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GIVEN that a snake charmer does not delight, Arabs abandoned the most important social and political legacy, which is the thoughts of the 14th-century renowned scholar Abdul-Rahman ibn Khaldoun that can qualify them to be at the forefront of nations.
Therefore, all the development and progressive legacy went unheeded, and were transformed into becoming a disaster for them due to mismanagement. On the other hand, other nations that benefited from this man’s thoughts in the theory of state-building and avoided the mistakes that he had identified for its downfall have today become major powers controlling the economy and politics, as well as education and society globally.
Unfortunately, our rulers in the Arab world including some of the Gulf countries turned a blind eye to what this man had written 700 years ago when he became the founder of sociology at all the universities of the world and from whom they learn daily the basics of managing society and the state.
The testimony of the late US President Ronald Reagan about this man was not a coincidence. It instead indicated the means by which it can be sought for the success of the country.
During his reign, he said, in response to a question, “When I was a young man, I studied economics in college. From there, I learned about a wise man called Ibn Khaldoun, who lived 1,200 years ago in Egypt. He said that empires and states in their beginnings have low taxes and high revenues, but when they collapse, taxes become high and revenues low.”
This was not the only political testimony, but many other leaders talked about the geniusness of this man.
This renowned thinker, whose concepts are still being taught in universities around the world, had defined the age of a state in five stages: –
The first is the stage of establishment. It is the foundation stage of a state or dynasty. It includes seizing the power from its previous owner and founding the state/dynasty by suppressing every sort of resistance. Sovereign has not yet separated the parties that are involved in the foundation process and the society. Therefore, the parties closer to the sovereign become a part of administration. This indicates that the dynamism of zeal and strength are at the highest level.
The second stage is the stage where the sovereign seeks to guarantee his domination over the society and tends to centralize his power. The sovereign desires to cast aside the notables who had become a part of the administration. Nevertheless, he wants to keep them loyal. He achieves this by paying salary through civilian and military bureaucracies. However, casting aside the parties, with whom he had been sharing the same partisanship, would lead to its dissolution. Here, the leader is forced to seek the assistance of the loyalists to overcome the people of partisanship. This means that at this stage, he begins to rely on an organized army in order to preserve the reign.
As for the third stage, this is the stage of wealth and comfort. At this phase, the sovereign completely hegemonized both his own group and the outsiders of his group. Now he has a wide tax base and a well-functioning financial order, as well as an effective civilian bureaucracy that is responsible for enforcing his orders everywhere, and a well-trained strong army. He makes an effort to increase his personal wealth and financial resources of the state, and achieve urban beautification and cultural development. All national subjects of the state benefit from this economic prosperity.
Then comes the fourth stage when the development of the state stops. Sovereign is confined to what his ancestors had left behind. It is the phase when the structure of the state becomes traditional and its rationalist elements disappear. Additionally, a tendency of resistance for change exists and the sovereign rarely answers external threats and developments.
Such a situation opens the door to the fifth phase where the sovereign spends all the wealth that his ancestors left prodigally for pleasure. Therefore, he demolishes the institutional structure of the state that his ancestors established, and causes dismemberment of the state. The group that holds the authority changes, the sovereign changes, and the partisanship dissolves. The state can survive only if a dynasty-shift within the country occurs.
According to Ibn Khaldoun, the beginning of the state’s dissolution happens due to two elements – the dissolution of partisanship, and the financial dissolution as a result of the leader’s extravagance. This is why the state collapses politically and economically.
The Arab reality today is almost similar to what Abdul Rahman bin Khaldoun had described in his book “Khaldoun’s Prolegomena”. The leaders and rulers seek to hold the lining responsible for the mistakes. This is a mistake and a dishonest portrayal of reality. This is due to the fact that these advisors did not spontaneously gather around the ruler. Instead, he chose them to perform what he could not perform, as it is impossible for one man to administer an entire state alone. Also, he is the guide and the one responsible for the matter. Because of this, if he knows the choice of his inner circle, he and his state will survive, but if the opposite happens, it establishes the collapse of the state built by his predecessors.
Perhaps the Arab and Gulf rulers who deserted Ibn Khaldoun should read his Prolegomena, think about what their countries could be like if they managed well, and learn from the West, which took the thought of this deceased man 700 years ago and worked with it until they achieved the highest levels of progress.
Considering this sensitive stage of world history where there are several indications of a radical change in the international map, is there anyone who reads these five stages of the life of the state and learns from them?
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times