The Arab Poor: Always Forgotten
Ramadan is supposed to be a month of charity. Instead, it has become a month of gluttony and ostentation. The rich compete to show off their fancy buffets and restaurants attract customers with their extravagant menus. Politicians host lavish iftars only to impress potential voters and supporters. The poor, however, are never prominent on the agendas of governments or opposition movements alike.
No one speaks of the poor anymore; not in the West and not in the East. Western socialist parties have been transformed into liberal capitalist parties willing to tear down the welfare state in return for votes from middle class people who have been inculcated with hatred for the poor. Socialist parties in the West are merely (since the successful political example of Bill Clinton) mild versions of the right-wing parties.
In the Arab world, the Left is in a state of decline and leftist parties have often been either hostile to the poor or totally oblivious about their presence. There is no war on poverty in any Arab or Islamic state: and if one was to be declared, the World Bank would intervene to end it, as it did in Brazil when it fought the anti-poverty program of then president Lula.
Islamist parties, like the Muslim Brotherhood, are parties for the middle classes, regardless of all reputation to the contrary in the Western media. Muhammad was mocked by his pagan enemies in Mecca about the poverty of his supporters and he is reputed to have answered: fakhri faqri (my poverty is my pride). There is no such championing of the poor among present-day Islamists of the various kinds. Hezbollah sat and watched as Rafik Hariri pushed through a most aggressive and cruel neo-liberal agenda in Lebanon. The party remains silent on the socio-economic injustices in Lebanon and its former Minister of Electric Power, Mohammad Fneish, supported the privatization of electric power, which won him praise from the Hariri family.
The Arab poor are invisible yet they are everywhere. They are in the streets as beggars and as homeless people, and they are in tent cities and cemeteries. The poor are the obscenity in the age of gulf oil and gas extravagance. The current Saudi King admitted that there are poor in the land of plenty but did nothing about it. The gifts that the Arab royals bestow on Western rulers and royalties would be enough to eradicate Arab poverty. But bowing to the white man is in the genes of Arab royals.
Arab socialist movements used to speak about the poor, but such movements are long gone, and some have reached power (in Syria and Iraq under the Baath) and their socialism turned into a grotesque form of Kleptocracy. The Syrian uprising started as a revolt by the rural poor against the wealthy royal families of the center.
The poor, however, are woefully disorganized and promises of heaven for them – as Nasser famously warned – don’t suffice. Not in the slightest.