The Middle East is transforming so quickly that no one knows what the outcome will look like. One thing, however is clear: we are in a race against time -- rather a limited one -- to prevent the region's radicals from taking advantage of the changing environment and making things worse. While each country that has experienced upheaval is different, they all face one fundamental problem. They created a myth about holding higher moral values, but with respect to justice and rule of law they lacked real substance and wherewithal. Now, with the citizens of these Arab nations wanting to claim their freedom and experience economic prosperity, the opportunity arises for Arab expatriates to have a real impact on the future of the region. They can bring back to the Middle East the knowledge and talent that was lost when they either chose or were forced to leave for the West, and help build a new future for the region. They can create an Arab Expat Peace Corps, which would work closely with NGOs, think tanks, academy and governments all over the world.
Such an organization would accomplish two key missions. First, the volunteers would be able to help build something much bigger than themselves, fueled by a genuine desire to create a free, prosperous region and greater understanding about and within the Arab world. Second, it would help to bridge the gap between the Middle East and the Western world, and would create a support system to rebuild the region. With positive alliances working toward a common goal -- a modernized Arab world -- the task would be far less overwhelming.
Clearly there will be obstacles -- distrust is likely to arise between the Islamists and those who embrace more secular values. Some may also have difficulty in embracing the good will of the expatriates and see them as agents of foreign governments. That tension could derail meaningful work. And some of the Arab leaders, both established and opposition, might not be so willing to put their egos aside enough to look forward to create something new rather than be motivated by generations of oppression and strife.
A million details and what-ifs could derail this nascent idea. Is such a proposition realistic? Who would be in charge? How would it work? But that doesn't mean that anyone with a stake in the future of the Middle East -- which is everyone -- should turn away from any possible solution or means of defeating radicalism. There are many educated, intellectual, secular and liberal minds in the Arab world -- but they haven't yet proven their will to defeat the extreme elements within their own societies. They haven't made a strong enough stand for freedom, development and economic well-being, all of which can help a sense of security flourish.
It's easy to talk about democracy and freedom, and blame those who cast doubt on how the transformation will take place. But haven't Arab leaders been the ones showing the world that they don't care about their people? Didn't they teach everyone else that their people are not valuable?
The findings of the 2002 United Nations Arab Human Development Report, for example, tell quite a story. No one could have predicted that a Tunisian man named Mohammed Bouazizi would set himself on fire and trigger protests and riots that would lead to the fall of Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and become a catalyst for popular rebellions throughout the Arabian peninsula. But we did know that something was stirring, and no one did a thing about it.
The 2002 UN report confirmed the huge problems of illiteracy, poverty and unemployment in the Arabic-speaking world. It found that approximately 40 percent of adult Arabs -- 65 million people -- are illiterate, and unfortunately, that two-thirds of those adults are women. It found that 50 million young people would enter the labor market by 2010, and another 100 million by 2020, and made clear that six million new jobs are needed each year to keep up. The report also warned that if current jobless rates persist, unemployment in the region would reach 25 million by 2010.
The Arab Spring is a testament to the fact that no one addressed these problems. The people are demonstrating not for democracy, but rather for jobs and economic security. They remained passive for many years, but knowing that the current leaders' sons were destined to succeed them painted a picture of an ongoing status quo that would never benefit regular citizens. Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was preparing for his son Gamal to replace him after three decades in office. Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh planned to turn the country over to his son Ahmed when he stepped down after more than 30 years. Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is the longest serving head of state in this group -- in power for 42 years, he, too, was preparing to turn his authority over to his son Saif al-Islam. And the people resented this -- possibly -- the mostest.
Turkey was lauded as a "model" for Arab countries when then-President George W. Bush introduced the Broader Middle East Initiative in 2003 at a G8 summit, using the 2002 UN report as a key document. Turkey became a co-chair of the initiative and since then has increased its trade with many Arab countries, though many conveniently deny that no one would walk away from the opportunity to make money in the midst of an economic crisis. Yet Turkey became popular on the Arab street because its prime minister, Recep Tayip Erdogan, used Israel as a whipping boy. And today's reality in Tunis; in Cairo; in Bengazi and elsewhere shows that the heart of the issue is not about Israel -- for a change. And Turkey's leadership role to the Arabic-speaking world is limited. There will be an Arab model for fixing the Arab problems.
Arabs, however, have been programed to hate Israel, partly because they were unable to criticize their own governments. Their respective governments fed victimhood at the hands of the West into their national identity. The Arab leadership said one thing to their Western counterparts, and totally another thing to their people. Therefore, it is only natural that outsiders are skeptical about the possible outcome of the Arab Spring. In Egypt, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood may be treading carefully, though not because it has adopted the tenets of democracy. The group does know, however, that even a magician could not meet the people's expectations and elevate their economic status in just one term in office. The Middle East has lost not only 10 years since the UN report's warnings and calls to action to create jobs. With the region's decades of chronic corruption, it also lost the people's faith. Arabs will eventually start feeling frustrated again, creating an opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to come in and take over -- and today's "velvet revolution" will then be crashed by Muslim Brotherhood's "iron fist." Maybe, maybe, though, Arab Expat Peace Corps will be the solution to avert such an outcome. What do you think?
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