What is the reaction to the economic crisis in the Arab world? What are the economic and political strategies which can mitigate the crisis, or, if there are none, is there a risk that Arab leaders will use the financial crisis as a reason to justify recent and future failures? Any regime’s primary goal is always the same, to hold on to power at all costs. The biggest danger, however, emerges when financial resources run dry and the days of a free lunch are over. Moreover, the current worldwide economic crisis could be used as a pretext for removing democracy in the Arab world from the agenda. The ruling Arab class cannot continue making excuses.
Dialogue of Cultures
“I hope this crisis will at last lead Arab investors to greater diversification in risk investment and start at last to learn about and invest not only in the American market but also in European markets”. Hatem Abu-Said, an economist and financial consultant, represents the UAB (Union of Arab Banks) in Italy. “This is a crisis of trust”, says Hatem Abu-Said, and he believes that European Union countries “should provide greater incentives for Arab investments in their markets and also open up to the Islamic banking system, as is already happening in France”.
An obstacle to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel would be the fact that the plaque at the Yed Vashem museum criticising Pius XII's attitude during the Shoah has not been removed. This news, instantly disclaimed by the Vatican, has reopened the debate on relations between the Church and Hitler's regime. On this subject we present here a text previously published in the magazine Reset.
Why is China so demonised in the West? Because it sells papers, because the regime is perceived as being cruel and because there is an irrational fear that China is damaging Western economies. Daniel A. Bell, Professor of political theory at Tsinghua University in Beijing, has dedicated his most recent book (China's New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society, Princeton University Press, 2008), to disproving a number of western prejudices about China. A country that “has been undergoing a process of ‘detotalitarianization’ over the past three decades”, and the future of which will be shaped by “some mixture of Confucian-inspired meritocracy with democratic characteristics.” “Most educated Chinese know much more about Western societies than educated Westerners know about China,” warns Bell, who advises American President Elect Barack Obama to “use a few Chinese words in speeches addressing the Chinese. That will warm the hearts of the Chinese and make it easier to solve problems”.
For western economies the real godsend is the crisis affecting Beijing. The closing down a few weeks ago of the Smart Union Group, one of the largest toy manufacturers in the East, was the signal, almost like the fall of Lehman Brothers had been for the American financial system. Economic data recently published confirms the crisis. Industrial production, in what is now “the world’s factory”, is slowing down and is now lower than at any point in the past seven years. The Beijing government is taking remedial action with an impressive 586 billion dollar plan for state expenditure. It is precisely this maxi-stimulus for internal demand that provides a great opportunity for western economies. American and European companies will be able to participate in these mega state contracts.
The biography of the new President-elect is a melting pot in many ways: religion (Islam and Protestantism), ethnicity (black and white) and geography (Africa and America). Herein lies Obama’s success: moving beyond multiculturalism. The issue of background is drastically put into perspective in an open society like America, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, but where you’re going. Identity is released from the defensive question: Who are we? The new question is more constructive: What can we do together? And setting the agenda will be the future rather than the past, a shared interest rather than living in fear of each other.
There are high hopes that President Obama will restore faith in the American dream. In China, that dream was crushed by tanks in Tiananmen Square nearly two decades ago. Can Obama bring it back? Most of my students – who can be highly politicized on other occasions – seem surprisingly indifferent. One key factor is that relations between China and the US have been good since the terrorist attacks of September 11th. What Obama said about China policy during his campaign – more protectionism, attacks on the Chinese government for “manipulating” its currency – could make things worse for China. But if he pulls off a miracle…
Following Pope Benedict XVI’s famous speech in Regensburg, the crisis in relations between Christians and Muslims has over time become an opportunity for starting a Christian-Islamic forum, in which the well-known intellectual Tariq Ramadan is also taking part. As is now clear, and as proven by two recent books (one a thesis by Nina zu Furstenberg and Islam and Freedom by Ramadan), this former “friend of the terrorists” is in fact a Muslim reformist of ‘liberal’ extraction, if the word is not excessive, since he has made a decisive choice, that of contextualising the words of the Scriptures and not stopping at the literal meaning but rather searching for the profounder one.
According to the exit polls 77% of Jews in America voted for Obama, hence 3% more than those who voted for the 2004 Democrat candidate, John Kerry. This instantly demolishes Republican propaganda concerning the Democrat candidate’s presumed anti-Israeli positions. The first post-electoral act by the President Elect has contributed to reassure those who have Israel’s destiny at heart. Although part of Israeli public opinion is not totally convinced, in theory the Obama presidency’s equidistance offers greater guarantees of peace to both parties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The media in Cairo enthusiastically welcomed the event too, emphasising its historical importance. At times they also exploited the democratic element as a litmus test for the shortcomings of the local political system. “The first black President in the White House and the fifth American president since Mubarak came to power” denounced the independent daily newspaper Dustour. Equally, there are those who do not hide their doubts, and at times their scepticism. “Will Obama be with us or against us?” wrote the periodical Rose El Youssef, expressing a shared fear.
“India’s record of human rights is poor. The only mitigating circumstance is that political democracy provides checks and balances on human rights abuses through a free media, civil liberty organisations, an active judiciary, and the right to file public interest litigation on behalf of others”. Neera Chandhoke, Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi and Director of the Developing Countries Research Centre, University of Delhi, explains to Resetdoc the current conditions of Indian democracy and on the subject of religion she says: “The meaning that secularism acquired in the Indian context added one more dimension to the generic concept of secularism: not only the recognition of faith but the equal treatment of all faiths”.
“I once asked the Mahatma what surprised him the most. ‘How hard of heart people in authority are,’ he answered. This is even truer nowadays. It is obvious that Gandhi’s moral legacy has vanished. What is the system of values in a State that launches a moon mission but says it has no funds for building schools?” Mohan Guruswami, founder and chairman of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in New Delhi, spoke to Resetdoc about what has happened to the Mahatma’s legacy, and dejectedly said that “Every day the newspapers report violent events linked to the caste system, religion or racism. The Mahatma is now only an icon, a legend exploited for political purposes.”