The meanings of change – Why such a great fear of democracy? Galal Nassar examines the pathology of apathy
By Galal Nassar
In spite of the growing gulf between the ruling elites and the people and the latter’s lack of confidence in the current authoritarian regimes, the vast majority of public opinion remains doubtful, if not suspicious, of the idea of change. It is uncertain whether the public has a clear idea of what change means apart, perhaps, from different faces at the top or, at best, different sectarian, ethnic or social affiliations on the part of the groups holding the reins of power. This would largely account for the isolation and the narrow grassroots bases of Arab opposition movements. It would also help explain the closed horizon in Arab societies despite the clear comprehension that change in government and in society is not only necessary but inevitable.
Because of the absence of any moral and intellectual dimensions of change, the pressures weighing down on society do not propel it forward, as is the case in soundly structured societies. Instead they generate sectarian, ethnic and nationalist fissures and implosions, an endless vicious cycle that only plunges society deeper into the mire of anger, frustration and crisis. In large measure this grim condition stems from the ability of ruling authorities over several decades to eliminate all traces of a civil constitutional and modernist culture, such as that which had begun to emerge in the era of the Arab awakening and the struggle against European colonialism. This, in turn, brought a reversion to a pre- modernist consciousness that perceives any social order as the product of fate. Its mechanisms, rather than being seen as the fruit of conscious human resolve and endeavour, a consequence of the political and moral choices of certain members of society that can be influenced by and subject to scrutiny and revision by the rest of society, instead defy any comprehension or analysis.
In part the condition is the consequence of an erosion in the meaning of politics, which has been reduced in the general public’s perception to a set of models for government — socialist, liberal, Islamist or otherwise. These models are immutable, their aims and objectives indisputable, their success contingent upon the ability to attain power of a particular social group, whether owing to its privileged position in the military/security establishment, its alliance with outside forces, or a combination of the two. The average individual is helpless to determine the type of government that ends up controlling his/her future.
There is a deep-seated intellectual, political and moral apathy. Whether the cause of this is despair and frustration at the inability to influence events or the mounting negative outlook towards both world and ruling powers, the result is the same: a prevailing attitude that change is not an autonomous act of the will of the people, but rather the product of a combination of domestic and foreign forces beyond the reach of that will.
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