Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Arab World

Imaginary Certitudes and Legitimacies (May 6, 2009)

The US republican notion of Capitalism is plainly discredited but established by US forced infusion with multiple pre-emptive wars around the globe.

Communism was discredited since 1989.

The doctrine of the Christian religion was discredited since the French Revolution in 1787 and a century before that. Still, religion cannot be eradicated from the spirit of the masses.  The power of the Christian religion is that nowadays you don’t need to apply or fear to be ex-communicated whether you are a believer or not or whether your opinions are not compatible with the predominant ideology. 

Religions, mainly religious sects dominated by a hierarchy of clerics, exercises its legitimacy once it combines the doctrines of “communism” for equal opportunities and the aspiration for independence against a usurper. 

That is what extremist Islam has managed to package its ideology; an ideology targeting the poor and disinherited who were deprived of dignity and were humiliated by the Western colonial powers.

Let me resume my previous article on “Misleading Legitimacies“. 

Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt managed to capture legitimacy in the emotions and spirit of the “Arab” populations as the leader of the Arab World by politically defeating the joint military attack by Britain, France, and Israel in 1956 to recapture the Suez Canal, though was militarily defeated. 

The Arab populations were satisfied that their crushed dignity for over 5 centuries was re-emerging among the nations (the western nations). 

Even the crushing military defeat by tiny Zionist Israel in 1967 maintained Gamal Abdel Nasser as the legitimate leader and most of the Arab State leaders converged to him to resolve their conflicts with their neighbors or within their State.

After the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser (The Raiyess) in 1970 the goal of Arab leaders was to re-capture Arab legitimacy. 

The successor of the (Rayess) in Egypt was Sadate who needed to rely on the legitimacy of the “Muslim Brotherhood” to strengthen his power and thus proclaimed to be “The First of the Believers (among Muslims)”. 

All the Arab leaders realized that “legitimacy” resides in convincing victories against common enemies to the “Arabs”, or mainly any western nation and Israel the closest geographically. 

The initial victory in 1973 on the Sinai front against Israel was cancelled out by bedding with the USA.

Sadate with his “My Dear Friend Henry (Kissinger)” was hated by most Arabs and no one shed a tear when he was assassinated.

Dictator Saddam Hussein enjoyed potentials in a literate population, large army, and natural resources. He jumped at the occasion when the USA encouraged him to invade Iran of Khomeini. 

This time, the enemy was the Persians who had re-captured lands that the Arab and Ottoman Empires had secured centuries ago and called “Arabstan” or Khuzestan.

After 8 years of mutual slaughtering in the battle field, Saddam Hussein redirected his military activities to its neighboring “Arab” State of Kuwait and was vanquished by the USA, the arch enemy of the Arabs.  Saddam lost his legitimacy. 

Saudi Kingdom successive monarchs endeavored to gain legitimacy in the Arab World through building thousands of mosques, appointing clerics who favored the Wahhabi sect (misleading the Sunni sect as being Sunni itself), and lavishing petro-dollars for settling conflicts among the Arab States. 

Saudi Arabia has been working for the long term by proselytizing their conservative extremist Wahhabi sect among the Sunni Muslims and gaining legitimacy by proclaiming that they are the “Servitors or Guardians of the Holy Kaaba and Medina (al Haramain)”

The progress in Europe was established indirectly by a centralized Papal spiritual authority.  

Ironically, this spiritual centralization was acquired when the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine supposedly converted to Christianity. 

Christianity could have evolved without any serious centralization if it was not ordered by the Roman ideological system of centralized power

Hundreds of Christian sects existed in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, and throughout the Roman Empire before the year 325 and they were persecuted as “heretics” after the conclave of Nicaea in 325

Papal Rome vigorously hindered progress and change for a long period (about 1,000 years) but once society expressed its willingness for change, then it followed suit and even staunchly maintained the changes and supported them against any refracting bishop or religious Christian sects.  

Centralized Papal Rome was a counterbalance to the tyranny of temporary authorities who had to compromise and rectify policies that challenged the dignity and well being of the poor citizens.  

Islam had no such centralized spiritual authority: it viewed with suspicion any kinds of religious centralization. It didn’t appreciate mediators between the believer and his God. 

Thus, the political sultans and sovereigns dominated the religious spiritual power. In most instances, the monarch grabbed the legitimacy of Caliph. The counterbalance to tyranny lacked in the Muslim world and any recognized cleric, ordered by a sultan, could proclaim a “fatwa” or an injunction for the people to obey as a religious obligation.  You could have several “fatwas” concurrently injuncting opposing orders.

The problem in Islam is not in the source or the Koran but the free interpretations of any monarch or leader at any period.  There are no stable and steady spiritual legitimacy in any interpretations that can be changed or neglected at other periods.

The author Amine Maaluf recounts this story:

A Muslim woman applies in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) for a private club that would allow Muslim women to meet and maybe share common hot baths in sauna and Jacuzzi (hammam). A week later the municipality rejected the application on the ground that the local Muslim cleric (Imam) had an objection to the club.” If the woman was European would the municipality ask the opinion of a Christian cleric? It would certainly not. 

What this story proves is that, under the good intentions of respecting ethnic minorities, the European are exercising covert apartheid: they are sending the message that minority rights are not covered by the UN declarations which are supposed to be valid for all human kinds. 

The human rights approved by all States within the UN convention are applicable to all regardless of color, religion, sex, or origin. 

