I don’t know about you but I was not one of those who now claim that they were opposed to the Lebanese Civil War all along. That was not my story at all. I did not hold candle vigils and I never chanted for peace in my life. I never admired Gandhi. I was 15 when the war broke out back in 1975 (to the day). It was a Sunday and my parents were at a social event in Aynab in the mountains of Lebanon. They came home reporting an eerie sense in the deserted streets of Beirut. The war that I was eagerly expecting finally broke out.
People of my generation of Arabs have fallen in the worst era: those of us who came of age after the 1967 war are said to be full of despair and pessimism. It is true that those who witnessed, even as children, the news and public mood that followed the 1967 defeat suffer from a complex. They tend to be cynical and often look for the worst aspect of things. If Arabs of a previous generation insisted on turning all defeats into victories, people of my generation seem to insist on turning hope into despair, and even military accomplishments (as was the case in the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon) into defeats.
The announcement of the recent change in the line of succession in the House of Saud is unusual, even by the standards of the House of Saud in the wake of the death of King Fahd. The family is now as disunited as it was back in the period prior to the 1964 coup by King Faysal (people forget that the manager of the coup was King Fahd himself). Yet, there is a big difference thus far: the family factions in the early 1960s pursued different political options. King Saud — having been a typical Saudi reactionary back in the 1950s — had assumed a progressive cast and relied on a group of progressive Saudi intellectuals to implement his, or more accurately their, vision. He compensated for the lack of family support by advocating policies that were more in tune with Saudi, and even Arab, youth at the time.
The UAE is taking the Arab summit very seriously: it sent the ruler of its Fujayrah emirate to represent the state. It is not clear which Saudi prince will represent the kingdom or whether any prince will be dispatched at all. The Syrian government won’t be permitted to send any representative but the Syrian National Coalition won’t be permitted either: no one will represent Syria, or presumably the sponsors of Syrian armed groups will speak on behalf of the Syrian people.
It is now settled, the war in Syria has not gone according to plan from the perspective of Western governments. They are all responsible for diverting the path of a civilian protest movement in Syria toward the track of foreign-controlled armed groups. It is not that — as Western journalists often robotically state that the civilian non-violent movement turned into a sectarian war by virtue of the repression by the regime-no one ever explains how that actually and concretely happened — armed groups were not active in Syria from the very beginning; they were. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Israel, and the US had their own armed agents in Syria and they were all ready to strike at a moment’s notice.
Saudi Arabia’s royal family is not happy and wants the world to know it. The royal family has been more tight-lipped and diplomatic over the years. It would often hide its anger behind smiles in photos and vapid rhetoric about Arab brotherhood, even when it conspired against various Arab regimes.
Arab political satire did not start with Bassem Youssef. Satire and humor is part of the historical Arab political heritage. Khalid Kishatainy even wrote a book on Arab political humor. Egyptian political cartoons and popular poetry were used against ruling regimes for over a century. But Bassem Youssef brought something new to Arab political satire: he invaded the TV medium rather effectively.
It is almost touching. The US government stresses that it does not interfere in the affairs of Ukraine and Venezuela. The release of the phone conversation between Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine came as an embarrassing exposure of US lies and claims. Even the Washington Post (one of the key government mouthpieces on foreign policy among US dailies) had to admit the obvious: that the two officials were “laying bare a deep degree of US involvement in affairs that Washington officially says are Ukraine’s to resolve.” Typically, the US government changed the subject, and while grudgingly acknowledging the authenticity of the recording, blamed the Russian government for the taping. In Venezuela, the US government maintained the same claim of non-interferences and called on the Venezuelan people to resolve their differences.
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an article for the New York Times in which he implored academics to play a bigger role in public life and debates. Kristof is right about that although I disagree with all his other diagnoses and prescriptions. It is remarkable that academics in the US have no connection or interactions with the public at large. In fact, academics are increasingly trained and socialized to disdain communication and interaction with the masses. Academics pride themselves on perfecting academic jargon to such a degree that style and form become more important than substance. There are social science fields that are more guilty than others: political science maybe the worst as the the field becomes more and more quantitative and the illusion of “science” in politics (something that Hannah Arendt frowned upon) has led to borrowing theories and paradigms from economics to attain more academic respectability.