Arab Countries: At A Glance

Dr. Jawad M. Hashim gives background of the Arab region and describes the characteristics of the Arab countries that still apply now at present time. An extract of Hashim’s article ‘The Shape Of The Post Gulf War, Middle-East’ which became part of U.S. Congressional Record.

Arab Countries: At a Glance



Preamble (July 2010)

Nearly two decades ago, immediately after the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, United States Congress member (later Presidential candidate) Paul Simon sought my opinion on how I see the Middle East post Gulf War.

I provided Mr. Simon my written opinion on The Shape Of The Post Gulf War, Middle-East. It became part of U.S. Congressional Record.(1)  Part of that written opinion dealt with the background of the Arab region.

What follows is an extract of that paper. Here I call it The Arab Countries: At a Glance. Surprisingly, what was described two decades ago as characteristics of the Arab countries then still apply now at present time!


The Arab Countries: At a Glance

  1. The Arab region has been and still is a troublesome part of the world.
  2. The early 1940’s witnessed most Arab countries achieving independence. Since then, they have been ruled by a variety of Government structures. Democracy, however, is non-existent and no Arab king or president is accountable to his people. As of April 9th, 2003, when Iraq was liberated with the help of the United States, Iraq became an exception. The country now is fully democratic, and the people of Iraq are enjoying the fruits of freedom and liberation.

It is interesting to note that between the early 1940’s and 1990’s the Arab region has witnessed a number of coups and attempted coups. As far as I can recall, they were as follows:

Syria: 15 attempted coups 8 successful
Iraq: 17 attempted coups 6 successful
North Yemen: 9 attempted coups 4 successful
South Yemen: 4 attempted coups all successful
Libya: 7 attempted coups 1 successful
Morocco: 5 attempted coups none successful
Jordan: 4 attempted coups none successful
Egypt: 4 attempted coups 2 successful
Lebanon: 4 attempted coups none successful
Tunisia: 5 attempted coups 1 successful
Oman: 4 attempted coups 2 successful
U.A.E. : 1 unsuccessful attempted coup  
Qatar:   1 successful
Bahrain: 1 unsuccessful attempted coup  
  1. As a result of all these attempted coups, whether successful or not, the people of the region suffered politically, economically and socially.

There are also recognizable phenomena in almost all Arab countries, which may be summarized:

  • Revocation of each countries constitution and replacement with ‘Provisional Constitutions’ which are, in turn, abrogated every now and then to be replaced by yet further ‘provisional’ codes.
  • The creation of revolutionary courts, special courts and similar bodies, with no right of appeal in the majority of instances.
  • Centralization of government authority and the restriction of personal freedom.
  • Creation of one-party systems and the prohibition of multiple party organizations.
  • Continuous in-fighting in attempts to seize power and rule by the barrel of the gun leading to horrifying abuses of human rights.
  • The fall of five monarchies: Egypt (1952), Tunisia (1956), Iraq (1958), Yemen (1962), and Libya (1969)
  1. Despite those negative phenomena, Arab countries lived, until the late sixties, amid the euphoria of Arab nationalism and unity.

The rulers, by means of state controlled media and educational systems sold two dreams to their people: economic development and the liberation of Palestine.

The dreams were rekindled, nurtured, and promoted by President Nasser of Egypt and the Ba’ath Party. After the defeat of Arab armies in 1967 and the subsequent death of Nasser in 1970, the call for Arab unity began to fade and the pattern of Arab politics took a new dimension, especially after the huge increase in oil revenues.

The economics of oil in itself introduced new parameters to the region, which became more unstable as its social structure changed and we were (and still are) faced with two distinct strata of the Arab population: the rich and the poor — the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. Pan-Arab ideology has been further shattered by the conduct and brutality of Arab leaders who were the proponents of that ideology.

  1. Looking at a map we can observe that, from the political view point, the region is ruled by two systems of Government:  (1) eight monarchies or family sheikhdoms; and (2) thirteen republics.

Note that the monarchies and sheikhdoms are:

  1. all (except Morocco) clustered geographically in the South-Eastern part of the Arab region and have common borders with Saudi Arabia;
  2. all (with the exception of Morocco) ruled by family and tribal structures;
  3. all (except Morocco and Jordan) producers and exporters of oil, enjoying huge financial surpluses but with sparse populations;
  4. all autocratic governments depending either on religious or tribal allegiance or both, to justify their legitimacy.

