Chaos theory for political order in the Arab world

By Rouba al-Fattal on June 10, 2011

As a Board Member of the EuroArab Forum in Brussels and a “specialist” on the Arab world, I am asked daily of what I think is going to happen in the Middle East. Let me be frank, as much as I wish I could predict the future to my own satisfaction, nobody knows what the final outcomes will be. Political analysts and pundits may quench the public thirst for information by providing their sophisticated forecasts, but their chances of getting it right at this early stage are as good as playing the roulette.

For example, the Egyptian revolution could end up with the military – especially the higher echelons who are also the business tycoons of the country – maintaining their status and economic dealings while allowing political representation to the Muslim Brotherhood, who in turn are expected to provide protection to the military. On the other hand, the unwavering demands for change could mount to substantial reforms that may deprive the Egyptian military of their special status. 

Likewise, in Yemen, President Saleh could give up the fight after his injury, but there are no guarantees that his son will not takeover or that the opposition will be able to quell the uprising under the mounting pressure of the country’s socio-economic conditions. 

The Syria government is also at a cross road, either continuing with its savage policy of eliminating all opposition while maintaining its relations with the West (mainly by continuing to stabilize its Israeli-Syrian borders), or it could decide to destabilise these borders in an effort to exhibit its strategic importance in the region, hoping with that to buy Western silence on its human rights violations. 

The future of the region is still undetermined, and what we are witnessing today in the Arab world from Morocco to Iraq and from Syria down to Yemen is simply nature trying to sort itself out in this moment of transition. Every once and again we need disorder to reshuffle the cards before they fall naturally in their right place. It is the brilliance of chaos that drives the physical as well as the moral world to a state of equilibrium. Chaos allows us to think more clearly because inherently people, when surrounded by mess and left to their own will, tend to find creative solutions to their problems.

Once in a while, a complex system – like our political world – needs to go through revolutions, but these moments of heat are often followed by cooling-off periods as more solid systems emerge. Hence, revolutions are a natural state of affairs that are needed to reach a new equilibrium where the least amount of energy is consumed. The real world mimics to a great degree the physical world and we can apply mathematical modeling to detect trends in both. With this axiom at hand, we can predict that these revolutions will lead to better combinations than what was there beforehand.

The problem, however, is that unlike the natural world, in the political world we also have external forces pushing and steering the outcomes of these chaotic yet authentic changes. So, instead of ending with optimal solutions (less energy consumption), we end up with mediocre and fragile combinations that are less than optimal and which require a lot more energy to maintain.

While for an optimal result we should accept what the people choose for themselves and let them achieve these changes on their own, the West is constantly trying to influence the outcomes of these revolutions. This not only results in artificial solutions, but it also ends up costing western governments a lot more money and energy to maintain. So, why do it? The simple answer is: fear of the unknown.

Whereas nature trusts chaos and is optimistic about its results, humans dread it and are willing to pay dear to control their surroundings. But it might not be a bad thing for decision-makers to learn a thing or two from nature and its laws, there is after all creativity and order in Chaos.



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