The Arabs have lost the leadership of the Muslim world. They are now on the verge of losing respect too. Nothing that they do mitigates the all-pervasive despair with regard to their standing in the Muslim world. That they are a squabbling lot, is an old story. The fact that is more frightening is that they are emerging the only friends of Israel and may soon be the best guarantors of its expansionist designs.
Turkey's 'Peace Flotilla' has as much made a dent into the Arab image as it has wrested friends from Israel from the allies in the West. Iran with its growing prowess to face up to United States' blandishments on nuclear issue, is now teaching the Arabs a lesson two in maintaining some self-esteem and protecting their sovereignty. Egypt, once the champion of Arab pride, has all but surrendered its autonomy and respect, by raising a wall along the Gaza border. Dictator Hosni Mubarak is thus buying US acquiescence for smooth succession of his son Gamal to the seat of presidency.
Bunch of families that ruled the Arab world 30 years ago are still firm in their seats. Al-Saud's endless line of brothers is still at the helms in Saudi Arabia. Hafez Al-Assad of Syria has been succeeded by his son Bashar, notwithstanding pretences of Baathist ideology. Shah Hussein's son is in saddle in Amman. Ali Abdullah Saleh continues to rule from Sana'a despite territorial fission and fusion during the last 30 years. Gaddafi is grooming his son in Libya.
Stability of the ruling family is perhaps how Arabs judge political stability. Several of them have of course erected facades of democracy by creating 'parties of rulers'. Most Parliaments merely serve to endorse rulers' decisions rather than reflecting popular aspirations and opinion. Curiously, it is the tiny, trouble-torn community of Palestinians that holds regular elections and anoints a popular ruler and thereby is an island of democracy.
Arabs have failed in all departments of human effort except in matters of procreation. Their number has doubled--from 180 million in 1980 to 360 million in 2010-- in the last 30 years. Their lack of creativity is the ideal fodder for doomsayers. All that they manufacture together is less than what is produced by the Philippines. In 20 years--between 1980 and 2000--Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, the UAE and Syria could register merely 367 patents. Their chief foe Israel registered 7,652 patents while tiny South Korea had 16,328 patents.
No doubt, the sovereign wealth funds for the oil rich Gulf countries are doing well. But they have no clue as to how this national wealth can be distributed unless the vast army of youth is gainfully employed. Some of these nations have a bloated bureaucracy. Seven million of 80 million Egyptians are government servants. Oppressive regimes employ too many people to keep watch on people rather than to serve them. Often Mukhabarat (intelligence) is the largest wing of officialdom. Back panels of public loos are often the better reflectors of public opinion rather than the front pages of newspapers.
There seems to be no escape from the sorry mess in which the Arabs are finding themselves. Unless Arabs come to grips with crucial issues of representative governance, allowing popular aspirations to prevail, and chalk out strategies to channelize energies of youth, they will have little room to retrieve their lost esteem.