The Arabs: From the Barracks to the Mosque


by Sami Jamil Jadallah

The “mosque” and religious establishment in the Arab world was hardly on the side of people advocating and speaking up for their rights to freedom, for decent jobs, for education, for social services, for freedom from arbitrary and midnight arrests and torture, and for the most part were part of and speakers of the ruling establishment. And when it did it was a forum for the likes of Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis to organize in order to take over and replace existing ruling elites, replacing the “mosque” for the barracks.
The clear and present danger facing the Arab people and states is the inevitable move from the rules of the barracks to the rules of the mosque. The modern Arab world is paying the heavy price of the rules of barracks in Libya, in Egypt, in Sudan, in Iraq, in Syria, in Somalia, in Yemen and Algeria. As if 60 years of utter and total failure of the military/police state is not enough the Arabs now have to contend with perhaps another 60 years of rules by the mosque. Not sure if the Arab future lies in substituting the mosques for the barracks.
For over 600 years the “Arabs” never rose to the occasion and have lived a life of failings, subjected to colonial rules and foreign occupation with deep divisions along tribal and sectarian lines. The Arab Uprising of the late Sharif Hussain had nothing to do with Arab “independence” but personal ambition to establish collections of family owned states. Of course the price was the loss of Palestine.
The Arabs and for the last 6 centuries have been living in the Dark Age and ignorance, notwithstanding the tallest buildings, the most expensive shopping centers or signature hand bags, or fast cars. Civil and sectarian conflicts, illiteracy, malnutrition, ignorance, poverty, hunger, oppression, lack of freedoms, secret jails, high unemployment, wide ranging corruption from top to bottom, unfair distribution of wealth and absence of equal opportunity are the signature/ trade marks of modern Arab states.
Bureaucracy that created hell on earth for the hundreds of millions of people who have the unfortunate and necessary need to get a birth certificate, or a “family book” (book of family births and deaths necessary in everything in life), or driver license which require citizens to spend on the average one month a year just to meet the police and bureaucratic requirement of being a ‘subject” of an Arab state. I always believed that there is an invisible minister in every Arab country whose mission is to create hell for the people, a difficult and humiliating bureaucracy that makes bribery, corruption and subjugations a necessity and a way of life.
Of course the one institution that proved over and over its failure and incompetence for the last 600 years is the “military” with no known battles or wars won against foreign occupation and colonial rules. This failed institution having failed at what it is trained to spread its failing from the battle fields to cities, towns and farms. The military establishment failed miserable and the results we see today all across the Arab world.
Since early 50’s with the first military take over in Syria, followed by Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and to some extent Tunisia, Algeria, the Arab world have been afflicted with military rules that set the stage for civil wars, foreign interventions, lawlessness, massive influx of refugees escaping killing massive debts, destructive sectarian violence, absence of peace and security for the people, not to mention looting the country and wasting its wealth and resources.
Failed incompetent military officers like Gamal Abdul Nasser, Anwar Sadat, Hosni Mubarak, Hafiz Assad, Moumar Qaddafi, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Omar Al-Bashir, took over nations with semblance of governing institutions. They destroyed what ever little was there and failed to build modern nation states with independent judiciary, free press, accountable transparent government, proper efficient bureaucracy in the service of the people and free transparent elections. Rather they spread fear, established police state and allowed whatever infrastructure was there in post colonial rule to almost disappear. Post independent Tunisia and Algeria saw the establishment of a secular police state with governing institution in service of the ruling party and in the case of Algeria, a post independence state in perpetual service of the ruling military.
In the case of Iraq’s Saddam he took over a nation with well-educated population with tens of billions in bank accounts. He declared war against the newly established Islamic Republic of Iraq for an on behalf of Ronald Reagan resulting in the death of over a million on both sides and running a war bill of over $350 billions. As if this was not enough he decided to go to war against Kuwait, another war, which costs Iraq dearly with casualties in the millions and some $800 billions in total costs to Arab economies, leading up to the American invasion. Saddam war with Iran was the first step toward the destruction of Iraq. And the destruction of what could be counted as modern Arab state.
All of these military leaders brought with them fellow officers to manage the nation, manage commerce, transportation, education, finance, health care, municipalities and regional governors, They all failed miserably. How can such failed officers who failed at what they were trained for could manage such complex needs requiring professional subject matter expertise and understanding of social and economic complex issues. The results we see it today in Egypt, Syria, in Libya, in Sudan, in Somalia, in Iraq, and in Yemen. The only thing these failed military officers succeeded in was in establishing a police state ruled by fear, jails and summary executions and destructions of the little infrastructure that was out there.
Non of the military rulers succeeded in setting up and establishing accountable and transparent state institutions, independent of the one party state and independent of the rule and supervision of “mokhabarat” or secrete intelligence services dreaded and feared by all citizens including officials of the state, certainly independent from the barracks.
Sixty years of barracks rules brought the Arab world to the brinks of civil war as we are witnessing now in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. Civil and sectarian wars as we are now seeing in Syria and Iraq with Lebanon on the brinks of a renewed civil war, the inevitable result of military dictatorships.
As if these failed experiences are not enough, the Arab world is now seeing the emergence of the ‘mosque” as a key player in the affairs of the nation, replacing military officers who came on top of tanks with turbaned clergymen coming down from the pulpit. If the military could not manage the affairs of the state, can the mosque and Muslim clergy with their slogan “Islam as the solution” can fix what the military destroyed. I doubt it.
Not so sure if these clergymen with their followers, mostly illiterate, unemployed, with no hope in the present life can address and fix such endemic issues as illiteracy, poverty, hunger, failed educational and health systems, failed almost non existing transportation system, poor housing conditions for millions as we see in Egyptian, in Iraq, in Yemen and in Libya. For the most part these Muslim clergymen are not offering solution to existing miserable conditions; they are offering Heaven as an easy way out, hence the jihad.
Religion and faith should be an inspiration, setting forth a value system of fairness, justice, equality of citizenship but these value systems in and of themselves do not solve what ails the Arab world. Intellectual political competent leadership with support from social and scientific, financial leadership and expertise is the hope for the Arabs, not the mosque, certainly not the barracks. The Arabs as it stands now lack the leadership necessary to end the Dark Age.


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Sami, a Palestinian-American and a US Army Veteran (66-68), recipient of the "soldier of the month award and leadership award from the 6th Army NCO Academy, is an international legal and business consultant with over 40 years of international experience, in construction, hospitality services, conservation, and defense, in the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa. Sami is a holder of BA, MPA in Public and Environmental Affairs, Jurist Doctor from Indiana University. While at IU he was elected class president, student government president and chairman of the Indiana Students Association, Active in peace movement as a co-author of the pre-amble for the One State for All of its people and voluntary service program SalamNation. A frequent contributor on national and international affairs. He resides in the United States.