by Tarek Fatah
The July 6 prime time discussion on Jordan’s JoSat TV about the war in Syria epitomized the fundamental flaws of Arab political discourse.
What started as a heated debate between two politicians on opposing sides of the Syrian civil war, soon descended into the hurling of abuses and insults on live television.
Jordanian MP Muhammad Al-Shawabikah accused former MP Mansour Seif Al-Din Murad of being a “collaborator” of the Syrian regime.
In response, Murad claimed his opponent was working for Israel’s intelligence service, Mossad.
“Shut up,” said one. “No, you shut up,” came the retort. “You are mafia thief,” screamed Murad. Not to be outdone, Al-Shawabikah responded, “To hell with you and your father.”
What happened next stunned the host and the viewers. Al-Shawabikah bent over, pulled off his shoe and hurled it towards Murad, who ducked behind the desk and in doing so wrecked the table. Both men then stood up and lunged at each other for a fistfight. Within seconds, Al-Shawabikah had pulled out a silver pistol from under his belt before the TV transmission was cut off.
Parliamentary brawls and violence during TV discussions is not new nor is it exclusive to the Arab World. From Greece to Ukraine and Taiwan to Tokyo, politicians have succumbed to their anger in embarrassing displays of violence.
There is an ever-rising culture of macho men firing guns in the air, even if it’s a birth or a wedding.
If the doctor dictator of Damascus slaughters Syrians, his opposition responds in kind, and lynches supporters of the ruling Baath party in public.
The script being followed by both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Islamist opponents is straight from the medieval playbook of the 8th century when the entire extended family of the ruling Ummayad caliph was slaughtered after being invited by the conquering Abbasids to a reconciliation dinner. Its as if the clocks of the Middle East are frozen in time.
The Jordanian TV fiasco was not the only symptom of the pedestrian nature of Arab political and intellectual leadership and the lack of tolerance of the “other.”
Earlier this month in Cairo, a meeting that was supposed to bring Syria’s splintered opposition together, also descended into fistfights.
Two opposition groups fighting the al-Assad regime, instead of building a coalition, accused each other of being either fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood or the al-Assad regime. They did, however, find common ground on one issue: denying the recognition of the Kurdish people of Syria.
The ill treatment of Kurds by Arabs is not just a Syrian phenomenon and democracy alone will not bring the non-Arab minorities of the Arab World any sense of liberty or dignity.
In Libya, sub-Saharan Black Africans were slaughtered with impunity; in Tunisia and Morocco the Amazigh and Berbers found no spring while Black Nubians in Egypt and the Baloch of Bahrain, only have frigid, dry summers to look forward to. No spring for them.
If Arab constitutions do not embrace individual liberty over collective tribal identity as the cornerstone of democracy, and guarantee the rights of minorities as equal citizens, those elected to power will easily wipe out any gains made in the last year. And what happened in Cairo and Amman will be just a preview of what’s to come.