The Arab world today, seen in terms of its vast resources, appears assured of rapid development and a prosperous future. By 1985, the assets of the major oil- producing countries in the Arab world, estimated now to be nearly $300 billion, will reach the $650 billion mark. Over the same period the revenue from oil is estimated to reach $1,00 billion. This means that in the next five years the Arabs will have at their disposal nearly $2,000 billion to use for developing their society. This phenomenon has no parallel in history: no society has so easily acquired the means to transform itself without paying the price of long and painful primitive capital accumulation.
Yet what is happening in the Arab world today does not quite reflect this happy reality. In the last decade, between 1973 and 1980, 90 percent of revenue from oil was spent on nonproductive goods and services and only 10 percent was productively invested. Indeed, viewed from the standpoint of the ordinary citizens, daily reality in the Arab world appears incoherent and mystifying. It is characterized by misery in wealth, by underdevelopment in development, by weakness in strength.
Of the nearly 160 million people of the Arab world, perhaps 2 percent live in luxury and splendor; some 10 percent, the small middle class, enjoy relative ease and comfort; and the majority, close to 90 percent, struggle for mere survival. No wonder, if to the ordinary citizens, so close to yet so far from the fabulous wealth, reality appears incomprehensible, surrealistic.
It has been pointed out that despite differences, the situation in some Arab countries today resembles that which prevailed in Iran during the last years of the Shah's reign. Yet both conservative and progressive regimes are responding to this situation in ways that show that the Iranian lesson has not been properly learned by the ruling elites. Instead of introducing meaningful reform , they apply more security measures, failing to realize, as did the Shah when it was too late, that when self-preservation becomes the overriding concern of government, repression solidifies into irreversible policy: coercion leads to more coercion, and contradictions, instead of being overcome, sharpen and become more and more difficult to resolve.
The malaise I am talking about is by no means characteristic only of Arab countries; it afflicts most of the countries of the third world. It is largely the product of the influence -- social, economic, and political -- of the industrialized countries, of consumerism, of the greed for profit, of the corrupting impact of multinational corporations. The revolution of rising expectations has now become the revolution of mounting frustrations; it has led to this era of unstoppable instability.
A hundred years of progress in the Arab world aimed at securing modernization , secularism, unity, and democracy seem to be giving way to fragmentation along sectarian and ethnic lines, to ideological and religious obscurantism and to anachronistic social and political organization.
But as happened in many such instances in the past, temporary regression tends to strengthen the radicalization of society and thus, paradoxically, to hasten social transformation, but in violent instead of peaceful ways.
The United States is seen by more and more people in the Arab world as cynical, manipulative, and coercive. They see it as treating the area and its people only in terms of its own interests and in terms of its anti-Soviet crusade with hardly any regard to the aspirations and interests of people involved. The United States today may have many friends among the ruling elites of the Arab world, but it has less and less friends among the Arab people.
Some Arabs wonder whether it is an accident that the stereotyping of Arabs in the American media grows daily more aggressive and that the public attitude toward everything Arab becomes more and more hostile. how is one to explain US alliance, presumambly to protect American interests in the world itself, with the occupier of Arab lands? How is one to account for the lionization of precisely the one Arab leader whom Arabs almost universally regard as a Quisling?
Many Arabs find it proper to ask whether it is really in the interest of the US to oppose democratization in the Arab world on the grounds that the status quo in the region must be preserved at all costs, whether it is really in the American interest to brand indiscriminately all demands for social change as subversive or pro-Soviet?
Experience has shown that military concepts never solved political problems, and that repression and coercion, whether applied from within or from without, can bring only temporary stability and will in the end lead to collapse and unpredictable consequences.