Thursday, February 24, 2011

Two bookends: Humiliation and legitimacy

“Humiliation” is the consequence of combined material and intangible pressures on ordinary people that include petty corruption, police brutality, abuse of power, favoritism, unemployment, poor wages, unequal opportunities, inefficient or non-existent public services, lack of freedoms of expression and association, state control of media, culture and education, and many others. Ordinary men and women grow up in non-democratic societies feeling increasingly frustrated that they cannot achieve their own human potential, while simultaneously they witness a small group of men and women in the ruling elite grow fabulously rich simply because of their connections, rather than their abilities.
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“Legitimacy” in the public realm is the antidote to the humiliation that the state and society, and foreign powers, have inflicted on ordinary Arab men and women who have been largely denied the substance of their humanity and their citizenship. The changes that young and adult Arabs now demand in their societies are anchored in a powerful need for legitimate governance structures that can replace the fraudulent and corrupted ones that have reigned for many decades. Legitimacy is a simple but overpowering concept that requires public governance institutions and decisions to reflect the will of the majority, while also protecting the rights of minorities. The two most critical elements of legitimate governance systems in the Arab-Islamic lands are accountability and a sense of justice or equity. These can find expression in many textures and shades, including most importantly, in Arab lands, the historical concepts of Arabism, tribalism and Islamism, among others that are more modern. Constitutions, parliaments, electoral laws and many other such concepts can be devised in many forms, but they must be legitimate in the eyes of their people above all else, if our societies are finally to leave the dark tunnel of the modern Arab security state and its stultifying, corrupting, mediocratizing legacy.
By Rami Khouri as posted at the Dubai School of Government,

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