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Anatomy of power
Anatomy of power
After years of hiding in broad daylight, self-styled Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has been captured and will soon stand trial before The Hague International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia charged with crimes against humanity.
Tuesday, August 5,2008 05:50
by Ayman El-Amir Alarabiya.net

After years of hiding in broad daylight, self-styled Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has been captured and will soon stand trial before The Hague International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia charged with crimes against humanity. The world may be one war criminal less but many keep wondering how, after a century of world wars, civil wars, ethnic cleansing and a host of crimes against humanity new tyrants and violent dictators keep surfacing. Despite differences in motivation, political circumstances and the extent of their crimes they all share one common trait, the intrinsic lust for power.

 

Power has assumed new definitions and functions. It no longer encompasses the old, almost naïve ideal of "power of the people, by the people, for the people"; it is now power over people, with the pretense of serving them despite their will.

 

Absolute power is a necessary instrument to rule unopposed for an indeterminable period of time, to go to war or to commit genocide or ethnic cleansing in the name of the people. This was the case in Nazi Germany, the Stalinist Soviet Union, Ceausecu"s Romania, Pinochet"s Chile, Saddam"s Iraq, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Srebrenica. In the Arab Middle East autocracy rules supreme and liquidates its opponents quietly, using more subtle tactics under different names and laws.

 

 

 

Karadzic, like his deceased godfather Slobodan Milosevic, was not born a serial killer. He was, however, imbued with the crazed sense of Serbian nationalism that, a century ago, inspired a young Serb, Gavril Princip, to shoot and kill the Crown- prince of Austria, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, in Sarajevo in 1914 and trigger World War I. This, together with his charisma, delusions of grandeur and the frenzied adulation of the Bosnian Serbs, filled him with a sense of messianic mission and convinced him he was a man of destiny. The mission of defending Serbian nationalism that had survived the crushing occupation of the Ottoman Empire from the second half of the 15th century until the mid-19th century served his purposes well. No leader can rally absolute popular support without creating an implacable enemy that the masses must fight under the command of their saviour/leader. During the 1992-95 so-called Bosnian war he incited his fellow Bosnian-Serbs of the Republika Srpska to defend their motherland against the Muslim Bosnians of Sarajevo that his army besieged, bombarded, sniped at and slaughtered in cold blood. To his fellow Serbs he called them "the Turks", thus inciting the mythology of Serbian suffering under Ottoman occupation and the brutal suppression of their rebellions.

 

During the Bosnian war and the mass slaughter of 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995 Karadzic was astounded by Western reaction to the genocide. He could not comprehend how Western countries failed to understand that his armed militias were doing the civilised world a favour by holding back the hordes of Muslim savages, the Turks as he called them. According to a New York Times reporter, on the night of 12-13 July, when Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic, another commander wanted for charges of genocide, rounded up several hundred youths a soldier smilingly told his commanding officer after the victims were led into the woods and shot in the back of the head: "It was a good hunt tonight, sir. There were a lot of rabbits in the bush".

 

Karadzic"s trajectory from megalomaniac dictator to war criminal was pursued according to the book. With support and military supplies from his mentor, Milosevic, he went about the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia and Herzegovina the same way his boss did in Kosovo, fanning the flames of patriotic nationalism against an exaggerated enemy. Although incitement of nationalistic sentiments was a criminal offence under the rule of Josip Broz Tito, they both took a lead from Nazi war strategy to rouse the Serb population against the Bosnian Muslims. During the Nuremberg trials in 1945 Reichsmarschall Herman G?ring, second in command after Adolph Hitler, put it this way: "The people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country". Of course, brutality against opponents goes a long way.

 

That is what Hitler and his Nazi lieutenants did to the Jews in their "final solution" strategy during World War II, what leaders like Augusto Pinochet did to the opposition in Chile, staging a US planned military coup to save the country from the danger of communism, and what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians in the name of fighting terrorism. President George W Bush borrowed the same tactics to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, to intimidate Congress after 11 September into enacting Patriot Acts I and II which appalled human rights activists and organisations, and to scare the American people into re-electing him for a second term, painting himself as the only candidate capable of protecting them against a recurrence of 11 September. The humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan, also demonstrates the pre- eminence of power over reason.

 

The lust for power is endemic in the Arab Middle East. Monarchies are hereditary and almost absolute while republican regimes are fostering the tradition of monarchy, including experimenting with the hereditary rotation of power. There have been no free and fair elections in a pluralistic political environment in any Arab country for the past 50 years save for Lebanon, an exception because of its peculiar multi-sectarian politics. If anything, the republican rulers that came to power as a consequence of a military or a palace coup are striving hard to pass power on to their offspring. They are abetted by some beneficiary loyalists and draconian legal instruments that have been borrowed, and then expanded, from the anti-terrorism legislation and executive power practices of the US.

 

The problem Arab power-holders face is that power politics are shifting and the maximum extent of their brutality, short of massacre, is not going to serve their ends. Decades of ruling by emergency laws and the ruthless practices that go with them have not cowed the opposition masses whose rebellion has been exacerbated by crushing poverty, poor education, negligible healthcare services, suppression of human rights, under- employment, the absence of genuine pluralism, fraudulent elections and the control of power by a single, unopposed dictator. It is George Orwell"s 1984 incarnate.

 

Arab despots have given up many of the attributes of historic dictators: no charisma, no cult of personality, no delusion of grandeur and no frantic adulation by the masses. But they have one thing in common: the drive for life-long power and reluctance to introduce an institutional successor.

 

A curious paradox is that at the time when some monarchies and emirates, particularly in the Gulf, are experimenting with participatory democracy at the legislative level, other old-time republican regimes are edging slowly, but determinedly, towards a form of feudal monarchy where pluralism and participatory democracy are the veneer but all real power rests with one person. The only genuine hope is that the resistance of the people is getting stiffer and the instruments of modern communication are empowering them to challenge the pretense of sham democracy.

 

* Published in Egypt"s AL-AHRAM WEEKLY in the July 31- August 6, 2008 issue. The writer is former Al-Ahram correspondent in Washington, DC. He also served as director of United Nations Radio and Television in New York.

 

 


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