Joseph Cox
Finding Beauty in Complexity

I have hope for ‘the day after’

Here's why the Arab Spring didn't yield democracies all over the region, why rehabilitating Germany and Japan worked, and why Gaza may yet be transformed
Murder of White Slavers by Black Slaves (France militaire: histoire des armées)

Talk about “the day after” in Gaza is beginning to get serious. The war’s end is in sight, and now is the time to lay the foundations for a future that may bring — if not peace — at least a modicum of security. Some people are optimistic, pointing to the success of similar plans in German and Japan following World War II.

I do not share their optimism.

I have four children entering the army in the next three years and I don’t want them risking their lives for something that has almost no chance of success. Unfortunately, the “day after” plans I keep hearing about are riddled with fundamental misunderstandings of the challenges that will face us.

The missing ingredient

In the history of rebellions, one factor separates those countries that continue on the road to freedom from those that sink into chaos or tyranny. That factor is the existence of a civil society. Many think of civil society as a bureaucratic term, referring to the existence of administrators. It is actually something much more fundamental. A civil society is one in which individual embrace their part in building a society of peace, productivity and fulfillment. In a civil society, few people think about stealing from their neighbors. But if they do, there are socially supported institutions to censor and limit their activities.

When there is a robust civil society, the fall of a dictator can be followed almost seamlessly by the orderliness of a people ready to step in and provide the framework necessary for peace and liberty. Where there isn’t, chaos ensues.

Why the Arab Spring failed

Many of us remember the hope that surrounded the “Arab Spring” uprisings all over the Muslim world. Many hoped that these civil rebellions would ultimately lead to the rise of democratic societies in a traditionally autocratic region. But that didn’t happen. Why not?

The Arab Spring was a disaster because there was almost no civil society in the Arab world.

This result should not have been a surprise. Even 200 years after its revolution, Haiti continues to be a disaster because it never established a civil society. Sudan overthrew its dictator and is now engaged in the worst civil war on earth. There was no civil society in these places — or many others besides.

Post-war Germany and Japan, by contrast, had deeply established civil societies; those societies had simply been hijacked by murderous movements. In addition, those murderous movements had developed relatively recently. While antisemitism is ancient, Nazism’s cultural domination lasted only a few years. Likewise, the Meiji Restoration in Japan, which gave the emperor real power, only dated back to 1868. Before that, the Tokugawa shogunate had seen 300 years of civil and international peace.

Nazism and Japanese Imperialism could be crushed, and a civil society could — relatively easily — reestablish itself. In a contrast from World War II itself, Italy had a far weaker fascist movement. Nonetheless, the establishment of the rule of law was confounded by the ongoing and corrosive influence of the anti-civil mafia. Aid actually made this worse.

We aren’t the first to imagine Germany and Japan are good proxies for nation-building. Back in 2002, I was part of the grand movement of people who saw the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan as the start of something new and wonderful for the Arab and Muslim world. I read the blog “Iraq the Model” with intense interest. I believed. I even considered enlisting.

But the US efforts ultimately failed. They failed because, culturally, Iraq and Afghanistan had almost nothing in common with Germany and Japan.

Today, I see Israel falling into the same trap the US did.

Hope can be realistic

However, I am not without hope. I believe “day after” plans can work. I just think that we need to model them on the right examples. Rwanda, the UAE, Chile, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong are all relatively recent examples of places that managed to create the rule of law and civil society, even in places that had been riven by corruption and violence.

What do these success stories have in common? They all share certain characteristics:

  • They have small populations,
  • They established a civil society through violently suppressive government.
  • None of them were highly dependent on outside aid (which further corrupts highly corruptible societies).

They all share one more characteristic. They were all were governed by their own dictators – rather than by outsiders imposing control.

There is but one exception: Hong Kong.

Despite Hong Kong’s recent suppression, it is Hong Kong that serves as the starting point for what I see as the road to hope. We have already seen that Palestinian self-governance will not lead to a civil society. We have also seen that externally imposed civil societies almost never take root. But Hong Kong was the exception. Hong Kong was set apart because the population chose to live there. They effectively declared their willingness to live under foreign rule in the interests of realizing a better life.

The North Gaza Project

The North Gaza Project, of which I am the director, starts with this same concept.

  • It carves out only a section of Gaza to serve as a seedbed.
  • It publishes a clear roadmap to civil society and independence — one developed from the sometimes brutal examples I cited above.
  • And then it invites those Gazans who want what it is offering to move there.
  • Finally, it expels those who act as enemies of the project.

And then, step by declared step and without external aid, it builds a new Gaza.

This roadmap doesn’t just lead to a better North Gaza. History is filled with such small seedbeds eventually healing the problems overwhelming vast cultures. Amsterdam’s example led Europe away from religious wars that killed 30% of the population. West Berlin served as a beacon that helped bring down the USSR. And Hong Kong, although it never served as an example of political freedom, revolutionized the economic reality of Mainland China.

The North Gaza Project could do the same. It could transform not only Palestinian society, but Israeli society as well.

Together with the UAE, it could redefine the entire region.

If you’d like to learn more about the North Gaza Project visit

About the Author
Joseph Cox lives in Modiin, Israel and has written 12 books. The latest published book is "A Multi Colored Coat... an autobiography of sorts".
Related Topics
Related Posts