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Chinese Patterns

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/23/chinas-actions-are-a-reflection-of-confidence-and-xi-jinpings-iron-grip?fbclid=IwAR0ViBjlfeFnLANF4b9ipoeaN2DJAJ0apSCRbXSTWjYkIVzhadHS_F04Sws

 

Many have tried to discover the ‘scientific’ laws which govern history, but to no avail. Perhaps the heightened level of complexities involved in the historical process should serve as an explanation for the hitherto lack of such laws. All the same, sometimes it seems that there are patterns in history which replicate themselves– non-verbatim though. Time spans of a pattern might change, interactive effects of the pattern with geography and geopolitical environment differ in kind and magnitude, and the national impact of the pattern also changes.

In this respect, China is one of the few old nations whose history seem to be rather pattern-fitting. Eversince the unification of the feuding states of the Yellow river by the state of Chin, and Chinese or Han empire history seem to be proceeding in a certain patterns. A strong bureaucratic state cemented by Confucian (family) order, or statist counter-family one, prevails for several centuries then it gets disrupted by Mongol or Turkic invasions, leading to several centuries of chaos, decadence and destruction of traditions. The strong states sometimes expressed imperial aspiration that never ever transcended its perceived Central Asian vital domain. The last nomadic dynasty to rule over China, the Manchurian one, brought about a strictly traditionalist Confucian order in the 17th century that was disrupted by opening up the Celestial Kingdom to foreign influence in the 19th century. The chaos that ensued peaked with era of Mao in the 50s and the associated obliteration of old traditions and habits. The calm era of Deng Xiaoping witnessed the gradual, then exponential rise of China, which was to a large extent facilitated by global conditions.

Now we are witnessing a new stable Confucian state with imperial aspirations in Asia, and for maybe the first time also in Africa and the West ( both North and South). The global voyages of of the Chinese Eunuch, admiral Zheng He, in the 16th century, launched to project a global Chinese soft power came to a sudden halt perhaps reflecting the self-containment of China.

The present Xi Jinping state demonstrates traces of an old pattern. Yet, many features of the pattern are quite different. The time spans are much shorter under the influence of a world that has been increasingly interconnected since the 19th century. Also, this time round the Celestial kingdom seem hell-bent on global dominance. The recent Chinese orientation towards domestic consumption and development of its Western swathes, venturing into Hi-tec and global bellicose assertiveness is a pointer to the shorter spans and so chaos might be nearer than foreseen. Perhaps the exaggerated expansionism added to size would generate uncontrollable centrifugal forces.

Global Trends and the Future of the Arab World!

 

In the 80s, systemic limitations in the global economy induced Thatcher and Reagan to pioneer in the industrialized world what is termed neoliberalism. It tentatively meant financialization of economies followed by the relocation of low- and medium- tec industries to the developing world, focusing on high- end services, deregulation of markets, cutting down on government-administered services, privatization of public sector.

Different governance cultures across different nations lead to various levels of application of those policies which nonetheless provided the broadlines of the subsequent economic regime.

In the 90s and early 00s, Clinton, Blair, and Schreuder tempered neoliberalism with social liberalism and an emphasis on NGOs and the state’s role in training and requalification. Alas, the global system hit another limitation which climaxed with the financial crisis of 2008.

Neoliberalism peaked with Obama and James Cameron who gave way to a new brand of policy suited to transitional period of technological disruption. The new brand encompasses a seemingly strange combination of populism and state planning, best exemplified by Sisi, Duterte, Boris Johnson, and Donald Trump. It is worth mentioning that center left has recently started to adopt the new brand though with more focus on direct intervention.

Now the issue in hand is the Middle East. Although, fossils are expected to remain adequately available for at least three decades, oil price levels have quite peaked a while ago, with debilitating effects on the entire Middle Eastern countries which rely to a large extent in its national incomes on gulf tourism, investment, and the remittances of its professionals and labourers. The new trend is exacerbated by two other factors. under all climate change scenarios, the Middle East is predicted to experience droughts, shortened rainfall, and exacerbated heat. The second factor is the instability ensued from the process of renegotiating social contracts across the region.

One of the self-contradictory features of neoliberalism is the privatization of security services and the expansion in private intelligence. The trend is not totally new, however, for private investigators, security services, and business information firms are as old as smilie! However, the business has scaled up quite significantly over the past 30 years. Despite the socialist castigation of thislineof business, there are, in fact, some leftist elements in it because the burden of defense is shifted to voluntary action through business.

Having decided to quit hard liquor and beer for at least 6months due to weight and mental sanity issues, I fulfill my lust for intoxication through wine though I have never been a wine person. In the process, I have discovered some really good Egyptian wines. Right now, being under the dizzying influence of the Dionysian syrup, I have thought up a new economic venue for our beloved Middle East. Man power galore is characteristic of our beloved.

So.. why not capitalize on this relative advantage and transform the region into an ox farm. Middle Easterners could provide man power for the security firms and contractors. The main problem that arises is keeping the unruly folks in line: an issue which should best tackled by professionals.

Tunisian Paradox!

https://www.globalfueleconomy.org/media/461051/me-and-wa_gfei_tunisia_report.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2iD_WM-FBSdDWl1tJG2wgS2XTwGwLqY3h0YD8QZ77BVqX1mLRD6udIBm0

In 2015, I was commissioned through the UNEP and CEDARE to prepare a study about fuel economy in Tunisia and Morocco for the Global Fuel initiative. Accordingly, I went through lots of data sets about their economic indicators, socio-political contexts, business environments in addition to Automotive technologies in order to analyse the historical fuel consumption patterns.

For some reason, however, half of my work was truncated!!

Anyway, what matters now is my exposure to what I term the “Tunisian paradox”. Tunisia has the highest urbanization rate in the Arab World, that is, if we discount the artificial Gulf case. It has the highest GDP per Capita for a non- oil Middle Eastern country. They have full legal gender equality. Some industrial cities like Sfex has the feel of Manchester. Women labourers stroll around in motor bikes.

No illiteracy. European-grade Schools are found in the tiniest village in the North. Law is secular. Now they have achieved a successful democratic transition which preserved secularism while accommodating Islamist who have accepted the secular nature of the state.

Still, Tunisia is a paradox! its GDP per capita is not considerably higher than Egypt’s, given that is Egypt is dangerously overpopulated with dismal government services. Even more,, income distribution measured by the GINI index is more even in the Egypt of 100 million than Tunisia of 10 millions! And at the moment, the economy is a disappointment.

Since the traditional recipes for development of democracy, women rights, and education seem to have not worked properly in Tunisia, then the likely candidate for an explanation for the ‘Paradox’ is OLIGARCHY AND CREDIT POLICY. This is because democracy doesn’t necessarily obliterate oligarchy- Pakistan is a case in point, for although It is a democracy, it is still oligarchic as well as being semi-feudal- which stifles entrepreneurship, competitiveness, or even growth-oriented state investment, and leads to inefficient, skewed allocation of resources.

Oligarchy in Islamic countries doesn’t spring out of a vacuum; it stems from societies organized on patronage and clientelism where there is not much emphasis on free association and individualism. Also, the concept of common good is not well-entrenched partly because there are no traditions of strong, impartial states. East Asia is an exception: lacking in traditions of individualism; Intricate social organization, patriotic sense and strong states turned what might be termed oligarchies into engines of growth.

 

Salient Features in Arab Culture.

 

From reliable hands on experience in addition to some research, I would assert that there are several salient cultural features or characteristics of Arab mind that make it stand out and are often reflected on the nature of institutions. Those features feed into each other leading to synergistic effects that give the impression of a primordial status quo.

An often underrated cultural feature, one that is common to all Arab countries is people’s reticence about sharing information which is compounded by the extreme scarcity of information outlets. Even worse, when people share information they manipulate. The states don’t do their duty here, as there is an abject scarcity of libraries. Periodicals are rare and too bureaucratic. Media is not reliable and now social media is full of disinformation. Also, the translation movement is not prolific.

Another related feature is connected to business. With the scarcity of information, business networks tend to be monopolistic and centered on lifetime commitments extracted through all sorts of legitimate and illegitimate means. The pervasiveness of a phallocentric values which find expressions in both business and attitudes about information. The main business principle of Snatch a Loaf of Bread and Run Away is buttressed by phallocentrism as a dominant sexual position. Also, manipulating information is similarly connected to phallocentrism.

