Kateryna Brezitska C’14
On February 22, the Penn Law National Security Society, the Office of International Programs, and the Student Affairs Speakers Fund co-hosted an address at the Law School by Dr. Marwan Muasher, a former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, World Bank official, and currently a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment.
Muasher began his talk by discussing the term “Arab Spring,” and how he preferred the term “Arab Awakening,” because “we will see many seasons, not just one,” he said. “All other regions have been able to move their governments in meaningful ways except the Middle East,” he observed, and highlighted the importance for Arab nations to move towards becoming a pluralistic society.
Muasher divided the Arab world into two categories: first, countries whose time is up and the second, of countries who have time left on their hands. All the Middle East states with the exception of Bahrain have time left, he asserted, as “The people can use the time they have to understand that that change is gradual,” he said. A reform process that is serious moves smoothly but slowly to democracy, he said, and can look at the time that they have but “misread the results and think because they are they are not witnessing the progress that they see in other countries, that they don’t have to do much”. This is not the case, he explained.
A year after the Tunisian uprising, the world has seen, we have seen four Arab leaders toppled and serious unrest in Syria. “This is clearly a phenomenon that cuts across wide sectors of the Arab world, “Musasher said. “The executives have become too powerful and the judiciary and legislative have become nothing more than rubber stamps.”
He stressed the need to strengthen all branches of government, as without serious governmental reforms no change would take place. “Those who are accustomed to having it all will not want to share this power.”
Regarding political Islam, Muasher stated that we “cannot keep political Islam outside the system even if we want to.” With the ascendance of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, he said “I don’t think political Islam will fade away. I think it will assume its natural place and will continue to be a reality.” But, he asserted, Islamic groups have an inflated representation in parliaments only because they sometimes happened to be the only group that was organized enough for people to follow, regardless of views.
And because they were kept out of Middle East governments they “did not have to answer to the promises to the general public.” Bringing them in will not make them disappear but will make them accountable, and so Muasher predicted that the peak of political Islam has passed.
Further, Muasher made it clear that economic reform must precede political reform. “Once we put bread on the table, people will make wiser choices.” He said that in the past, the bread before freedom argument meant in many cases that neither bread nor freedom was had. One solution he proposed is education reform. Although there has been a great amount of monetary contribution towards education in the Middle East, the money has not been put in the right areas. “People talk about education as the quantity of education like putting computers to schools or talk about technical aspects of education like wanting to improve scores on international tests.”
Never is the topic of introducing values like communication, tolerance, understanding, and truth into education discussed, he explained. However, Muasher said, “if you teach people to think critically, there are headaches but they are better than revolution.”
Regarding Syria’s future, Muasher expressed that while the situation is not hopeless, it is extremely complicated. “I’m afraid there’s no magic wand,” he said Outside military intervention is unlikely at this point, he observed. He proposed more sanctions against the Assad government as an option but questioned their effectiveness, quoting an Arab saying, “He who is drowning is not afraid to get wet.”
After the event, Christopher Sfedu, an junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, “gained a new understanding of the Middle East , and [I] thought that Dr. Muasher spoke with passion and knowledge.”
Eric Lorber, a second-year student at Penn Law and President of the Penn Law National Security Society, was “excited to hear about the futures of countries where violence has ceased such as Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya.”