for 80 years, the group was persecuted in Egypt. The leaders had their chance in 2012-2013, only to be brought down by the military. The Islamic Revolution of Iran was perceived, at least, for a short while as the new hope, but then came the Iraq-Iran war with a million casualties, and Iran's current role as a major destabilizing force in the region, and another hope just disappeared.

Is ISIS and the likes the new hope? For all we know, they may have been the detonator of the current tragedy, but then again, detonators work most effectively, when the time bomb is already in place, waiting to be operated. The time bomb is the many decades of ongoing failures in many Arab states to establish and maintain viable and legitimate political communities.

That said, any discussion about solutions to the current crisis is irrelevant, if confined to the search for countries, which will will absorb the current hundreds of thousands who are already in Europe. We talk millions, maybe many millions who will try their luck and in the not so distant future.

The future of these millions is NOT in Europe, where the Hungarian model, being castigated now, may be the shape of things to come in the near future. The solution for these millions must be in their homelands. Easier said than done. It is for the Arabs themselves to deal with their root problems, rather than blaming others (Zionists, for example or modern-day Western Crusaders), but hardly any sign that any serious soul-searching process is taking place, and the sure result of all that, is that we ain't seen anything yet, though we have seen so much.