Thursday, September 18, 2008

Syria and Globalisation

I asked politely if there was a queue and the young woman said there was indeed. She looked English and was sitting quietly with her papers and passport in a folder. I sat next to her and pretended to be going through my documents. I noticed her looking over my shoulder, trying to find out who I was so I thought the only right thing for me to do was to also peer unobtrusively at her papers. Monitor Company Europe, a British passport and money for a visa along with some other papers. I'd never heard of such a company and the logo was simple and elegant. Apparently she had only just heard that she was due to fly and needed the visa urgently. The lady at the counter told her she could pick it up in two days, in time for her flight to Damascus.

Monitor is a management consulting firm which was setup in 1983 by some Harvard business professors. It operates in a range of countries and employs over a thousand people but surprisingly, Syria was not in its list of clients. Perhaps because the deals haven't been finalised. A quick flick through their website showed that they pride themselves on the articles written by some of their authors. I did a search for "Syria" and found a list of pieces by these authors along with some presentations. I clicked on one, by someone called Peter Schwartz, and found the following, "The Future of the Middle East", a paper to the World Affairs Council Annual Conference in 2005. I'd never heard of them but here are some interesting parts of it which I quote:

Now if you listen to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, the role of the outsiders in the region is basically to tilt the playing field, to tilt the board. That's all we can really do: tilt the board one way or the other. We can tilt it in the right direction or fail to do so. In these scenarios that I'm about to present, you can see the different ways that the superpowers, the great nations outside the region, tilt and influence the direction of the board.

So why is this subject interesting now? I think it's because of this remarkably fluid moment- perhaps the most interesting moment in the Middle East in many, many, many years. The board has been tilted and the pieces are in motion. And the U.S. role in this is enormous. The U.S. intervention has tilted the playing field - tilted it away from dictatorships. I want to read a brief, beautiful quote from my friend Fouad Ajami, also from the latest issue of Foreign Affairs:

Suddently, it seems like the autumn of the dictators. Something different has been injected in this fight: the United States. A great foreign power that once upheld the Arab autocrats, fearing what mass politics would bring, now braves the storm. It signaled its willingness to gamble on the young, the new, and the unknown. Autocracy was once deemed tolerable. But terrorists nurtured in the shadows of such rule attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. Now th Arabs, grasping for a new world, and the Americans, who have helped usher in the unprecedented moment, together ride this storm wave of freedom.

I think it is a remarkable moment in that respect; whether it's the death of Arafat or the Iraqi elections or the Lebanese assassination, it is an historic opportunity to get the tilt right.

I have one question which keeps coming up when I read this part, get the tilt right for whom? Why is this person so concerned about this? He gives three scenarios for the region and offers these as valid choices which could make or break his paradise vision of the regions future. In one part he talks about the potential of the Arab world to join the "great wave of globalisation", provided that is, that the Arab world "educates" their people. Thank you Mr Schwartz.

I looked up who the World Affairs council are, and it is nothing but an annual gathering of the worlds "elite" with the US political establishment. My impression of it is that it is a networking forum for capitalists who like to dabble with politics so that they can feel sophisticated and intellectual. Going back to Monitor, I had a look at the Wikipedia web entry for the company, and found a list of the most prominent employees of this company. My suspicions grow by the minute. One of its employees is the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service Richard Dearlove, another is Rahul Ghandi, son of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi. There is also a French Ambassador to Afghanistan and a former deputy Minister of Defense , Mr Jean de Ponton d'Amécourt and a host of other 'captains of industry'. So a company like this is coming to Syria potentially looking for business or already in business.

One thing I noticed as I read more about this company was how it really does represent organisations and individuals who are at the very top of Western political, defense, capitalist and educational establishments. The line blurs between Ivy League academics, spy chiefs, politicians and ambitious graduates who are tested for 'emotional intelligence' and who can eventually carry the torch for the company onwards. Country borders are meaningless, the elites of various countries are all in on this and members of the same club, albeit with Western names firmly at the top. The thought of Syria trying to gain entry into this club for any reason at all is hardly surprising, but it still sickens me. I can now understand why early Muslims would flee if anybody tried to put them in positions of power, influence and government. The state, and all who deal with it, can never be trusted.


La Luz said...

Excellent article, Wassim. Thank you for putting it together.
It is sometimes disturbing, but at the same time always liberating to see right in front of our eyes what we may have sensed all along. I have been concerned, for months, about Syria's (so far) indirect negotiations with Israel.
What you give us in this article is a small window into a far more developed political reality, one which we are only given fragments of in our lives. What this window in particular shows me is that it doesn't matter what we are given as preludes of information on whether or how or when the Syrian government ends up making peace with Israel or not. The fact is that the regime seems willing to welcome on its territory and do business with an entity whose philosophy is the same philosophy that is causing death and mutilation to Iraq, and justifying it in Palestine. And no, it is not surprising in the least that these economic overtures should precede the political statements.
Unless, of course, the woman you saw at the embassy ends up getting denied a visa. Those who ascribe to occupying the Arab world in today's world are fast losing - in Iraq there are many who say they have long lost. A Syrian I know well tells me the current regime's only driving force is to stay in power. If that is the case, then refusal would probably be the wisest thing Syria's embassy in London could do.

Sharks said...

OMG how alarming n’ disturbing that is!! With the ongoing negotiations with Israel I don’t have a clue on how the future w’d look like funny thin’ I almost had a panic attack from an Israeli comment on my blog!!!

“Whether it's the death of Arafat or the Iraqi elections or the Lebanese assassination, it is an historic opportunity to get the tilt right.”
Now I can see that each n’ every “opportunity” is a damned story but what I can’t see here is except for chaos what’s the connection?!! This calls for “Al Rabit al 3ajeeb” riddle :)

Great post!!