Relations to sex is also affected with this phallocentrism. Porn, bedroom tales, sexual escapades feature too high in intimate social conduits despite the face the under-the-table relations are common and that escorts are found everywhere. The stealth nature of sex and phallocentrism consume too much energy. Nevertheless, millions, especially among the ranks of middle class, are sexually deprived, further exacerbating phallocentrism. A sexual revolution is still a distant target. Red zones were legal in Cairo until 1951. So..maybe legalizing sex working or at least turning an informal complete blind eye to prostitution as well as sexual liberties would help regulate the wayward sexual energies

Skewed relations to facts is also an Arab feature. In Arab culture, there are all too high levels of emotional investment from mothers in sons leading to adults with many hang-ups and blind spots in minds. It could be that this emotionality reflects in management, planning, and design. The mathematical faculties of Middle Easterners are no less than those of any other people as proven by pyramids, Babylonian engineering, Islamic and Persian architecture and innovations. However, a blind spot always erupts and blocks a full comprehensive image, leading to sudden catastrophes at some point in time, unresponsive management, or low efficacy of plans.

Those features reflect on institutional culture. There are no expectation on the part of the people for accurate and comprehensive information dissemination from institutions. Cosmetic planning is the norm. Also, a two way manipulation relation exists between both citizens and institutions.

The root cause of such cultural milieu could be the rabid exploitative political culture accumulated over long century. Another cause might be the exaggerated tribalism as the clan structures of the middle ages have somehow persisted.

In my opinion, tackling the problem starts with education. What we need is a a tailor-made educational system designed to respond to local problems and geared towards a level of gradual and patient cultural engineering.

Turning Hagia Sophia into a Mosque!

With the controversial and seemingly uncalled for act of converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque, Erdogan has actually provoked the orthodox world which the Putinist Russia claims to be its patron after the reversion of Russia into an authoritarian nationalist state, having the orthodox faith as one of its pillars.

The act further aggravates the growing polarization between Sunni Islam in the Near East and Russia which patrons Orthodox and syncretic sects. The symbolism of the act is potent and only slightly relevant to Western Christians.

The Russians in the Middle East are actually in a near floating position, as they don’t stand much to gain from the Chinese silk road which requires Russian consent to reach the Mediterranean. If anything, the road would detract from its relative weight.

China for its part has picked Iran as its strategic partner in the region connecting central Asia to the Indian ocean and providing it with a foothold in the Near East, further detracting from the Russian weight. Russia sees Iran as a bargaining chip with the West and a tactical partner in the Near East, though a stronger Iran won’t come in handy for its prospects with its Muslims. The recent strategic partnership between China and Iran is therefore a game changer, but one that is particularly in Russia’s favour.

In the 3rd decade of the 21st century, there are three keys to the Middle East and Africa: Turkey, Iran, and Egypt.

Despite Turkey’s recent Islamic Ottoman revival, it remains more rooted the West, especially with the growing modernist aspirations of the traditional Anatolians emancipated by Erdogan.

Egypt needs to repose itself as a bridge to Africa, as the Chinese once hinted. However, I don’t think that China is seriously willing to patron Egypt because Egypt’s population size, reasonable knowledge and industrial base, and Sunni orientation can be a potential rival of China in he South of the West.

Power is money and knowledge and both have their centers of gravity in the West. Russia has nothing to offer but military might with an extended arm, which can never be a sustainable basis of power. China is blocked starting from the west of a vertical line traversing Iran. The Shah’s Iran is a case in point as Iran was jumping strides while on the Western camp.

Egypt missed a golden chance during the Mubarak era by not enacting a Westernization project a la Ataturk, mainly because of stern resistance from the ultra conservative Coptic church and El-Azhar in addition to Mubarak’s instinctive conservative inclinations. Such an orientation is a prerequisite for Egypt to present itself as the West’s bridge to Africa, especially that Ethiopia is too backward, lethargic and rent by ethnic strife.

