Professor Roger Owen interview to Algeriepatriotique: “The creation of a new legitimate order takes time”

Some of your writings, based on extensive research work, focus on the exercise of power in authoritarian political structures in the Middle East in particular. What conclusion did you draw on Arab political practice?

Some of your writings, based on extensive research work, focus on the exercise of power in authoritarian political structures in the Middle East in particular. What conclusion did you draw on Arab political practice?
I conclude (in my new book, “The Rise and Fall of Arab Presidents for Life”) that, in the Middle East, authoritarian regimes were the norm after independence due to felt need for unity, economic development, nation- building and national sovereignty, all of which were believed to be threatened both by external as well as internal sources.
Did the recent events that have taken place in the Arab world give birth to a new sustainable social order or are they just ephemeral events?
As with all real revolutions which involve the overthrow of the previous political order it takes time, sometimes many many years, to create a new one regarded as legitimate by the majority of the people. Concerning the Arab spring as it took place in North Africa it is still too early to tell.
The political crisis in Egypt and Tunisia and the tilting of the two countries in repression and violence indicate a strong popular opposition to the political and economic systems intervened after the “Arab Spring”, which appear to be copies of the foregoing. Why are Arab regimes – before and after popular uprisings  incapable to unite citizens who reject them?
The problem as I see it is that revolutions demand new constitutions and new constitutions require elected constitutional assemblies – which, in the particular circumstances of North Africa, become dominated by religious movements, narrowing the political debate to questions of religion and human rights. But this moment will pass.
The political crisis is added to dire economic situation that highlights the general discontent of the people. What do you see as the appropriate measures to be adopted in the short term, by Egypt and Tunisia to save their country from bankruptcy?
The obvious answer is a return to both short and long term planning of the type practised in the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s. But given the fact that neo-liberalism has almost as much hold among the Arab elites as in the United States, the only viable answer at the moment has been loans from both the IMF and the oil-rich states of the Gulf.
Unlike Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, Syria resists despite help from Western powers, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to the insurgents. What explains this difference? Why didn’t Bashar Al-Assad and his regime fall?
The regime built up by Bashar al-Asad’s father was institutionally sturdy and based on a strong sense of Syrian nationalism which transcended sectarian division. It therefore still commands significant resources, including Russian weaponry which the rebels can’t match.
After two Israeli air strikes against Syria, Israel says it’s ready to attack Syria once again. Do you think that Israel will actually involve directly in the Syrian conflict?
The short answer is “No”. But Israel will certainly keep a close aerial eye on Syrian sites which might contain either medium range rockets or weapons of mass destruction.
The vast majority of Algerians believe that the wave of “Arab Spring” that has affected neighboring countries will not affect Algeria. Are Algerians right? If so, why would Algeria be an exception?
Algeria seems to me to be an exception for three main reasons: it has endured two long wars, its people are allowed a limited freedom to strike and assert their interests and the generals who run the country are determined to preserve their own power at all costs.
Professor of History at Harvard University, Niall Ferguson, says “no democracy will succeed in the Arab world”. What’s your opinion about that?
This is a stupid thing to say. Although democracy has proved a difficult system to run outside Europe and North America, various Arab countries have practised contested elections and some form of ministerial accountability for quite long periods in modern times. He should also recognize the many, many imperfections in the Western democracies, most of all the role of big money.
The world powers grant the right to invade countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, on behalf of human rights. Will there be a “Western Spring”, knowing that the people in this developed part of the world feel trapped in a so-called democratic system but which offers to financial power the key to his own bondage?
An almost impossible question to answer. I have concluded that it really depends on what age and class you are and whether you are basically an optimist or a pessimist.
Many presidents in the West are elected by a tiny difference, which sometimes do not exceed a few tens of thousands of votes in countries that have tens or even hundreds of millions of people. Is it fair that a president is elected when he is rejected by half of the people? Do you think that the Western political system is really the best?
I resort to Winston Churchill’s statement about how democracy is imperfect but less imperfect than any of its rivals. To make it work better what you need is a system of regular elections, of public accountability and, above all free speech to that the way things are done are always subject to criticism and possible amendments. And I’m afraid ‘fairness’ doesn’t have much to do it except in cases when a majority of the people believes that some practice or other is manifestly unjust.
Citizens in the West vote less, marking a dichotomy between rulers and ruled, especially in these times of severe economic crisis. Will Western political model change?
I continue to believe that the main reason people don’t vote anywhere in the world is that they don’t think their vote matters. And often, of course, it doesn’t. In previous times progressive people hoped that a good education would help people understand why voting matters. I myself think that the best way to ensure a high turn-out is to make it a judgment on the policies of the sitting government as opposed to the proposed policies of an alternative – in other words elections involve a constant rotation of governing parties.

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