The ‘republican’ Arab governments (with the exception of Iraq), on the other hand, are very unusual. Though they are ‘Republics’, none of them have any legitimacy, i.e., no government was properly elected by the people. They rule, and justify their rule either by:

  1. ideology; or
  2. dictatorship.

These ‘Republics’ govern through a variety of structures including:

  • Revolutionary Councils;
  • National Fronts;
  • One Party Systems;
  • Leading Party Systems.

The assemblies which those governments created, whether called Parliaments or National Assemblies or Peoples’ Assemblies, are no more than phony structures created to provide an aura of legitimacy to the ruling elite. As such they are an insult to the intelligence and dignity of their people — a denial of freedom.There are no significant differences between Arab ‘Monarchies’ and Arab ‘Republics’ in their practice of governing.      →→ Both systems share common ground:

  1. All systems are no more than dictatorships. Personal, family, and tribal loyalties play an important role in the process of decision-making;
  2. All systems live in continuous fear, thus surrounding themselves with various and innovative structures of protection such as: national guards, republican guards, popular militia, and the like. The fire power of these ‘guards’ is not less than that of each countries regular army;
  3. All systems have a strong and powerful internal security apparatus, armed with up-to-date technology, for torture and suppression;
  4. All systems follow a policy of spreading fear and threatening physical liquidation making it known that there is no other alternative;
  5. All systems create, every now and then, external crises to divert attention from domestic unrest;
  6. All systems, in one way or another, sell dreams to their people;
  7. None of the Arab rulers genuinely attempted to build up democratic institutions in order to develop and allow the evolution of a political system to make the countries they rule more stable, more accountable to their subjects.
  1. All of these factors have created citizens with dual personalities, afraid to express their opinions, unable to enhance their knowledge, and practically living in continuous fear.

    Fear attracts as many people as it repels and those afraid can do nothing.

  1. In 1990, the Economist magazine published a special report on the Arab world. The headline of that report was When History Passes By.    During the 1990’s, the world was witnessing major changes: The collapse of communist dictatorship in Eastern Europe; Western Europe was making massive stride towards economic and political union; but in the Arab world authoritarian rule (and the dream of liberating Palestine and defeating Israel) remained the order of the day.
  1. Two decades later — that is 2010:
  • History continues to pass the Arabs.

  • Freedom? — This is an illusion. As The Economist reports, “The Arabs are ruled now, as they were then, by a cartel of authoritarian regimes practiced in the arts of oppression.

  • Unity? — As remote and elusive as ever.

  • Democracy? — This is a fantasy! Sham-democracy is devised in order to contain political dissent. Yes, most Arab countries have what we may call “Parliaments” and “Constitutions.” But these so-called “constitutions” are never permanent. Once the term of office of an Arab ruler approaches its end, the “Parliament” rushes to amend the constitution, once, twice …and so on… in order to ensure that the ruler or his son or his “Party” cannot be unseated. In August 2009, the UNDP published its fifth in a series reports on the state of the Arab world. It makes a depressing reading when it concludes that “the score of modern Arab States … have been impressive mainly for their consistent record of failure.”

Look at the following examples:

  • Egypt: Mohamed Hosni Mubarak in his fifth term;

  • Libya: Muammar Qaddafi in office for the last forty years;

  • Tunisia: Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali amended the constitution to remain in office for another five-year term.

By 2010, Arab regimes have modified their impressive policies to adapt to pressure for political-change by developing strategies to contain and manage demands to democratize. These strategies are based on a hybrid form of authoritarianism which combine the past coercion, surveillance, patronage, corruption and personalism with innovation that reflect the determination of the elite rulers to respond aggressively to the triple threat of globalization, markets and democratization. This may be described as “upgrading authoritarianism.” (2)

Democracy in the Arab World…
The following chart is based on a study conducted by Freedom House in 2007. Freedom House measures freedom on a scale 1 to 7. Countries scoring 1.0 to 2.5 are Free; 3.0 to 5.0 are termed Partly Free; and 5.5 to 7.0 are deemed Not Free.


(1) See: Congressional Record – Senate Vol. 137, No. 30; proceedings & Debates of the 102d Congress, First Session; February 22, 1991; PP S 2272 – S 2275.

(2) See: Upgrading Authoritarianism in the Arab World; By Steven Heydemann; Analysis Paper #13, october 2007; The Saban Center for the Middle East Policy; at the Brookings Institute.