Superheros in Context

Superman is really Nietzchean, not the despicable Nazis. He is out of context with outwardly driven, non-localized expansive morals and extraordinary traits bestowed to him by his alienation from the mundane.

Batman is the perfect, responsible total individual who in the midst of his existentialist angst has given himself the freedom to make a constructive choice. He is so lonesome, yet going on relentlessly.

Spiderman is a pragmatic realist: mates with a spider, then climbs walls and stealthly captures his enemies.

The Joker is like Al-Queda and ISIS. A confused man with a trauma from a crumbling world. He couldn’t overcome his weakness, which got the worst of him and lead to destruction and hate. He could also be seen as Khmer Rogue style Marxist calling for the total annihilation of the existing order.

Catwoman is as unpredictable as the absurd which nonetheless makes life tolerable through endearing mischief.

The fantastic 4 are like philnathropist Billionares who give some of their endowments to the good of others.

Reforming Sufism

 

Islamic Sufism is touted by many as a viable alternative to the predominant mainstream version of Islam which is centered on the legal traditions of the scholars of the middle ages, and the Ash’ari theology which revolves around the idea of absolute will of Allah and that man is driven by that will. Another pillar is the notion of Muslim Ummah. The legal traditions regulate Jihad or holy war in defense of Ummah and religion. Legal traditions are also the main component of the Twelver Shi’a. The Twelver theology is based on Mu’tazila thought which recognizes a full absolute nature of Allah to whom the route is reason. The reason which is mainly applied to sharia is tempered by ancient Persian or Zoroastrian belief about cosmic battle between good and evil that was transposed onto the struggle of Imams descending from Muhammad to bring justice to earth.

Thus, the Twelver Mu’tazili thought is structurally different from the original 9th century movement which highlighted reason and only reason in legalization and doctrine. A sense of victimhood and vengeance for the fallen Imams flare up Shiite militant tendencies.

The rationale behind the modern passion for Sufism is a conceived hint of pantheism in Sufism and a general tendency for inclusiveness that stems from mythic and poetic nature of the teachings of their saints. Also, the trance-like rituals are supposed to have a soothing hypnotizing effect. Yet, facts on the ground contradict such postulates. The Turkic frontier warriors pushed to Eurasia by Mongols had a scary suicidal zeal inspired by hypnotizing Sufi Tariquahs or sects. The later Ottoman empire relied often on Sufi indoctrination of its troops.

That said, it remains likely that Sufis in general are less indoctrinated and focused on political issues, with larger room for a spiritual interpretation of sharia.

Another point behind the enthusiasm for Sufism is the organic link between Sufism and the idea or notion of love. The peculiar thing about love in the Arab world is that mystical elements are invested in it. Arabs in pre-Islamic times lived in dangerous, arid, cruel deserts where constant raiding was the norm. They found solace in star gazing and reciting weeping poems on the remains of the dwellings of the lover. Majnun Layla saga is the most common example. The concept seeped into Islam and found expression in Sufism which started off in the 9th century with Al-Halaj, Junaid Al-Baghdadi and Rab’aa Al-A’dawiyah. They all made epic poems about divine love that had many parallels with worldly love.

The problem with Sufism, which has been the popular Islam since the Mongol age, is that it is so infiltrated with superstition and lacks the logic of Sharia-based Islam and the institutionalized theology and hence it doesn’t resonate well with mainstream establishment and educated and influential portions of society. Maybe that is why it has acquired some international popularity as sort of a sport similar in kind to Yoga. It is therefore that more scholarly effort is needed to develop and rationalize the tenets of Sufism.

Strangely enough, centuries before the inexorable spread of the superstition-laden Tariquahs, complete Sufi metaphysical systems such as the Sufism of Ibn- Arabi—originated in the late 12th century– which remained mainstream in the Islamic World until the 19h century.

Ibn-Arabi believed in the oness of existence and that all beings are an expression of the self-objectification of the one through love. We become actual through loving our individual potentialities which are moments in the godly love. Interesting enough, that for Ibn Arabi, even evil is a veiled godly love.

Ibn-Arabi’s system should be appealing for mainstream Muslims with a formal understanding of the religion because Ibn-Arabi acknowledges the authority of linguists over the interpretation of Quran and texts while at once acknowledging deeper esoteric meanings.

