Not so sure many people around the world, especially in the US know any thing about Assila and its annual summer political, economic and intellectual festival. Too bad, for Assilla should be on every ones mind and the international medial should set aside few minutes a day to cover the events going on. Assila is a great idea, a fantastic idea. Both Aljazeera and Alarabya give full coverage and summary to the events as part of its evening coverage.
Thanks to the persistent and perseverance of one man, Mohamed Ben Essa, the Moroccan former foreign minister. His personal efforts and of course his contacts around the world, made Assila a household name in the Arab, European and African world. Indeed it is the Hyde Park of the Arab World.
Every year Assila Summer Festival have a theme with leading politicians, thinkers and intellectuals attending and participating in the many panels taking place for almost one month. Assila is a small beautiful town on the Moroccan Atlantic coast some 40 km south of the beautiful city of Tangier. Assila was part of the Spanish mandate in Northern Morocco and continue to have strong Spanish and Moorish influence similar to the Northern Moroccan cities of Tangier, El-Arrayesh and Tetouan.
Last night a group of international panelist discussed and raised the often neglected and ever rarely mentioned the trio of elites, authority and the crisis of democracy especially as these applied to the Arab world.
Among the panelist last night, was Dr. Ghassan Salameh, the Lebanese intellectual, professor and former culture minister of Lebanon. Others were the Moroccan thinker Mohamed Sabeela, publisher of the Kuwaiti Al-Arabi Magazine Mr. Suleiman Askari, the Bahraini activist and intellectual Sheikha May Bent Mohamed Ben Ibrahim Al-Khalifa chairman of the board of trustees of Sheik Ibrahim for Culture and Research in Bahrain, in addition to Dr. Fatima Al-Sayegh professor of politics and sociology at the Emirate University in El-Ain.
Of course and as expected there was a clear division of onions of varying degree of the panelist over the role of the intellectual elites, authority and democracy ad the role each played in the Arab world. Perhaps Dr. Salameh summarized the problem as a “utopia” impossible to have all three working together.
It does not take a “brain surgeon” to seek the failures of the three in the Arab world; democracy, intellectual elites and authority. The results are seen on the ground, from corruption, stifling bureaucracy, mismanagement of resources, high and unacceptable percentage of illiteracy, high percentage of unemployment, shrinking middle class and of course lacks of freedoms and terrorism.
The intellectual elites with much sadness and unlike intellectual elites around the word failed at all levels to be the guardians of the nation and people’s interests and the conscious of the nation. For the most part they became either too arrogant, full of themselves that they lost any touch with the “real street” or they colluded with the authority and became the mouth piece of the authority justifying the failures of the authority at all levels.
Many of the Arab leading intellectuals joined “nationalist” parties such as the “Ba’ath Party” especially those of Iraq and Syria which became under both the late Saddam Hussein and Hafez Assad nothing more than criminal enterprises, mafia responsible for the physical liquidations of hundreds of thousands of citizens and members and running a bloody dictatorship. Others became the mouth piece of “Nasserim” justifying the total failure of Nasser, as a leader both at home and abroad. A leader who failed in building a modern nation state with democracy, freedoms and developments as its pillars. Instead Egypt got nothing but a dictatorship full of incompetence, failures at all levels militarily, politically and economically not to mention running a criminal and cruel police state. I think Nasser failure doomed democracy and freedoms in the Arab world for ever.
Arab intellectual elites for the most part failed to put forward a political ideology needed to form responsible and accountable and transparent political parties and leadership and failed to hold the authority responsible for the many failures. All over the Arab world, there is not one single political party that inspires the general public and inspires building modern nation states. There is simply no “political parties” as we know in the West, in the US and Europe with specific political, social and economic platform. All we see is small time self serving political elites that perfected the arts of lies and failures.
Of course the “authority” is another thing. For the most part, the “authority” in the Arab world is military leaders who failed in winning one single battle and failed at winning one single war and the only war and battle they won is against the people. How can a group of officers who failed in their own profession can help and can lead in building modern nation states with thriving economies, social development and freedom. Simply put the troika of democracy, authority and intellectual elites proved to be nothing but big failure in the Arab world. Perhaps Assaila should take the issue again next year and find a solution to what ails the Arab world. We need practical solutions, missions and visions not useless intellectual dialogue after which where every one go home and have a cold drink. Yes there is a crisis and failures of democracy, intellectual elites and authority.