Saturday, January 15, 2011

The 'bin Laden' of marginalisation

The real terror eating away at the Arab world is socio-economic marginalisation.


By Larbi Sadiki

"Conventional wisdom has it that 'terror' in the Arab world is monopolised by al-Qaeda in its various incarnations. There may be some truth in this.

However, this is a limited viewpoint. Regimes in countries like Tunisia and Algeria have been arming and training security apparatuses to fight Osama bin Laden. But they were caught unawares by the 'bin Laden within': the terror of marginalisation for the millions of educated youth who make up a large portion of the region's population.

The winds of uncertainty blowing in the Arab west - the Maghreb - threaten to blow eastwards towards the Levant as the marginalised issue the fatalistic scream of despair to be given freedom and bread or death......

The 'bread compact'
For Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan and Egypt, the impoverished Arab states, in need of the liquidity of Euro-American and International Misery Fund aid, infitah (open-door policy) was the only blueprint of forward economic management. Within its bosom are bred greed, land grab, corruption, monopoly and the new entrepreneurial classes who exchange loyalty and patronage with the political masters as well as the banknotes and concessions with which both fund flash lifestyles.

Thus the map of distribution was gerrymandered at the expense of the have-nots who are placated with insufficient micro credits or ill-managed national development funds. The crumbs - whatever subsidies are allowed by the new economic order built on the pillars of privatisation, the absence of social safety nets and economic protectionism - delay disaffection but never eliminate it.

Below the surface the pent-up anger of the marginals simmers.

'Tis the season of 'bread intifadas'

The 'khobzistes' have returned. At home they are marginals; abroad, they are largely persona non grata for being born in the wrong geography, inheriting the perfect genes for 'profiling' and being too culturally challenged for some European assimilationists. Their only added value is as objects of social dumping in capitalism's sweat shops.

Potentially, they are the fodder of chaos in the absence of social justice....

The 'geography of hunger'

In Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth one finds resonance with the misery engulfing Tunisia and Algeria today, where the have-nots, or the mahrumin, and the khobzistes strike back at the state and target its symbols. They fight back and thus "struggle ... and with their shrunken bellies [and humiliated egos] outline of the geography of hunger".

In this geography of hunger and marginalisation, the ruling native becomes the new coloniser. By contrast to the have-nots, the ruling natives and the economic 'mafias' are sheltered not only in mansions and villas, but also within 'a hard shell' that immures them from the "poverty that surrounds" them.

In The Wretched of the Earth one reads about the "poor, underdeveloped countries, where the rule is that the greatest wealth is surrounded by the greatest poverty".

To map out the "geography of hunger" is not complete without marking out the geography of authoritarianism. In both Algeria and Tunisia, the big interests and profiteers supporting Bouteflika and Ben Ali seem to fulfill Fanon's prophecy about corruption "sooner or later" making leaders "men of straw in the hands of the army ... immobilising and terrorising". It is the security forces and the army that run the show in both countries.

, the ideologue of the Algerian revolution, is probably turning in his grave at the thought that a country of "one million martyrs" sacrificed for independence is today battling for new freedoms from housing shortages, rising food prices, autocracy and overall marginalisation.

The figures construct on paper stories of growth and stability that are not matched by the reality of marginalisation.

For how long republics of paper and men of straw can withstand the hell-fire of the Algerian and Tunisian eruptions fuelled by marginalisation remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that the beginnings of a 'Tunisian democratic spring' are in the offing."

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