A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Unity in the Arab world

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 12, 2007

My friend Andrew (the Middle East is a breeding ground for expatriates named Andrews and Andy; they soring up everywhere, in journalism, the foreign service, humanitarian work, and academia. This Andrew is one of five whom I know.) has published a piece on Sunni Beiruti fears in the Toronto Star: Recipe for more bloodshed in the streets of Beirut.

Its an interesting piece. Andrew notes that the few Shiite residents of Tariq Jadideh have since moved to Shiite-majority areas, which reminds me of a comment that H made recently about a barber in my neighborhood. I had noticed that the barbershop had suddenly disappeared, but not known why until H (who frequented it, apparently) said: he moved because he is Shi3a and the neighborhood is too Sunni.

Towards the end, Andrew notes that: The clerics at Imam Ali Ben Abi Taleb have issued their fatwa and hung a blue banner in front of the mosque that reads: “Hold on to Islamic and National Unity.”

Over drinks a few weeks ago we talked about this notion of unity and why it has such strong resonance in the Arab world.

For example, almost every day I walk under a banner that reads: “The strength [quwwa] of Muslims lies in their unity”.

Here in Lebanon the opposition is calling for a unity government; the opposition in Bahrain is doing the same; and we all know about the new unity government in Palestine.

A and I wondered, at first idly but then more seriously, about the extent to which the high value in which unity is held plays into what Western analysts often see as laughably high election victories. (Not that the US’s incredibly low <50% victory margins do not merit snickers of their own, of course.)

What if we as academics and political analysts were to look at 98.75% presidential victories not as risible insults to our intelligence but as the overwhelming show of support needed for a “mandate” to rule? If unity is the ideal rubric under which one governs, a 65% or even 75% victory is little better than an outright loss.

I haven’t reached any definitive conclusions about this little rumination of mine, but I do think that notions of unity and the positive attributes attached to it are things to which we should begin to pay closer and more serious attention.

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