Seasoned Tunisian journalist Malek Triki offers a reading of the year 2013. He tackles head-on the notion of the “Arab exception” (the supposed impossibility of Arab democracy).
Nothing about 2013 is readily decipherable, except that it was a gross rumination and regurgitation of 2012’s morbid futility and chaotic randomness. The year 2013 did not leave for the Arabs, especially in the countries of popular revolts, any margin for lack of understanding. It has explained and elaborated on, and in some cases did provide a full exegesis of, what was announced or implied by 2012.
The year 2012 was the year of a sobering awakening—t hat of a return to one’s senses and of a restoration of the time-honored [Arab authoritarian] traditions: Disillusionment, disenchantment even, after the universal delirium of 2011, which kindled the hope in the possibility of [Arab] emancipation from serfdom, and of a catch-up with the rest of humanity. We’re not envisioning catching up—as the saying goes—with the “civilized world” [rakb al-hadarah] with its values of democracy, liberty, or liberalism—but just the hope of reasserting one’s humanity. It was clear that our absurdities put us in the “valley [of the shadows of death]” while the rest of the world was in a different galaxy. The swift unannounced, and as yet not fully grasped, “Big Bang” which affected, and practically, effected the [new] Arab world in 2011 finally debunked the [racist] notion of the “Arab exception”. In the end, the Arab people have proven that they were normal— just like other peoples of the world. Like the rest of humanity, Arabs despise tyranny and fail to see the point of injustice and oppression. We saw how Arabs, like the rest of humanity, valued dignity and abhorred fear and the culture of hypocrisy it spreads.
After all, Arabs have always seen that “mothers” in the rest of the world “beget their children free” [as the Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab famously said] and other nations see to it that they are kept free, even though these free people are deprived of that unsurpassable [Arab] blessing: the “Sine qua non Commander” and the Unique Leader of the “super duper, flying jet, heavy artillery” type— as in the apt expression of the late poet Tahar Hammami, author of “The Sun Rose Like a Loaf of Bread” collection, and one of the pillars of the Tunisian literary movement “Neither stanzas, nor free” [1968-1972], which recorded, in poems, much of the anger at the status quo in Tunisia in the sixties and seventies, but could still find space on the pages of al-Fikr, the official literary journal founded by the cultured statesman, the late Mohamed Mzali and his colleague and friend Professor Bechir Ben Slama.
For as 2011 was the year the notion of the “Arab exception” was debunked at the level of the masses, the year 2012 marked the resurgence and restoration of Arab authoritarianism at the level of elites. This came to pass in 2013, ‘confirming the legacy of previous generations of believers’ in the necessity of absolute ruin. [The mediocre authoritarian elites got their message across:] O reasonable, pragmatic citizens, the only choice you have is between the Afghan garb and the military boot. It is one or the other: the “State of Absolute Religious Truth” or the “Deep State”; the new tyranny or the usual one; the frightening mediocrity of Islamism or the standard mediocrity of the ‘System’.
Steeped in irony and experts in the micro-management of the quotidian and the prosaic, the masses had a measured reaction: Given that since the beginning of the world and its mother [reference to Egypt: ‘The Mother of the World’], “the king is dead, long live the king!” is a reflection of the true nature of politics in accordance with the maxim “Le mort saisit le vif”, and given that the arguments for the military coup seem to far better outweigh the justifications of the electoral process, then we might as well accept that both mediocrities are interchangeable, and that there is no sense in favoring either.
This is the crux of the passing year. It was the year of the final rupture with the hopes of 2011. The year of the “Permanent Coup” –that phrase coined by the late French president Mitterrand –against the possibility for the Arabs to catch up with the rest of humanity. [The oracle has foretold this matter:] This is the beginning of an era of public ruin at the hands of incompetent, lousy officialdom—an era marked by a mediocrity of epic proportions. The mediocrity of puerile elites who achieved thus far nothing but a few drills in absolute Political Nothingness.