Saturday, February 04, 2012

Where It Leads

An Interview with the

Palestinian Historian Salim Nazzal

Born to a Galilean Palestinian family uprooted from their home, Salim Nazzal is a leading Palestinian intellectual who in the last 30 years has devoted his pen to express the voice of his people who live under the Zionist occupation or in exile due to the Zionist expulsion policy.

This interview comes on the first anniversary of the Arab Spring

After one year of the Arab spring, how would you evaluate the Arab spring, and where do you think it would lead the Middle East?

Where this leads is a difficult question to answer. I have written in the third week of the Arab spring that the Middle East before the Arab revolution was not the same Middle East after the Arab revolution. At this stage I sensed that the impact of the movement of change is stronger than ever. Yet I must say that nobody at that time could predict that it would expand quickly to several Arab countries, which is very much like the 1848 revolution in Europe. Which has expanded to almost all Europe in short time. These revolutions are obviously emerging from decades of repression and it’s a clear message that it has become almost impossible to run a globalized Arab generation with old fashioned rules. But as the camel that can never see its hump, Arab regimes were the last to know that a major break with the past is taking place.

They failed to understand that the protests are far beyond small demands, but rather a sweeping radical change. Some call it political tsunami or political volcano, but regardless of name, these revolutions will definitely change the whole political scene in the region in the decades to come. And even if the winds of the revolution are limited to 6 Arab countries, I think no Arab country would escape this change. But I must note that the course of the change might vary from one country to other.

For the time being we see that the change in some countries are getting more and more complicated. In Tunis and Egypt the revolutions were quick and relatively peaceful and the causalities were very small. But this is not the case in Libya where around 60,000 were killed. That’s why, we see a growing concern about how things are developing, and this concern began with the revolution in Libya where the NATO helped the rebellions in Libya. Today the scene in Syria is even more complicated than in Libya. Many indications show that the course of change in Syria is taking a bloody course which may threaten the integrity of Syria and the region.

There are also some concerns about the Islamists who are the major winner in these revolutions. We need however to note that the Muslim brotherhood party established in 1928 has been oppressed by several Arab government and never allowed to operate legally. Moreover the Islamist discourse has been significantly modified in the last decade. They call for instance to a civil state and not religious state. This naturally has given them more credibility than ever. Yet time will tell what could be their position towards the question of democracy and power shift when they are in power. But for the time being it is very obvious that they gain much support from the masses.

Yet the question remains, are we heading towards democratic change or perhaps a chaotic situation, it is difficult to tell at this moment. Off coerce all of us are hoping of a transition towards democracy, but you know that constructing democratic regimes in an area which was governed by repressive regimes is not a one night work. This is a long process that might take a whole generation’s time. In addition to the fact that there are many local, regional, and international actors, all those actors will influence the current movements of change in the Middle East.

What is the impact of the Arab Spring on the Arab western relations?

Well, in the Middle East people there is a strong belief not without evidence that the west is mainly interested in the oil and in protecting the Zionist state.

The United States of America played a major role in supporting the oppressive Arab regimes in the past decades. But when the current revolution erupted we saw that the USA tried to portray itself as it is on the side of the revolution and not on the side of the regimes which it has been supporting.

This is obviously a political game and not a heart change. I doubt much that the USA is seriously interested in real democracy in the region simply because real Arab democracy will challenge the USA interests. And Israel is very much scared of any democratic change in the region and this is obvious from the Israeli concern about these revolutions. But we see now that the USA is trying to construct bridges with the Islamists in order to preserve its interest, and the USA interests are still the same, oil and Israel.

In the last months we saw several protests in the Arab oil countries and the USA shows no concern about these protests which reflects the real American position.

While the EU has shown more signs of supporting the change towards democracy. This does not equal to say that Europe is devoted to democracy in the Middle East, but I think Europe is much more rational than the United States in this question.

However we need not to forget that the current Arab Spring has an impact on the western traditional thinking which took for granted that Arabs are unable to struggle for freedom and for democracy. This explains in my view the attitude change which is taking place in the west towards Arabs. This change would not have happened without the Arab Spring and the sacrifices of Arab young men and woman. Therefore I tend to believe that Arab Spring governments will likely run an independent policy in its relationship with the west.

What is the impact of the Arab Spring on the Palestinian struggle for freedom?

Let me say in principle that the Palestinian struggle benefits from any change towards democracy in the Arab world. We know from past history that Arab oppressive regimes did not support Palestinians and in some cases like with Egypt it helped in besieging Palestinians.

In fact part of the western support to the state of Israel was because Israel marketed itself as the only democracy in the Middle East. Of course we know that this is another Zionist lie, but we cannot ignore the fact that it succeeded in this business for a few decades. The change towards democracy in the Arab region and the tendency towards the right wing in the state of Israel will gradually lead towards weakening the Zionist state and that naturally will aid the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

But I doubt there will be an immediate major impact on Palestine because these Arab countries will need time to reconstruct itself assuming that things go fine. The unemployment in most of these countries is over 30 percent, this means the new government needs a first aid economical policy to work out the immediate problems. But I have no doubt that Israel will be the major looser of a democratic Middle East and Palestine will be the winner.

Another impact on the Palestinian struggle is the fact that Palestine needs its own spring. For instance the Palestine national council needs to be elected and not appointed. The Palestinian legislative council needs to be more active in the Palestinian political life. These are just two examples of many things that must be worked out.

Therefore I think Palestinian leadership needs to review its policy following the Arab Spring. They need to think of a new struggle strategy on light of these developments.

Thank you Dr. Nazzal for your very informative and wise answers.

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