Chatting Lightly About Dark Matters

cover IMA

Reflecting on the Future of the Arab World.

When my friend and I meet, we go straight to the point because we barely ever meet. So we asked ourselves the other day: Can any good come out of this darkness?

Those who did not yet succumb to cynicism in the West cling on to the idea that some day, out of the current Arab nightmare will rise new types of leaders, more popular, more liberal, some kind of Islamic Martin Luther that would help Muslims leap into modernity. They are In fact not so sure about the job description, and despite their flexibility, they haven’t found anyone yet.

As for us, we apprehended the matter in a different manner and looked into the potential blind spots of the reformist quest, asking ourselves what the least expected game-changers could be on the longer run. In other words, we examined potential signs and indications that something is changing deep within the social fabrics of the region.

The elements we are about to mention now have no academic value; we are mainly sharing impressions and intuitions that would require thorough research to be confirmed or invalidated.

New signs of an Arab Stream of Consciousness

Over the past couple of years, Arab media from all affiliations have been publishing a stream of editorials and essays critically reflecting on the meaning of Modernity for the Arab-Islamic world: What are the status and the role of the region in the post-Cold War world? Does modernization equal westernization? Does democratization impose secularization? What are the possible alternatives? And what is most remarkable is that, along the way, they are tearing down intellectual boundaries inherited mainly from Arabism.

Asad Azi's Napoleon, from the exhibition

Asad Azi’s Napoleon, from the exhibition “The wandering rider”, someone who looks for a Kingdom

One common feature of this intellectual anxiety is the critical questioning of modern history: many authors turn to the past to try to better fathom their present with one main question in mind: How did we get there?

Far from the hagiographic historiographies each nation crafted for itself after the Independences, these new readings really look for answers: Why did the first Nahda[1] fail? Why couldn’t the Arab revolutions prevent Colonialism? Why didn’t the independence bring freedom and prosperity? Israel, the usual suspect for more than four decades, is barely mentioned in this context.

These debates are also spreading on social media. We have witnessed Facebook discussions whereby Arab citizens discover with dismay that a national hero can be a neighbor’s villain[2]. The first reaction is of course for each one to reassert his idols. However, these clashing narratives cannot but sow doubt and suspicion about the official history Arabs were taught.

The second remarkable element of this intellectual effervescence is that, instead of resorting to isolationism, a normal reflex in times of crisis, Arab thinkers actually look around for answers beyond the West. Japan’s Meiji era (end of the 19th century) has always inspired the Arab intelligentsia as a successful synthesis between tradition and modernity.  What’s new is a wider outlook including contemporary Latin America and Asian Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia as potential models.

Arabs also display a new ownership of western references and controversies that are rephrased in accordance with local realities.For instance, mass media editorials discuss and criticize Fukuyama’s End of History and Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are also some signs of a new critical understanding of Capitalism and the impacts of Globalization after the 2008 crisis – something which is different than the old Arab communist criticism of the market economy.

In one of the most striking display of this new intellectual autonomy, the great Syrian thinker, Yassin el Hajj Saleh, reflects in a crucial article on Adorno and the meaning of Poetry after Auschwitz applied to the Syrian case[3], undeterred by the traditional taboo surrounding the Jews and the Shoah in the Arab world.

Naturally, this new stream of Arab consciousness cannot but tackle the central issue of Islam. To read more in PDF format, click here.

[1] The Nahda (“Awakening”) refers to a moment of cultural effervescence that began in the late 19th century in Egypt and in the Levant. It is often regarded as a period of intellectual modernization and reform that was sparked by the shock caused by Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and in general by the new awareness of the Arab elites regarding the gap between Europe and the Ottoman Empire in terms of technical and scientific development. [2] You’d be surprised how popular Saddam Hussein still is across the region. [3] Looking into the eyes of Horror, a contribution to the Syrian debate over pictures, May 30th, 2015 (Arabic only)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lebanon Risks and Threats Analysis 2

Tanks in Tripoli will do little to solve  the political crisis

Tanks in Tripoli will do little to solve the political crisis

Following our previous report (February 204), we have drafted a new evaluation of the current situation in Lebanon. In the following special report, we examine the evolution of the terrorist threat, the tensions caused by the Syrian refugee influx and the elements of resilience within the country. We conclude with a number of political recommendations.

To download the PDF version, click here.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Panel Discussion on Lebanon – Strengths and Weaknesses of the Civil Society

civil societyIn the context of the visit of a French diplomatic delegation from the Strategic Planning Unit[1], NGC organized in Beirut an informal panel discussion on the current situation in Lebanon with representatives of the Media, Cultural and Entrepreneurial sectors.

The participants gathered on December 21st in Altcity, a social space designed to support Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Lebanon. The discussion revolved around identifying key strengths and weaknesses of the Lebanese society in the face of current political, security and economic challenges. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Syrian-Lebanese Diasporas in Latin America and the Syrian Conflict

VENEZUELA-SYRIA-CHAVEZ-ASSAD

Finally! Our Research on the Politicization of the Syrian-Lebanese Diasporas in Latin America is available in English.