Modern Sharia

Islamic Sharia is the victim of huge misunderstanding of Islam and of its core principles that had been filtered in the founding centuries. The charge of medieval barbarism is often leveled at it.

The truth of the matter is that Sharia was built bottom up by networks– sometimes competing– of scholars all over the Middle East relying on events in earlier history, Arabian traditions, folk wisdom, Persian etiquette, and all too general principles of the Quran which are close in their basic common sense to Roman and local laws.

Sharia kept on evolving, branching out, diversifying, taking in local wisdom, incorporating legal philosophy maybe until the 13th century.

It might come as a surprise for a lot that the Shafie and Hanafi mainstream legal schools forbid family-arranged marriage without consent; give women the right to divorce themselves; secure lucrative financial rights during marriage and after divorce. One of the two schools even allow women to marry themselves without a guardian. It also sticks out that the aforementioned legal rules had been fully developed in the 9th century.

In our present times, American, French, and English laws are mostly the bases of most legal traditions all over the World. They didn’t spring up in a vacuum, but rather evolved from diverse source close to or at some point of time may have been influenced by Sharia. In this sense, modern secular law is Islamic of sorts.

The tragedy of Islam is that Al-Azhar scholars since the 70s have been lacking a profound understanding of philosophy and especially philosophy of law despite the fact that Al-Azhar teaches languages, medicine and engineering.

Sadly enough, Al-Azhar scholars in the 30s, 40s, and 50s included some who allowed sunnis to pray like shiites considering no difference between the two sects, others who denied the existence of an Islamic state. A few of them even like Sheikh Al-Islam Muhammad Hasan Al-Baquory considered wine Halal. The pioneer of the modern reformist trend in Islam, the leader of the Al-Azhar in the late 19th century, Muhammad Abdou, was best friends with Lord Cromer, the British high commissioner to Egypt. He even favoured British occupation to Ottoman one.

Oral Culture in the Arab World

A myth often propagated in the Middle East is that Arabs prior to Muhammad were illiterate. It is true that oral poetry, verbal eloquence, and prose were the main conduits of diplomacy, flirting, and inter-tribal communication. Poetry bestowed prestige and honour on notables, families and clans. Almost no written records are left to us from the era, testifying to the predominance of oral traditions. Some pseudo scientific arguments ascribe the present predominance of oral traditions to the nature of Arab culture which is manifested in Islam.

However, a mercantile class, especially in Hijaz, was visible and prestigious. They acted as carriers of trade from India, Persia, and Yemen to Byzantine lands, Egypt, and East Africa. The same went for the fringe tribes buffering between Persian and Byzantine empires. Also, the Yemen had a literate civilization that inscribed on stone demonstrating an ancient Levantine and Egyptian influence.

That said, the cosmopolitan Islamic civilization was a highly literate one with sophisticated bureaucracy and rich literary traditions. The Ottoman empire albeit resistant at first to the spread of printing, still had a highly efficient bureaucracy for some time.

Contemporary Arabic literature is rich and has a unique flavour. Literacy rates in the Middle East are very high, in comparison.

It is thus strange that despite of this history; the present state of literacy; spread of education; and high levels of internet penetration; as well as a work environment littered with tons records and papers; the foremost conduit for information sharing is oral. Hearsay assumes a highly disproportionate weight in the processes of opinion making and decision making. The interaction with the internet and media experts is oral in essence.

Reports, and emails in business are relegated to a secondary role behind endless cumbersome meetings, and semi-informal chats with minuscule output. Even in training, an informal and organic apprenticeship system exists that usually lacks an engineered structure and relies most on organic and oral communication.

An easy candidate for an explanation of this state of affairs is the fluid, highly emotional, and poetic nature of the Arabic language, which is a favourite topic for Arab Nationalists, Baathists, and pan-Arabists. The argument, however, sounds to me like romantic one, for in a process that started in the second half of the 19th century, formal and written Arabic language have been modernized, trimmed, and filled with punctuation rules that complemented the complex logical rules of its developed grammar. Right now, the language is precise, agile and capable of accommodating all disciplines.

