by Mordechai Kedar
Read the article in Italiano (translated by Giovanni Quer)
When a person sees various phenomena, it is human nature to look for an explanation, a pattern, someone or something that planned the phenomena and has determined its character and form according to his plan. When someone is overcome with troubles and nothing goes right for him in life, he needs to find someone to blame for his failures: he goes to a fortune teller, card reader or someone who reads tea leaves, and he reads his horoscope with greater attention, and all to find an external cause that is spoiling his life. Only rarely will a person search for the guilty party in the image that he sees in the mirror. His emotions stubbornly tell him "You are totally ok, it's other people who are spoiling things for you". This sense is called "conspiracy theory" or "feeling that you are the victim of a plot".
The situation becomes more complex when the person in crisis is not alone, but is part of a group, where the group dynamic is built on inter-personal communication (rumors, sermons, media) and these communications make it possible for one person's emotions to be augmented, and then passed from one person to the next and back again, eventually passing into the public arena like a virus. People blame various parties and tell their friends about their impressions, and in this way the average group that finds itself in a crisis will put all of the plots together into one big, threatening entity who creates among the members of the group a collective sense that they are the helpless victim of one great and strong agent, who is evil and cruel, and incites them against each other just so that they will harm and weaken each other, which makes him - the plotter - so strong and uncontrollable that he will succeed in his evil plan.
The sense of joint victimhood may unite the members of the group against a plotter, but when there are several external plotters, the members of the group - who are bickering among themselves anyway - start to disagree with each other about who the external plotter is, who is responsible for their troubles and for the disagreements among them. And the many conflicting possibilities increase the general sense among the members of the group that they are all victims of the great and dangerous plot, whose purpose is to cause conflicts between them and disunite them.
When there is a crisis, believing in conspiracy theory is essential because it frees the person who believes in it from having to see himself as the guilty party and it frees him from the painful need to correct himself. That's why it is so popular in the region where anyone who blames himself disgraces himself, and disgrace is totally unacceptable in the Middle East.
What is occurring today in the Middle East is the full application of conspiracy theory. The "Arab Spring" began in late Autumn of 2011 as a movement of the masses, who all shared the sense that the end of the era of dictatorship and the dawn of democracy was beginning to shine and illuminate the Arab world with the light of human rights instead of the rights of the dictator and his family, freedom for the citizen instead of the "mukhabarat" dungeons, transparency and accountability instead of "state secrets", a just sharing of resources instead of corruption and authoritarianism, the rule of law instead of rule by the whims of despots, minority rights and not oppression, judicial independence instead of show trials, and economic welfare for all instead of poverty and distress.
However those great hopes have evaporated, leaving behind only disappointments, and as great as the hopes were in the beginning, the more bitter are the disappointments of the continuing "Via Dolorosa". Tunisia - where the Arab Spring began - is engulfed in deep political, cultural and economic crises, and everyone blames the "tails" of the previous regime" that keep wagging after the head - the previous president Zin al Abedin bin Ali - has been cut off. The parliament and the government have not managed to present a legitimate and orderly government, so the religious blame the seculars for being responsible for the problems, and the seculars blame the religious, and everyone blames the Salafis.
In Egypt there were a number of elections that resulted in non-functional governmental bodies: the parliament was dispersed, the president was dismissed, Tantawi was eliminated, the economy is collapsing, foreign currency reserves are approaching zero, tourism has disappeared, investments have vanished, the World Bank will not give loans to Egypt, Ethiopia is building a dam that will close off the waters of the Nile, and who is to blame? The seculars blame the Muslim Brotherhood and America, which placed them in power over Egypt, despite the fact that they have no knowledge or ability to manage a modern state.The Salafis blame the Brotherhood for not imposing Shari'a, and the Brotherhood blames the Salafis who joined with the seculars in order to eliminate Mursi. The Muslim Brotherhood blames America for supporting them in the beginning and then abandoning them in Israel's interest. The army blames Mursi for collaborating with Hamas, and Mursi's supporters blame the army for its actions in the rebellion against the legitimate president. The present regime charges Mursi with a number of accusations including collaboration with Hamas, and every single person is sure beyond any shadow of a doubt that Israel is the conspirator behind all of Egypt's sorrows.
In the Palestinian Authority there is a similar situation: Hamas blames Fatah for treason just for sitting down with Israel to renew negotiations with it, and the Popular Front - which is a friend of Fatah - blames Abu Mazen for abandoning the Palestinian peoples' interests. The PLO blames Hamas for destroying the Palestinian dream of establishing one state in Gaza, Judea and Samaria, Hamas claims that the PLO betrayed the Palestinian people's interests when it signed the Oslo Accords, and everyone blames Israel for the split between the PLO and Hamas, which paralyzes the Palestinian project.
In recent days the Hamas movement has discovered the party who is guilty for the deterioration of relations between it and Egypt: the PLO!! Hamas "uncovered" a group of documents that the PLO leaders forged in order to make the Egyptian army think that Hamas is involved in terror inside Egyptian territory, thereby causing the Egyptian army to take revenge on Hamas by closing the tunnels between Gaza and Egyptian Rafah. PLO leaders claim that no such thing ever happened, and that these documents are clearly forged by Hamas.