In the following report, we examine the politicization paths of the Syrian-Lebanese Diasporas in the context of the Syrian conflict, shedding the light on these little-known communities in Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina.

We analyse, in particular, the different reasons why these communities overwhelmingly support the Syrian regime: anti-Imperialism, solidarity with the Eastern Christians and influence of an ancient Alawite community in Argentina.

This research was published in the French book “Pas de Printemps pour la Syrie”, La Découverte, December 2013.  We would like to express our appreciation to Pol O Beaglaoich for translating our work. Check our report on our website.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Negotiate with ISIS? Lessons from Arsal, Lebanon

In at least two instances, negotiations with the Islamic State led to significant results: the withdrawal of militants from the Lebanese town of Arsal and the under-reported liberation in early July of 46 Indian nurses in Iraq (Mosul).

What are these two cases telling us about ISIS? Can it be inferred that negotiations with the group are an option

Arsal

On August 2nd , ISIS launched an offensive on the city of Arsal[1] following the arrest by Lebanese security forces of Imad Ahmed Joumaa, a Jihadist who had recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

arsal view

ISIS was apparently in a position of strength – the militants took over the city in a blitzkrieg-style attack within a few hours and were later joined by Jabhat al Nusra. They were however strategically vulnerable, surrounded by the Lebanese army in a Hezbollah-dominated area, the Bekaa Valley.

map arsal

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Crusader, the Moor, and the Conquistador

Through our research on Latino-Arab relations, we discovered that both continents and cultures have actually much older ties than we thought.

In the following publication, we explore how the confrontation with medieval Islam in Spain shaped the mentalities and actions of the Conquistadores in the Americas.

1492, annus mirabilis – a year of  miracles – at least for the Iberian Christians.

That year, Isabella and Ferdinand, the Christian Monarchs, put an end to the long cycle of the Spanish Reconquista,[1] with the surrender of the last Caliph of Granada. They also expelled the Jews and launched the Conquista of the “Indies”- what was to become the Americas.

The farewells of King Boabdil at Granada, Alfred Dehodencq (1822-1882). The spot from which Muhammad XII looked for the last time on Granada is known as "the Moor's last sigh".

The farewells of King Boabdil at Granada, Alfred Dehodencq (1822-1882). The spot from which Muhammad XII looked for the last time on Granada is known as “the Moor’s last sigh”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Islamic State – The Incarnation of Jihad

In the following special report, we discuss the main questions regarding the Islamic State (IS) including: its rooting in the region, the solidity of local alliances, the seriousness of the Caliphate reinstatement and its governance agenda. Based on this analysis, we suggest a number of pointers for potential action.

 IS flag

For more information about NGC services – political analysis, risk assessment and strategic advice – please contact us @ info@new-gen-consulting.com. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Al-Azhar and the Egyptian Revolution

al-azhar red

This article is available in Portuguese here. A PDF version of the English article can be downloaded here.

“Religious discourse is the greatest battle and challenge facing the Egyptian people. There is a need for a new vision and a modern, comprehensive understanding of the religion of Islam—rather than relying on a discourse that has not changed for 800 years.”

General El-Sisi’s speech, Armed Forces’ Department of Moral Affairs – January 2014

 

How has al-Azhar, often referred to as the highest reference in Sunni Islam, navigated the recent Egyptian upheavals?

The institution, both a Mosque and a University, could have cloistered itself away from the course of History, waiting for the dust to settle. Instead, it found itself at the very center of events, both as an actor taking sides and position, and as the object of opposing national and constitutional projects for Egypt[1].

Such a central and active role in a highly volatile environment, where today’s victors are tomorrow’s fools, has not been without contradictions and conflicts within and around the institution. This may ultimately come at a high price for the already weakened authority and legitimacy of al-Azhar in Egypt and beyond.

The following article intends to shed some light on al-Azhar’s role in contemporary Egypt (I), rectifying certain misconceptions about its status in Islam, before analyzing its positioning during the Nile Revolution (II) and since the restoration of the military rule (III). Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lebanon – Threats and Risks Assessment

shattered flag 2With each new explosion, the Media and institutions of the international community warn of the risk of yet another civil war in Lebanon. A number of internal and regional factors are cited each time: the intensification of terrorist activity, the ongoing political vacuum, the opening of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), spill-over effects from the Syrian crisis, a massive influx of Syrian refugees…

The picture is indeed quite grim. However, not all factors carry equal weight and significance. In this new special report on Lebanon, NGC intends to analyse and rank the various terrorist threats and other risk factors, and outline possible future scenarios. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shiite Foreign Fighters in Syria: Facts, Narratives and Regional Impact

shia militiamen with basharSince spring 2013, a number of convergent signs indicate that a significant number of seasoned Shiite fighters from Iraq are crossing the borders into Syria to fight alongside the regime. This latest development comes in the context of mounting pressure on the capacity of the Syrian army (1), and limitations to the involvement of the Lebanese Hezbollah in Syria.

This article aims to shed light on this recent phenomenon, the corresponding realities on the ground as well as the religious and historical narratives underpinning it. It concludes by touching on the potential impacts of such a development and its significance for the future of the region. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,