The Elephant that Is Not in the Room, but Should Be!

Or, Where Are All the Entrepreneurs?


Very few entrepreneurs in the Arab World seem to be seriously interested in reform. Indeed, they can be heard every now and then in countries such as Syria, Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere, criticizing cumbersome government procedures, import/export regulations and the endemically corrupt bureaucracies, and calling for effective reforms of the country’s financial institutions. But that has been the extant of their “activism” so far. Politically speaking they continue to be missing in action, although they could probably generate more popular sympathy and endorsement, despite their known part in ongoing corruption schemes, than any of the existing opposition groups. Or, by joining or allying with some of the existing opposition groups they can probably bestow upon them a greater sense of legitimacy and credibility. 

For people are not that really stupid, and they do realize at a certain level that their consumerist desires and expectations represent, in one form or another, an actual endorsement of not purely capitalist ideals, than at least certain mercantilist ones.

Now the entrepreneur class, or to be more specific, the businesses community, is not in any way, shape or form some homogenous groups of individuals. In addition to their religious, ethnic and provincial diversity, they are also divided by, if not ideology per se, than at least, conception of the role in society and their relationship to it.

The traditional aristocratic families, aka the Bazaaris as they are called in Iran, are quite different from the surviving feudal overlords in certain parts of the region, and both are quite different from the Nouveau Riche, that fractious group of individual shady entrepreneurs who emerged under existing regimes and who owe much of their wealth to the shady deals and scheme made possible by the corruption and corruptibility of these regimes.

The Nouveau Riche might seem like opportunist bastards at first, but some of them have been around for a while now, let’s not forget that some of the regimes go back a few decades, that is, enough time to allow some of the Nouveau Riche to make the crossover into Old Money, at least from the point of view of the increasingly young population. Some might have, in fact, managed to establish family ties with some of the old aristocratic families out there, benefiting from certain rough times that many of these families have gone through during the heydays of the 60s, 70s and in some cases even the 80s and 90s.

Some Nouveau Riche elements, however, might have grown less opportunistic and as such more willing to be critical of some of the policies of existing regimes. But so far, and even for them, the politics is still out of the question.

For representatives of Old Money, on the other hand, early involvement in politics have arguably backfired on them, at least in their own minds, and was simply too costly. But this is a rather dubious take on things. The reason for the failure of Old Money’s dabbling in politics is related to their insistence on the pursuing their own narrow interests firsts and at the expense of everything else. They did not show any real commitment to improving the living conditions in the countryside, in poorer communities, or any kind of serious developmental activities. Their narrow mindedness, lack of vision and petty squabbles spelled their doom, and that of their respective countries to some extant. It is their failure that facilitated the rise of the Baath in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Algeria, and brought about the Nasserist experiment in Egypt, with its influence elsewhere in the region.

The fact that this same mentality continues to plague the minds of the old entrepreneurial class, who now prefer to play it safe, and prefer to take part in the various corruption schemes in order to maintain their quiet, luxurious yet quite marginal subsistence in their countries and societies, will continue to have a very debilitating effect on their societies.

Why is the role of entrepreneurs so important? Because, in the absence of serious intellectual leaders and political leaders from the scene, the added absence of entrepreneurial leaders might just doom the region to a long period of atavistic mayhem.

Ours, the proliferation of pretenders notwithstanding, are in fact leaderless societies, which is just another aspect of our continuing plight.

14 thoughts on “The Elephant that Is Not in the Room, but Should Be!

  1. I think the word “bourgeois” is more accurate in the context of your post than the word “aristocrat”there is probably no real aristocracy in Syria, Aside maybe from the Azem family” in the political sense. And there is also the Ashraf in rleation to Prophet Mohammad, which neither economical nor political association.Cheers.

  2. I posted about this here I believe that you cannot separate political reforms from economical reforms because political reforms provide the long-term mechanism to implement economical reforms (though some people challenge this assumption – you can temporarily access the whole article through Google’s cache). East Asian emerging countries are trying to separate political side of the force from the economical side, but I don’t think that this schizophrenic process can be sustained on the long term, or that Arab countries can emulate it.The creation of an entrepreneur / upper middle class is a catalyst for democracy. Entrepreneurs favour reforms because they can achieve a personal gain from these. They are wealthier therefore more educated than the rest of the population. They tend to be more liberal and are vital for the democratization process to take place.In Europe, it was the rise of the bourgeoisie that lead to the enlightenment. During the XVIIIth and XIXth century, the bourgeoisie ousted the old military aristocracy inherited from the middle age. Even Marx recognized the positive role of the bourgeoisie in transforming archaic societies into industrialized ones (though he thought that once the bourgeoisie succeeded in transforming the society, the rule of the bourgeoisie had to be replaced by the rule of the workers).I have already written about the importance of this class in the democratization process. I linked the golden age of Arab liberalism to the rise of this capitalistic class. This evolution was mainly due to colonialism and foreign-imposed reforms, which wouldn’t have taken place if the Arab world and the Ottoman empire was left alone. That’s why I don’t necessarily see foreign interference in the Arab world as a bad thing. Generalized failures require foreign intervention. In neo-cons we trust.One of the main problems of the Arab world is that decades of ‘socialism’, anti-imperialist bullshit and demographic explosion laminated the elite and it will take some time to rebuild it.

  3. there is defenitely an influential business community in Syria.I think notable families (mostly larg urban sunni mercentile families) are still in a position to represent that community in the future. (look at Beirut for example)However, I think that the Old ruling families that owned lot’s of land lost its status and role for good.

  4. I appreciate your comments on this. In fact, the entire issue arose in my mind at this stage because of a recent conversation with a friend in which he rued the lack of enlightened despots in Arab societies. My point was that the role of enlightened despots in the West has always been misinterpreted. These despots were as enlightened as the enlightened bourgeoisie and intellectuals that continually challenged their legitimacy. Enlightened despots are produced through a process of creative and constant pressures from below, they are not sent from heaven. They are made, not born. Democratization and modernization are processes that need to take place at all levels simultaneously. They are not handed down from the top, nor are they necessarily the results of popular revolutions that completely decimate the upper crust in society. As for the Spirit of America Releases Anonymous Blogging Guides in English, Arabic, Chinese and Persian. I am quite aware of that indeed, my organization the Tharwa Project has prepared the Arabic translation of this guide, and we will soon be linking to it from our various sites. Thank you for bringing it up at this stage Papa Ray.

  5. I agree with Vox, real change will take place when the entrepeneures are squeezed by the outside world. As you said, they are the more educated and are able to read the road forward… If the current regeime allows them to continue to prosper they will stay with the status quo. If, on the other hand, the world community rejects the Syrian form of government they will adapt to world (western) norms. I think the best road forward is to affect the upper middle class. They will always follow their own interests which, in the long run, is best for the country.That’s my “capitalist 2 cents!”

  6. Under pressure, the entrepreneurs tend to limit or freeze their operations and lie low and hope to ride out the wave. In some extreme cases, they might even opt to leave the country. But they don’t usually get inspired to stay and fight the good fight. Political action is a habit that they seem to have lost. So, the trick is can we inspire them to regain it.

  7. An [off hand] thought, Perhaps the Russian entrepreneurs could give online classes in how to operate in a hostile environment, pay off the right politicians, and still make millions.Enough of them have.Papa RayWest TexasUSA

  8. Sorry about that last post, it’s stupid, but in my experience, entrepreneurs want even less to do with government than most. They will make bribes if there is no other way, but want no part of policy making (unless it profits them) or public offices.Papa Ray

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