Biggest threat to the Middle East? Failed governments, says poll

66 percent said government failure is the biggest threat to the MENA region. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 October 2020

Biggest threat to the Middle East? Failed governments, says poll

  • Arab News/YouGov pan-Arab survey suggests ineffective government is the biggest challenges for the region
  • Experts say economic slowdown, compounded by COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, does not bode well for stability

DUBAI: When governments lose their effectiveness and legitimacy, the result can be catastrophic. In the past decade alone, the rulers of several Arab states have lost not only control of their territory, but also their ability to provide basic services and their authority to make collective decisions.
In extreme cases such as Syria, the result has been civil war, economic collapse and mass human displacement. With so many recent examples across the region, it is perhaps unsurprising that government failure is considered among Arabs to be the number one threat.
The Arab News/YouGov pan-Arab survey asked participants to rank what they see as the three biggest threats to the MENA region. Among its 3,097 respondents across 18 Arab countries, 66 percent said government failure is the biggest threat. This was followed by economic slowdown (43 percent) and radical Islamic terrorism (33 percent).

Baria Alamuddin, an award-winning journalist and political commentator, says there are different levels of government failure.
On the one hand there are countries in a state of civil war, such as Libya, Yemen and Syria, which have lost control. On the other are countries such as Lebanon and Iraq, which are arguably in a state of paralysis.
Iran (20%), fifth on the list of important threats facing the Arab world, poses a more serious threat to Iraq (48 percent), Yemen (42 percent) and Lebanon (42 percent), according to the Arab News-YouGov survey.
“They are facing a confluence of crises: COVID-19, economic collapse, a failed clientelist model of governance and Tehran-backed paramilitary forces that aspire to be stronger than the state,” Alamuddin told Arab News.
In the case of Lebanon, she fears factions such as Hezbollah are actively preventing the implementation of solutions that could solve the country’s existential crisis — effectively jamming the gears of governance.
“I worry that in both Lebanon and Iraq matters have the potential to get far worse before there is a prospect of them getting better,” she said. “We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg for migration, with some polls suggesting that well over half of young Lebanese are considering moving abroad.”
Between July and September, UNHCR reported 21 migrant boats leaving Lebanon for Cyprus — a significant increase on the total recorded for 2019. “Those who leave tend to be the brightest graduates — the people most likely to flourish somewhere else overseas. This is a tragedy for Lebanon,” Alamuddin said.

READ: The methodology behind the Arab News/YouGov Pan-Arab Survey

Indeed, falling oil revenues have dealt a massive blow to trade and job creation all over the region. Further economic slowdowns, made worse by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, do not bode well for stability and could have a “generational impact” on Arab youth.
“We have a lot of frustrated young people, especially those with degrees, who feel entitled,” said Mark Katz, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
For Katz, the YouGov survey shows the Arab public has a clear sense of what is harming the region. While many in the West continue to attribute government failure to factors like Islamic extremism, it appears that uprisings against “stale governance” is a far more common cause.

If low oil prices become the norm, Katz said, Arab governments may be forced to raise taxation. As a result, they may be compelled to consult more effectively with their publics.
“If these regimes have to turn more and more to their citizens for support, they will have to make some concessions … so perhaps that’s the one ray of hope — prolonged low oil price environments may well lead to these regimes having to change,” he said.
Twitter: @jumana_khamis

Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

Updated 25 November 2020

Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

  • The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz

CAIRO: The second Egyptian Aragouz Festival has opened on Nov. 24, at the ancient Bayt Al-Sinnari, in Cairo. The aragouz is a traditional puppet figure dressed in red invented by Egyptians to ridicule situations comically.

Khaled Bahgat, a professor of theater at Helwan University and the founder of the festival and the Wamda Troupe for Aragouz and Shadow Puppets, said the festival is part of the initiative to preserve the Egyptian aragouz, after it was recognized by UNESCO in 2018 as one of the most important Egyptian artistic elements. He said that he wants the Egyptian art of aragouz to reach the world because it is an ancient Egyptian art.

The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz.

The festival opened with a tribute to the great Egyptian creator Abu Al-Saud Al-Abyari in a reading of his story “Aragouz, Author and Idea,” which he published in 1953. Al-Aragouz was an important source of creativity for Al-Abyari.

The reading was followed by entries exploring how the art of aragouz shaped Egyptian comedy in the twentieth century.

The day closed with puppet performances of “The social media aragouz,” which reflected the impact of social media, directed by Ali Abu Zeid, and “The aragouz in the city,” directed by Nabil Bahgat.

On the second day, Reem Heggab will honor her father the late Egyptian poet Said Heggab, reciting one of his poems on the aragouz. This will be followed by two aragouz shows, “The Take Away,” directed by Mahmoud Sayed Hanafi, and “Aragouz, the Land of Myths.”

On Thursday, the theater department of the University of Alexandria will celebrate the aragouz with a lecture by Hany Abou El-Hassan, the head of the department, a workshop and a performance titled “Lorca and the aragouz,” directed by Nabil Bahgat and presented by the Wamda Troupe.

The performance honors the creativity of the Spanish poet and innovator Federico García Lorca, and will be held in the presence of the Spanish cultural attache.

The fourth day of the festival will honor the poet Fouad Haddad, whose son Amin Haddad will recite several poems from his father’s book of poetry entitiled Al-Aragouz. The poetry reading will be followed by a discussion.

Then there will be performances of “Aragouz Al Sima,” directed by Mustafa Al-Sabbagh, and “Al-Aragouz in Danger,” which deals with the greatest challenges facing the art of aragouz.

On the last day, the Faculty of Arts at Helwan University and the Department of Theater Sciences’ troupe will hold an open seminar with the department’s students to discuss ways to preserve the Egyptian aragouz.