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Friday, April 1, 2011
Mordechai Kedar: Small Homogeneous States Only Solution for Middle East

If the world wishes to bring stability and calm to the Middle East, there is
no choice but to let the modern Arab countries – those whose boundaries were
set by colonialism – collapse and break up into small states, each based on
one homogeneous group.

Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation)
Bar-Ilan University
Middle Eastern Insights
No. 4, 1 April, 2011

The Only Solution for the Problems of the Middle East
Mordechai Kedar

We are currently witnessing social unrest in many Arab states, and street
riots have already succeeded in ousting two presidents – in Tunisia and in
Egypt – and in unsettling the governmental fabric in Libya, Yemen, Morocco,
Syria and Bahrain. The ease and swiftness with which the flames have spread
from country to country in the last two months is due to a common trait
shared by these countries: all of their regimes are dictatorships headed by
non-legitimate rulers who ruthlessly hold sway over a starving, neglected
and abused populace which has decided to put an end to its oppression and
humiliation.

The fundamental problem characterizing Middle Eastern states is that they
have no legitimacy in the eyes of their citizenry because their borders were
marked by European colonial interests. Great Britain created the borders of
Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Sudan,
Yemen and the Gulf Emirates; France was involved in determining the borders
of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria and Lebanon; Italy was responsible for
the borders of Libya. Included within these borders were ethnic, religious,
denominational and tribal groups who, throughout history, were often unable
to live together in peace.

The human mosaic of Arab states is traditionally grouped along several
lines:

A. Ethnic: Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Persians, Berbers, Nubians,
Circassians, Armenians, Greeks and others;

B. Religious: Moslems, Christians, Druze, Alawis, Bahá'ís, Ahmadis,
Yazidis, Sabians, Mandeans, Zoroastrians and Jews;

C. Denominational: Sunnis, Shi’ites, Sufis; Catholics, Protestants,
Orthodox;

D. Tribal: Hundreds of large and small tribes dwell in the deserts,
rural areas and cities.

Every one of the Arab states, except the Gulf Emirates, is a conglomeration
of these traditional groups: living in Iraq are Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and
Persians who practice at least seven faiths; the Moslems consist of both
Sunnis and Shi’ites, and most of the population is splintered along tribal
lines. Saddam Hussein imposed his Dulaim tribe on Iraq and his harsh regime
claimed the lives of a million Iraqis throughout the years, including the
period of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

In Syria, the population consists of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen who are
Muslims, Christians, Druze or Alawis. The Muslims are both Sunnis and Shi’ites,
and the tribal element is dominant in some areas as well. The Alawis, a
group of idol-worshipping tribes, seized power, and the other faiths are
forced to suffer the rule of illegitimate infidels.

The population in Jordan is Arabic and Circassian, the Arabs both Bedouin
and Palestinian; ruling them is a foreign royal family brought in from Saudi
Arabia by the British. There are several dozen tribal groups in Libya,
where, in 1969, Colonel Mu’ammar Qaddafi imposed the power of his tribe
Qaddaf a-Dam (“the blood-shedder”).

For a state to be considered legitimate by most of its citizens it must be
the political embodiment of their national, communal, historical and,
perhaps, religious desires. In Israel, the State is indeed the fulfillment
of the sixty-generation-old Jewish dream originating with the destruction of
the Jewish kingdom in the Land of Israel in 70 C.E. There is not even one
Arab country that fulfills the historical hopes of most of its citizens. In
Israel and in European nation-states, such as Holland and France, the
governing body is elected for a several-year period, after which its actions
are subject to public judgment and the people either extend its term of
office by elections or replace it.

In the Arab world, by contrast, the state is considered illegitimate by the
majority of its citizens because its borders were determined by colonial
interests; because it does not politically embody the will of its populace;
because the group in power rules with an iron hand and the torture chambers
of its security agencies. The only group that views the state as legitimate
is that of the ruling minority, which establishes media organs – newspapers,
radio and television – whose primary purpose is to create legitimacy for the
state and the regime. These biased media operate in Soviet-Pravda (=
“truth”) fashion. Statues of “the leader” adorn public squares and
gigantic portraits of him are displayed on building fronts as part of an
intensive and blatant personality cult. The educational system is also
mobilized to cultivate an image of the ruler as a beloved leader. As
illegitimate regimes need an external “enemy” to unite the ranks behind the
“leader”, he tends to involve his country in wars and conflicts.