In Syria - another arena of the Arab Spring that has become a quagmire of blood, fire and tears - the regime blames Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, Europe, the United States and Israel as responsible for the situation. the rebels blame Asad, Hizb'Allah, Iran, Russia, China, Europe, the United States and Israel, who, acting both together and separately, support Asad and his Shabiha militia. Russia blames the United States, the United States blames Russia and Iran, Iran blames the "big Satan", meaning the United States, and the "little Satan", Israel, as responsible for the situation, and everyone blames Israel citing its policy of media silence toward Syria as proof that it supports the murderer from Damascus, so that it can dismantle and pulverize Iran, the greatest threat that Israel has ever faced.
In Iraq, the Sunnis blame the Shi'ites and the Iranians, the Shi'ites blame the Sunnis and the Saudis, the Arabs blames the Kurds, and the Kurds blame the Arabs, the Turkmen blame all of the others, and every one of these groups blames al-Qaeda, which the United States created in Afghanistan. And they blame Obama for withdrawing the U.S. Army before Iraq had stabilized, only because of his campaign promise to remove the troops before the elections, since he wanted to win a second term.
In Lebanon, the Sunnis, the Christians and the Druze blame Hizb'Allah for becoming embroiled in Syria, Hizb'Allah blames the Christians, the Sunnis, the Salafis and the Druze for betraying Arab values and Lebanon's interests, and everyone blames Israel for the internal conflicts in the Land of the Cedars, that were actually born when Lebanon was born and will die together with her.
In Libya, the tribes of Tripoli blame the tribes of Cyrenaica, and the northern tribes - Tripolitania and Cyrenaica blame the southern tribes. The Arabs blame the Berbers and the Berbers blame the Arabs. The Islamists blame the Modernists, and everyone blames the "remnants of the Qadhaffi regime", and the tribalism that flows in everyone's veins.
In Jordan - which has not yet joined in the Arab Spring party - the king and the Bedouins blame the Palestinians for wanting to dismantle the state, and the Palestinians blame the king and the Bedouins for marginalizing them despite their being a majority. The seculars blame the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood blames the seculars. Everyone blames the refugees from Iraq and Syria for the terrible economic situation, and the crisis between the king and the Bedouins is the fault of the Americans who want to see the Muslim Brotherhood more involved in the ruling circles.
So that's the Middle East of August 2013 in a nutshell. Will it look different in August of 2014? In August 2015? And who is to blame for this? Israel, of course, and this is the essence of the conspiracy theory.
Who is guilty for the situation in the Middle East? Undoubtedly, it is the conspiracy theory itself, which inhibits every effort of self-correction. The problems of the Arab world will continue to spill rivers of blood as long as the people of the Middle East look for the source of their troubles in others. The only hope for correcting the situation in the Middle East will be when the residents of the region understand that their problems stem from themselves, from their culture, from their tendency to act with violence toward one another, from their tribal attitudes and the desire to see every conflict as a jihad for Allah.
And even Allah said in the Qur'an (Sura 13, "the Thunder", Verse 11): "Allah does not change what is in a people, until they change what is in themselves". Amen.
One More Victory Like this and We're Done For
The Arab media have an interesting characteristic: they change humiliating defeats into victories. Yesterday, with great pride, the Syrian media presented the victory of our "heroic army" over the "remnants of the terrorists" in the neighborhood of alcaldia in Homs, as another victory, after in the month of March - about six months before - the "heroic army" managed to "clean up" another neighborhood in Homs, Baba Amr.
Last May (May 2013), the Asad regime also took the town of al-Qusayr from the rebels, which is located between Homs and the Lebanese border, thus creating a territorial contiguity between the Damascus area and the Alawite mountain. These things were achieved only because of Hizb'Allah's active involvement in the fighting and its sacrifices, which raises a big question about the Asad regime's long-term ability to cope with its opposition.
It took the regime half a year to retake control of the city. How much more time will it take for him to regain control of the majority of Syria's territory? Large parts of Aleppo, Hama, Idlib, Dir a-Zur and many unsettled areas have become death traps for the regime's supply convoys over the last two years, and it will take a long time and many casualties until he manages - if it is at all possible - to turn the situation around.
It will be a bigger problem for the regime to retake control of Hasaka, the Kurdish region, because the Kurds are not Arabs; they are valiant fighters who were under Arab oppression for decades, and their brothers in Iraq will not allow Asad's regime to rule over them again.
However, even if, when the civil war is over, Asad has succeeded to retake the entire country, he will face two extremely difficult tasks: One - to build legitimacy for himself after more than a hundred thousand (and rising) people have been sacrificed on the altar of his continued rule. Even before the civil war broke out, his legitimacy was almost non-existent, so what chance is there that he would be perceived as legitimate after the war? He will forever bear the mark of Cain, the mass murderer, on his forehead, and we have not yet seen the lawsuits against him in the World Tribunal. They will come, and there will be many of them.
The problem of rebuilding Syria will be no easier. Entire cities will need to cleared and rebuilt, because whole neighborhoods have been totally destroyed. The country will need thousands of billions of dollars to restore the situation that existed there before the civil war, and the world no longer has so much available money just waiting for anyone who might need it. Europe, China, the United Stated - all have been involved in an economic crisis for years, so how will they be able to help rehabilitate Syria?
Indeed, Asad can tell himself: "One more victory like this and we're done for".
Dr. Kedar is available for lectures
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.
Additional articles by Dr. Kedar
Source: 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. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.