Friday, July 06, 2007

Subject: Al Ahram: Lost opportunity of relevance Date: Fri, 06 Jul 2007 15:11:57 +0000
Lost opportunity of relevance
The left wing in Palestine has proven historically impotent amid the Fatah-Hamas crisis, which could have been avoided, Ramzy Baroud* opines


The entire Arab world has become a scholar of law and an expert in constitutions. It has grown concerned with legality, observed regulations, and historical traditions, both those written and those not. I had thought that this trend applied only to the Arab-Israeli conflict, in whose context Arabs always throw out that valid phrase about the necessity of applying the resolutions stemming from the "legitimacy" of the international community. The world has always marvelled at how the Arabs possess this ability in the international arena but lack it in the establishment of states based on the rule of law.

Yet that age of lacking legitimacy and law has ended. Now you can look to Lebanon and find fierce competition between the 14 March group known as being "the majority" and for its loyalty, and the 8 March group, stigmatised as being a minority and in opposition. There you will find unique abilities in quarrelling and the holding of legal debates over the Lebanese constitution and the powers of the president of the republic, the prime minister, and the speaker of the House of Representatives. All of this takes place while the Lebanese state is paralysed at the level of the presidency, the cabinet, the parliament, and all other institutions, to the point that they function only enough to keep things from collapsing. The Lebanese people, meanwhile, pray night and day that civil war will not break out under their feet and the days will not roll back to their evil past when murder was committed on the basis of identity, religion and name, when any reason could send people to their death, becoming martyrs within their communities.

If you don't much care for Lebanese legal debates, you can always move on to the Palestinian arena, where the number of legal experts exceeds all global averages. As for constitutional scholars and those working in political science (focussing on politics both legitimate and otherwise), their numbers block out the sun. If talk had worth, Palestine would immediately be liberated under an effusive flood of legal rulings that would explain and clarify that missing or vague in constitutional articles and legal texts. Wherever you turned next, east or west, you would find a journalism of interpretation with an outstanding ability and acrobatic talent in transforming military coups into first class constitutional, legal, and legitimate situations. This would be true even if they had broken an agreement, fragmented a country, or turned a nation that had not yet gained independence upside down.

Wherever you go in the Arab world, you'll find the same cry. Even when the logic appears pieced together, lies seem believable thanks to their reinforcement through repetition. Look at the case of the Hamas overthrow of Palestinian legitimacy when the judge, with a boldness to be envied, looked into the extent that the measures taken by the Palestinian Authority were legal and constitutional, but not into the crime of those who imposed change with armed force. Writing placed all the actions of the Palestinian Authority under the guillotine of the law and its texts, while not a word was said about the extent to which Hamas's behaviour, Ismail Haniyeh's statements, or the actions of Khaled Meshaal, who was directing the crisis from Damascus, were in keeping with the law. It was as though all Palestinian factions were beyond judgement, and only one group was out of line.

During all of this, the Arabs forgot the crux of the issue, that the concept of "legitimacy" is essentially a political one that means public acceptance of a political authority and its ability to enforce the laws and constitutions that regulate the people's lives. It is a concept that is only applied to a political unit of some kind that is distinguished by serving as the sole authority and having the right to a legal "monopoly" over the use of armed force. In Arab contexts, this used to be the basis for the existence of the state, whether a monarchy or republic, democratic or despotic, socialist or capitalist, wealthy or impoverished. Yet recent years have seen an overstepping of this golden rule. The existence of parallel armed authorities is no longer seen as counter to legitimacy. Rather, being armed is seen by some as a source of legitimacy in itself. Under the name of the "arms of resistance", it has become the right of armed groups to impose upon society their will and vision for the struggle and for politics. This took place in Lebanon in the name of resisting Israel, and the same thing has happened in Palestine, Iraq, Somalia and wherever chaos and the rule of the jungle reign.

Yet "legitimacy" is not the only political concept left hanging. There is no legitimacy as long as a state is incapable of "penetration", meaning that it can reach, through influence or control, all of its regions. If a state cannot reach all of its regions, or if an armed group retains a region, as Hizbullah did in South Lebanon or southern Beirut, then legitimacy is lacking. What Hamas did in Gaza was to sequester a region and remove it from the reach of the political entity through armed force. After the sovereign authority was incapable of accessing it, the entire entity collapsed. This situation did not occur only after Hamas attacked Palestinian security leaders (which were legitimate to it before the attack), but rather when Hamas's armed units took control of the Palestinian street via an executive power parallel to the original authority. This, of course, is in addition to the Al-Qassam Brigades, which are another force outside the parameters of legitimacy.

There is a close tie between the concepts of "penetration" and "mobilisation", for the authority is not "legitimate" as long as it is unable to mobilise all of its region's resources through the levying of taxes or other means. In many Arab contexts, and particularly in Lebanon where there is Hizbullah and in Palestine where there is Hamas and its representative organisations, other entities remain outside the circle of mobilisation. They have their own private resources that remain beyond the reach of the political entity, and which may not even know about them. These resources do not have any kind of public circulation or transparency, even if their organisations never stop talking about corruption.

Furthermore, legitimacy is not obtained unless there is a shared identity among a group of people that motivates them to form a state or political entity. The concept of identity is the basis of the entire issue, as it provides for the right of self-determination and is thus the natural forerunner to a state that is legitimate and has a political authority. In the Palestinian case, in particular, the Palestine Liberation Organisation was founded on the basis of an identity specific to the Palestinians that distinguished them from the Israelis who plundered their land and also from other Arabs and Muslims. If it were not for this identity-based distinction, Palestine would have become an extension of other states in the region. When the Hamas movement and its peer Islamic Jihad groups came to the Palestinian arena, they halted at considering the Palestinian tie as essential to the political entity, stressing rather the connection of the Islamic nation as an alternative. Palestinian identity was no longer a basis for legitimacy, having been replaced by the extent to which the Palestinian political movements expressed an Islamic identity.

And thus talk of "legitimacy" in the Arab world is corrupt from the start. There is no legitimacy without penetration, mobilisation, and identity. In the Lebanese and Palestinian cases, where the political entity has been destroyed in the name of the resistance, such talk is approaching various forms of black comedy and terrifying nightmares.

* The writer is director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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