Nevertheless, the more such regimes try to justify their existence to the
citizenry, the less successful they are. The modern Arab state, as an
organized political entity, has failed in its main task: to take root in the
hearts of its citizens, who will then abandon the focus of their original
ethnic, religious, denominational or tribal loyalty. This is most evident
in Syria, where the regime attempted to reduce Islam's hold on the public,
since Islam represents the main challenge to infidel, Alawi rule. As a
result, the Muslim Brotherhood rose to increasing prominence among the
Sunni-Muslims until 1976-1982, when it posed a real threat to the regime's
survival; the government brutally liquidated the Brotherhood, and fifty
thousand men, women and children were killed over a seven-year period.

The Converse Model

Nine Arab states, the Gulf Emirates, do not conform to the above pattern:
independent Qatar and Kuwait, and the seven states of the United Arab
Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm
al-Quwain. Every one of these emirates, in common, is based on one tribe to
which most of its citizens belong. National law reflects traditional tribal
customs; since the leadership consists of the traditional tribal elite, the
state is perceived as legitimate by its tribesmen citizens. The
sociological stability in the emirates is the basis for legitimate, stable
government and allows for a well-developed economy that exploits oil profits
for the benefit of all. Dubai has no oil or gas, and its economy is based
on commerce and real estate.

By comparison, Iraq's fragmented and conflicted society, with its multiple
ethnic, religious, denominational and tribal groups, cannot establish a
stable political system; the Iraqi economy, therefore, is failing as well,
despite its huge oil reserves. Bahrain, also in the Gulf, is the model of
the failed Arab state because the Shi’ite majority, ruled by the Sunni
minority, does not recognize the legitimacy of the regime. The primary
reason for the lack of Bahraini stability, it enables Iran to influence the
Shi’ites and incite against the government.

Accordingly, the more a modern Arab state mirrors traditional society, and
bases itself on ethnic, religious, denominational or tribal homogeneity, the
more legitimate, stable and peace-oriented it will be, and the less
dictatorial. And countries composed of groups in conflict with each other
will be less stable and legitimate, more dictatorial and warlike.

What Can Be Done?

If the world wishes to bring stability and calm to the Middle East, there is
no choice but to let the modern Arab countries – those whose boundaries were
set by colonialism – collapse and break up into small states, each based on
one homogeneous group. Allowing the residents of these states to decide for
themselves the group upon which to build the future state is the important
element in this process. It is time to re-think colonialism and the
problematic legacy it bequeathed the Arab world.

Legitimate states based on traditional social groupings would be able to
create partnerships, federations or other types of unions. Witness the
Gulf: each of the seven members of the United Arab Emirates is completely
independent, and the emirates, together with Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia
established the Gulf Cooperation Council, an effective security body that
recently deployed forces to Bahrain, forces that succeeded in restoring
order there and in quashing the Shi’ite majority’s demonstrations.

Relief to the chronic ailments of the Arab world, immersed as it is in
corruption, poverty and violence, will come only through the establishment
of homogeneous states which accommodate the traditional Arab social
framework; these ailments are all the result of the modern Arab state's
failure to become the focal point of individual and collective identity.

The creation of legitimate states which provide for the welfare, health and
employment of their citizens will significantly reduce emigration from the
Arab world to European and other western countries. Afghanistan is the
first candidate for such a process, which is the only way to bring calm to a
country with more than ten ethnic groups which lack the basis to form and
maintain one political entity. The current Libyan crisis offers an historic
opportunity to partition the country into tribally homogeneous areas, which
will thereby gain legitimacy and stability. It is still possible to divide
Iraq into homogeneous states, and if the internal crises there persist, it
would be wise to advance the idea of establishing the Iraqi Emirates on the
ruins of the failure called “Iraq”.

The Kurds in Iraq are already implementing this idea, having formed their
own state in the north. Sudan and Yemen – two very tribal countries – are
also poised to break up. The West should acknowledge this emerging trend;
it should encourage the dismantling of failed, heterogeneous Arab states and
the establishment of legitimate, homogeneous ones in their stead.

The process is liable to be long and difficult, but it is the only way to
bring stability and prosperity to the Middle East.

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The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the
Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel.

Translated by Nachama Kanner

The article is dedicated to the memory of Avraham ben Yitzhak Rosenzweig

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