The event that brought Sari Nusseibeh to Nicosia was a talk that was meant to juxtapose George Antonius’ book The Arab Awakening(1938) and the current, so-called Arab Spring. This was a bit of a stretch in some respects as Dr. Nusseibeh pointed out that the awakening mentioned in Antonius’ book referred to a cultural naissance rather than a political or power-oriented birth like the one today. And, in the book, some credit was given to the Christian missionaries and other Western colonial structures that brought education, health care and nationalism into the Arab context.
The current unrest in the Middle East and North Africa is of a different variety of blossom. This is a homegrown, give us our basic inherent rights or leave, or in some cases die variety. This has very little to do with outside influences. Dr. Nusseibeh points out that Middle Easterners are responding heavily to the concept that an individual and a culture brings with itself naturally a value, a right to exist and even ability to contribute well to the global body of people. And, they believe that their own right to fully and freely exist is worth standing and dying for. It’s not heavily influenced by the West. It is driven solely from the raw instinct of survival and desire to thrive given by God in all of humanity. The comparisons between the two “awakenings” was a stretch and a distraction from the topics of real merit possible this night.
What about resolution? What is to make of the release of prisoners?
Is there hope?
Dr. Nusseibeh’s real insight came from outlining the causes and trials of creating a peaceful resolution. He outlined the reasons why the fundamentalist surge of the last two decades was in response to failed military and colonialist plans – lines on maps. These plans have failed to produce peace by division but rather created parties so entrenched in survival that they could either forget or simply ignore their desire for existence, dignity and humane existence.
So, if not the Palest-El idea or the ever-elusive two state solution, perhaps a new focus and hope is needed. Dr. Nusseibeh leaned on a notion by Samir Kassir which promotes the idea, “the Arab world can overcome its impotence.” And, that given enough time, as humans who care about dignity and making the “right” choices, the Palestinians and Israelis will eventually choose wisely. He placed a very high degree of trust in humanity to recognize itself as worthwhile.
The new solution that Dr. Nusseibeh is pondering is a federal approach to the whole region, akin to the European Union. It could look something like this:
Federal Solution: agree on a desire for future based on values:
- Shared human dignity
- Open society
- Peaceful co-existence
- Symbiotic economic situation
A federal solution with:
- Smaller unions with areas of existence for all groups
- Governance of shared cities/areas
- 2 tiered governance
- to separate
- to combine where appropriate
- oil wealth of Arab world spread to all areas of Arab world.
This sort of idea is sure to make many uncomfortable. But, I marveled at Dr. Nusseibeh’s drive and energy to push for peace in completely creative, if not dangerous, directions.
Perhaps he is right. Given the changes of the last year, who knows the possibilities of the near future. As Rami Kouri (via a paraphrase of Sari Nusseibeh) puts it, “the political map has seen major changes. Weak international parties can shake the world. Military superiority cannot guarantee outcomes any longer. The US is seeing a waning relevance in region.” Colonial or Western powers cannot influence greatly the outcomes any longer – unless Libya and potentially Syria prove differently. Information in the hands of the people has nuclear reactivity in moving political mountains. If Nusseibeh is right about humanity, coupled with this newly realized Arab/Middle Eastern self-worth, then just maybe the value of what is to gain through peace and shared resources is greater than that which can be gained by exploiting the weaker parties.
With a region at a crossroads, and with new natural resources being discovered in the Mediterranean Sea with Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Russia, Egypt, Lebanon and Iran through Hezbollah in Lebanon, all deeply interested, I hope Dr. Nusseibeh is correct.
Dr. Nusseibeh’s faith in humanity and endless optimism is refreshing yet confounding. The next and last post will be my response to this. Is this hope in mankind enough? Is it sustainable? And, if not, what is? And, if not, then what are we left with?
And, what about that prisoner swap?