By: Maher Al Junaidy المقالة بالعربية
It’s as if destiny colluded with history at Sidi Bouzid to deliver the final blow to Francis Fukuyama’s End of History theory. The Japanese American author, political scientist and political economist published his work in the wake of the collapse of the socialist bloc in the early 1990s. In it he brutally and naively condensed the words of Marx and Hegel by saying that “the evolution of human societies was not open-ended, but would end when mankind had achieved a form of society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings.”
Fukuyama dedicated his book to explaining his thoughts on the end of history, he summarised, “And yet what I suggested had come to an end was not the occurrence of events, even large and grave events, but History: that is, history understood as a single, coherent, evolutionary process, when taking into account the experience of all peoples in all times”
Over the past two decades the idea of the end of history has become the hidden factor behind the behaviour of regimes in general and not just those of the Arab world – which having found the idea reassuring, sought to reserve their seats on the train of history as it moved toward its eternal, immortal end. These governments resorted to the systematic use of international consultancy firms, the likes of McKinsey & Company and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, not only for public strategy development, but often to develop comprehensive strategy plans for the country as whole – its economic, social and security sectors, and sometimes even its defence sectors.
Many countries have resorted to this methodology, leaning on this factor to drive public policy development, from the farthest east corner of the globe, through Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, the Arab Gulf states and other Arab countries, to European countries and provinces, and all the way to the American States on the western corner of the globe.
If truth be told, these consultancy firms dealt with the dilemmas before them with the utmost professionalism, approaching each as a frozen issue or a question in a university examination paper. In the end they produced an integrated (as much as possible) set of academic technocratic solutions, economic viability studies, tables, charts and a SWOT analysis.
Some countries realised the shortcomings of these studies, as a result they initiated the creation of Think Tanks aimed at supporting the studies and closely monitoring social and economic realities on the ground. These Think Tanks would then present their own findings and recommendations on the strategy plans. However, despite all these efforts, and despite the indicators, the data and the surveys conducted by research institutions, the high level of academic and technocratic standards provided by the consultancy firms have meant that they remained in their ivory towers, separated from the forces of civil society by a cool, thick plane of glass. This strongly applies to Arab countries that have paid small fortunes to consultancy firms to obtain these studies and plans. And some of Arab countries, due to their buying power, were able to obtain plans that specifically pertained to their situations and realities, while others merely obtained cut and paste strategy plans, disfigured and idiotic versions of collected experiences that may or may not be relevant. Both the socio-economic Syrian experience, controlled as it is by a political-financial-security alliance formed during the past decade, and the Tunisian experience are clear examples of this form of cloning.
The slap that pushed Bouazizi to set himself on fire turned out to be a slap on the face of all these plans. Bouazizi’s act sparked the creation of the slogan The People Want. And the people who want do not know much about PriceWaterhouseCoopers or any other consultancy firm. Most likely they would not have heard of them in the first place. Many leaders of these people who want have experience in social networking, building institutions, business models and company plans, and their main motivator was freedom and dignity, and effect they have on the economical, political, social, security and defence national plans.
The People Want slogan broke every border, reaching deep within the Arab region, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Gulf. It even crossed the boundaries of political taboos and security zones to reach the very heart of Tel Aviv. Perhaps it was even uttered in Persian during the 2009 peaceful uprising of the Iranian people which was met with fierce and bloody security policies. But what was truly amazing was that the slogan crossed the oceans. It is not without significance that these three words The People Want crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into the centre of Madrid, going on to traverse the dark depths of Oceanus to Wall Street in New York, the holy of holies of the capitalist system.
Of course, the paling of Fukuyama’s End of History theory goes beyond his assertion that “there would be no further progress in the development of underlying principles and institutions”. Many other aspects are involved. On the other hand, it may seem politically humorous or perhaps a little naïve to say that Gaddafi’s prophecy that the era of the peoples has arrived has, in fact, come true, only for him to become the first leader killed at the hands of the peoples.
The revolutions have sparked the resumption of history, from the aspect of underlying principles and institutions specifically. Although the idea of resorting to consultancy firms has not been buried because revolutions are not required to do so in their march toward developing strategic plans for their countries. However, consultancy firms should be put back firmly in their place, as secondary fiddle players and no more. They should no longer have the decisive role in developing state strategy plans. The people want, societal forces want, civil society wants. It is necessary to respond, if not bow down, to the tried and tested, highly experienced force; the peoples themselves and the infinite march of history.
Maher Al Junaidy
Published by Al Hayat, London, 24 November 2011.