A complementary explanation is the deterioration of the state of the formal Arabic language in comparison with the first half of the 20th century, which in turn might be taken as some explanation for the current decline in literary traditions in favour of oral ones, especially that the spoken dialects lack coherence and formal structure which in turn favours an oral and organic medium of communication.

Another candidate for an explanation apart the linguistic one is nature and development of the middle class. During the Ottoman era, the Burgess in the Middle East, with the exception of Persia, was tiny, stagnant, local and semi-illiterate, whereas the farmers were living in an oral medieval world. The biggest social expansion witnessed in the Arab world in the 60s and 70s was not accompanied with a thorough industralization process and accordingly the oral traditions were preserved.

A third candidate is the zeitgeist of the state of knowledge in the Middle East. Intellectual decline of Middle East in the later middle ages was characterized by mechanical memeorizing, and precise regurgitation of master pieces produced earlier— an oral process in essence.

Communist Fairy Tale and the Future

 

Communism was predicted by Marx to be the end of history for humanity. It is supposed to be a state similar in essence to a huge special luxurious kindergarten where everybody works with what they just feel like doing and everybody gets exactly what is commensurate with their own specific needs. Socialism is supposed to be a transitional period before going to that stage.

Given the present genetic dispositions of homosapiens; the huge individual, cultural, ethnic, regional differences; this utopian state sounds like recipe for spiraling chaos and endless uncontrollable conflicts. Marx had some useful insights into society and economic development, as well as an input into the various attempts at explaining the movement of history, but claims about discovering the final law for the movement of history and economic development are ludicrous, to say the least. Perhaps a missing element in the criticism of Marxism is the newly acquired Darwinian capacity of homosapiens to engineer their own evolution: a subject with which I will wrap up.

A testimony to the fallacy of the Euphoria of communism is the state of many socialists in the world: people with enormous time, money, power, and knowledge on their hands– as if they have been catapulted in a time machine into the communist future– yet many slide into decadence, corrosion, and sometimes into nihilistic or depressive fits.

Perhaps the closest well-known example to a man living in the communist era is Elon Musk. A self-made billionaire who created a fortune through indulging his creative ground-breaking ideas, and natural inclinations while playing by the rules in order to reach the hems of power and money. With all the freedom he harbours, he opts to let go of his wildest dreams and ideas and work on them to change the material ground. His drivers might be living up to his own delicious self-image of the American capitalist hero who breaks horizons. But not everyone is Elon Musk though with some lateral thinking, injected through education, everybody can be the Elon Musk of their own world and horizons.

The perfect foil of Elon Musk is the Arab oligarch: Gets monopoly lucrative contracts for government services and contracting for which they mostly didn’t supply the capital investment; or franchises. The concomitant power obtained is used to suffocate the market, monopolize national financial resources , to create queues of patronage networks and to dip their tentacles into all economic aspects with the sole limited purpose of fulfilling their Sultan self-image. The culturally specific kabeer figure who is the man of dignity, piety, respect, benevolence, protection, street intelligence, advice, distribution, and wisdom placed at the top of a node in a tradecraft is a supplement to this socio-economic organization. The self-image is actualized through endless media and social media farts about his panacea for sorting out galactic problems.

The increasing success of carbon-silicon interfaces, the exponential growth of AI capabilities, the horizons of quantum computing, the self-propelling nature of technology which has become the locomotive of science point to the growing seedlings of an inevitably coming era of supermen, and robots doing all tasks. What will be left for the super humans then? Is it decadence and corrosion? Don’t think so due to silicon engineered evolution. The new superman will most probably become a fundamental idea- dream prime-mover for it to be executed by the complex web of intelligent machines.

Is it the future of all humanity? Don’t think so. Some will just assume an aesthetic or romantic role similar in kind to the one played by ecology and museums. Will there be a need for Man power? I think yes for the present century and maybe some decades of the second;however, the required numbers will be drastically reduced.

What can we transitional mortals do in the meantime? The best I can think of is re-enacting the strange 20s. Let the extremists and fanatics on the left and right have their fun, and let’s go dreamy, avant- guarde spectators and creators of the future while subsisting on semi-fictional notions about mysterious laws that govern the immortality of the ether of consciousness.