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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Vision of Hope
Archive >> February 2011
file under: vision of hoperevolutionDemonstrationsa new model for the Middle East 13 Feb 2011 4:49 PM
The Head of State vs. The Man on the Street Posted by Nissim Dahan
Mohammed Bouazizi was an educated young man, from Sidi Abu Zeid, a small town in Tunisia, who entered the job market that had no jobs. To support his mother and sister, he undertook, without a license, to sell vegetables on the street. When the authorities confiscated his vegetable cart, insulted him, and refused to hear his grievances, he proceeded to set himself on fire, and in due course, to set the entire Middle East ablaze.


What does Mohammed's act of self-immolation mean? It means that a young man, such as Mohammed, needs to find a way to earn a living, and needs as well the freedom that makes his life worth living. It means that the model that has been put in place in the Middle East, with its corruption, and its oppression, and its denial of human rights and basic freedoms, is out of step with the aspirations of the people. It means that in the hyper-connectivity of today's world, one man's rage is another man's call to arms. And it also means as well that there is an opportunity now to build a new Middle East from the ashes of the old.


But how do we go about building a new Middle East? We begin by looking at two key players in particular: the head of state, and the man on the street. To a great extent, the future of the Middle East depends on the interplay between these two. What does the man on the street want? As was the case with Mohammed Bouazizi, the man on the street wants a job, and the freedom to live his life. And what does the head of state want? He wants, above all, security from within, and without. He wants to know that his rule will not be undermined by dissent from within, or by aggression from without. The head of state, therefore, has no choice but to do what he can to grow the economy, as a way of creating the jobs which will placate the citizenry, and as a way of obtaining the resources to fend off aggression from other countries and other groups.


If we look at what motivates the head of state, on the one hand, and the man on the street, on the other, we can see hints of the grand bargain that could be struck, and the prospects that are now out there for a new Middle East. The man on the street wants freedom and jobs. The head of state wants internal and external security, and a growing economy that fulfills the needs and aspirations of the people. Both of these players, therefore, should be able to agree that economic growth and job creation are at the heart of what needs to be done. And both may also agree to close the deal as follows: We will work together to grow the economy and to bestow freedom to the people, in exchange for the people agreeing to respect the rule of law, and to maintain an orderly transition to freedom and democracy.


In the past, other mechanisms were put in place to maintain some semblance of stability on the street. Those measures will no longer work. The old model is out. Something new must take its place. The new model will be about freedom and jobs. Those are the causes for which Mohammed Bouazizi died. They are also the causes on which a grand bargain can be struck in the Middle East between the head of state and the man on the street. In the midst of the American Revolution, Patrick Henry famously said, "Give me liberty, or give me death." In this new revolution, the one we see unfolding before our eyes, the new formulation might go something like this, "Give me freedom, and give me a job, and I will agree to your rule, for as long as you stay true to the dream we can both share."

file under: vision of hopeMiddle East PeaceDemonstrations 7 Feb 2011 2:56 PM
Work for Change, But Change that Works Posted by Nissim Dahan
Clearly, the model that has been put in place in the Middle East is on its way out. But what comes next?


People on the streets of Egypt, and throughout the Middle East for that matter, are rejecting the status quo even as we speak. What we have come to expect in the region are regimes which usually have a strongman at their center. The opposition is kept in check using a whole host of constraints on personal freedoms and human rights. The powers that be enrich themselves, in a corrupt way, at the expense of the people, who are desperate to make a living. The foreign aid that comes in is diverted away from the people at every turn. The military is courted by the government, as the guarantor of security, in the face of the rage that swells up in the hearts of the people. When necessary, and it is always necessary, diversionary tactics are used to divert attention away from the corruption and incompetence of government. And yet again; a new generation of young graduates enter a job market where there are no jobs.


There is no question that a model of this sort is out of step with the needs and aspirations of the people. They yearn for freedom and they need jobs. So too is this model out of step with the need to compete in a global economy. And the opportunities that exist for people to connect on line make it even more difficult for such a model to persist. A change is called for. But will it be a change for the better? Or will it be change for the sake of change, which ushers in an even greater measure of oppression, and an even bleaker vision for the future?


Let there be no doubt that the extremists, wherever they may be, and whatever religion they happen to subscribe to, are ready, willing and able to assume the reigns of power. In the past, this is precisely what happened. The Ayatollahs hijacked Iran's revolution and sidelined the aspirations of the people in the process. Hezbollah is doing as it wishes with Lebanon, leaving the will of the people in the dust. Hamas has gobbled up Gaza and is undermining the possibility of a free, independent and prosperous Palestine. And the Muslim Brotherhood, which gave inspiration to al Qaeda, and to Hamas, is poised to seize the moment, to take control, and to remake Egypt in its own image.


If the people on the street ultimately end up choosing extremism, there may be no real way to stop that from happening. However, we owe it to the people on the street, to ourselves, and to the future of the Middle East, to at least put an

alternative on the table. We need to put a different model in place; one that inspires in people a sense of hope, one that competes effectively for hearts and minds, and one that is more likely to achieve some measure of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom for the Middle East. The old model is on its way out. The extremist model should be kicked out even before it takes hold. And a new model, a Vision of Hope, should be given the chance to take root in the minds of the people who remain open to the possibility of a brighter day.


What will the new model look like? It will have at its core an ideological framework based on common sense, an Ideology of Common Sense. It will have a consortium of top business leaders revitalizing the Middle East with good paying jobs; jobs which grow our economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which weaken the hold of extremist thinking. It will use ideology and investment to sell people on a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom. It will sustain the hope with public and private diplomacy. And finally, it will embolden us to fight against extremism, but it will also give the fight on the ground a good measure of credibility by positioning the fight within a Vision of Hope. We are not fighting a war against terror. We are fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There's a big difference.


The model I'm talking about will take several generations to construct. A good thing is hard to build after all. But in the meantime, we should put the vision out there, so that when elections come around, the people on the street will at least have a choice. And if I were them, here is how I would vote: No to the outdated model of the past. No to the dead end model of the extremists. Yes to a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom.