I have just returned from a long trip in three Arab countries which opened my eyes to many facts regarding the socio-economic-political structures of these countries, and probably many other third world countries. In Syria, Jordan and Egypt you will find that the majority of governmental employees receive salaries which are significantly lower than subsistence levels even in the standards of those countries. While Jordanian employees are the most ‘well-off’ as the starting teachers receive a salary of around USD200, in Syria the starting salary is less than USD 100 while Egyptian teachers have to find a way to live on less than USD24 a month!
On the other hand you will find that in the same country there are shops, restaurants, hotels and other leisure places charge as much as you can expect in any Western country. This situation got me thinking about the various political structures that have survived and flourished while their constituents have their ‘blood sucked’ as the Arab saying goes.
Around the world, political and economic elites live luxuriously while poverty spreads just a couple of kilometres from their door steps. However, in many countries of the developed world there are structures that exist to protect the poor from falling totally out and enable them to meet their most basic needs. While these structures and systems are not sufficient for the poor and they, in most cases, sustain the poverty of these groups, they still manage to save the country from falling into complete chaos as the wealthy get wealthier, and the gap between them and the poor increases.
To ensure such a chaos does not happen, a totally different system and set of structures operate in many countries of the Arab World, these are named “Mukhabarat”- The Intelligence Services. The name itself is sufficient to throw fear into the heart of any Arab regardless of his or her nationality. Their methods and stories have turned into a strange mix of myths and facts similar to Orwell’s Room 101 in 1984. They are everywhere, you can see them in the pictures of Bashar Al-Assad around the streets of Damascus, you can find them in the “Jordan First” logos that fill the streets of Amman and you can definitely see them in each and every policeman (of which there are many) that fill the streets of Cairo.
The state has created a system of unmatched brutality both physically and mentally. The ruling elites maintain their political powers through an unholy alliance with the economic elites, they use their monopoly over coercion, which they have mastered so well, to ensure that no danger can spring out to challenge their authority.
Meanwhile, the state, with most of its resources is put to the service of these two groups: the political and economic elites. It delivers minimal services to the population delivering the most basic education and health services, and while university education is free in some of these countries, the high costs associated with it and the opportunity cost of not entering the labour market so soon are too high for the average person to even consider such an option.
The educational system is nothing but a toy that feeds two things. First is propaganda about the traits and achievements of his Majesty/Excellency the Almighty, and second are the basic skills that encourage obedience to the system and discourage any critical/analytical lines of thought. The system is largely centred around the state-set curriculum which focuses on the faculty of memorisation disregarding all other (useless) faculties of the human mind such as analysis, problem-solving, planning etc. You come out after 12 years knowing one thing: My king is God on Earth, my country is heaven on earth.
This creates a society that continues to uphold the system even as it continuously strips it of its most basic rights, and most of all its dignity. Individuals quickly learn how to become active participants in this machine which is based on deception and treachery. They start believing it is right to accept bribes even for the most basic services they should deliver to you as a citizen, stamping your passport at immigration or allowing you pick up a passenger at the airport or even accrediting your school certificate. This creates a new system which runs in parallel with the official one. It becomes largely acceptable for the traffic policeman to stop your car and ask for a bribe, because if you didn’t give it he will find a heftier fine to charge, and you come to accept it because it is his only way of making a living- for you as well would do the same thing, albeit in a different manner or situation.
However, all of you, as citizens, will find yourselves in the service of the two master groups. Every thing you do whether as a policeman or a waiter or parking attendant will be for their service. That is why in Egypt they say “Egypt is not for the Egyptians any more”, neither is Syria nor Jordan nor Iraq nor ...
As an outsider, I can only be saddened by the state which these countries have reached.