What is fundamentally needed is that all States feel that the United Nation is a credible institution that is not dominated by veto power super nations and that it has effective executive power to enforce its human rights proclamations to all world citizens and political concepts.

Three and a half years ago, the world was riveted by massive crowds of youths mobilizing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand an end to Egypt’s dreary police state. We watched transfixed as a movement first ignited in Tunisia spread from one part of Egypt to another, and then from country to country across the region.

Before it was over, 4 presidents-for-life had been toppled and the region’s remaining dictators were unsettled.

Some 42 months later, in most of the Middle East and North Africa, the bright hopes for more personal liberties and an end to political and economic stagnation championed by those young people have been dashed.

Instead, some Arab countries have seen counterrevolutions, while others are engulfed in internecine conflicts and civil wars, creating Mad Max-like scenes of postapocalyptic horror.

But keep one thing in mind: The rebellions of the last three years were led by Arab millennials, by young people who have decades left to come into their own. Don’t count them out yet.

Given the short span of time since Tahrir Square, it is far too soon to predict where these massive movements will end. During the “Prague Spring” of 1968,  a young dissident playwright, Vaclav Havel, took to the airwaves on Radio Free Czechoslovakia and made a name for himself as Soviet tanks approached. But then, after a Russian invasion crushed the uprising, Havel had to seek work in a brewery, forbidden to stage his plays.

That wasn’t the end of the story, however. Two decades later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Havel became the first president of the Czech Republic.

Or consider the French Revolution: Three and a half years after the storming of the Bastille, the country was facing a pro-royalist uprising in the Vendee, south of the Loire Valley, a conflict that ultimately left more than 100,000 (and possibly as many as 450,000) people dead.

And let’s remember that a decade passed between the Boston Tea Party and the American victory in the Revolutionary War.

There are, of course, plenty of reasons for pessimism in the medium-term in the Middle East. But when it comes to youth revolutions, it’s a pretty good bet that most of their truest accomplishments will come decades later.

The young Arabs who made the recent revolutions are, in fact, distinctive: substantially more urban, literate, media-savvy and wired than their parents and grandparents. They are also somewhat less religiously observant, though still deeply polarized between nationalists and devotees of political Islam.

And keep in mind that the median age of the 370 million Arabs on this planet is only 24, about half that of graying Japan or Germany. While India and Indonesia also have big youth populations, Arab youth suffer disproportionately from the low rates of investment in their countries and staggeringly high unemployment rates. They are primed for action.

Analysts have tended to focus on the politics of the Arab youth revolutions and so have missed the more important, longer-term story of a generational shift in values, attitudes and mobilizing tactics.

The youth movements were, in part, intended to provoke the holding of genuine, transparent elections, and yet the millennials were too young to stand for office when they happened. This ensured that actual politics would remain dominated by older Arab baby boomers, many of whom are far more interested in political Islam or praetorian authoritarianism.

The first wave of writing about the revolutions of 2011 discounted or ignored religion because the youth movements were predominantly secular and either liberal or leftist in approach. When those rebellions provoked elections in which Muslim fundamentalists did well, a second round of books lamented a supposed “Islamic Winter.”

Yet, in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has been ousted (albeit through a reassertion of power by the military).

In Libya, Muslim fundamentalist candidates could not get a majority in parliament in 2012.

Even in Tunisia, where the religious right formed the first postrevolution government, it was able to rule only in coalition with secularists and leftists.

As they wait their time, many of the millennial activists who briefly turned the Arab world upside down and provoked so many changes are putting their energies into nongovernmental organizations, thousands of which have flowered, barely noticed. Others continue to coordinate with labor unions to promote the welfare of the working classes.

In this way, they are learning valuable organizational skills that — count on it — will one day be applied to politics.

Their dislike of nepotism, narrow cliques and ethnic or sectarian rule has already had a lasting effect on the politics of the Arab world.

And two or three decades from now, the twentysomethings of Tahrir Square and the Casbah in Tunis and Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli will, like the Havels of the Middle East, come to power as politicians.

We haven’t heard the last of the Middle East’s millennial generation.

Juan Cole is director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan and the author of “The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East.” A longer version of this piece appears on

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times




The shifting soft power of the Arab world

Joseph Nye’s term of “soft power” is being interpreted any which way, as long as the power is not expressed in direct military engagement.

All these financial, economic and diplomatic sanctions that hurt the people of a “rogue state” and leave the political institutions intact to exert even harsher control over a society are calamities that cannot be redressed for decades.

Currently, soft power is applied by imperialist States allied with oil rich monarchies by coordinating funding of extremist factions to destabilize countries and run havoc among the population in arranging and planning long-term civil wars.

And yet, you have authors who managed to invent new expressions for soft power. Like playing the game of the capitalist imperialist elite states and using financial aids to coerce policy change along their short-term megalomania.

(CNN) — Over the past decade the Arab world has witnessed a shifting of not only hard power — which saw the traditional armies of the Arab world in Syria, Egypt and Iraq consumed in internal turmoil — but also of what Harvard professor Joseph Nye termed “soft power,” which has moved from these countries to the resource rich Gulf states.

Long before their formation into modern states, the cities of the Gulf were recipients of talent, skill and economic aid from the traditional Arab nation states that have today fallen into obscurity

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi posted June 27, 2014 , Special to CNN
Watch this video

City of Tomorrow: World’s tallest tower

 Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi

For centuries the Kiswa, or black drapes of the holy Kaaba in Mecca were supplied by Baghdad, Cairo or Sanaa as well as Istanbul who were locked in protocol battles of soft power over the holy city.

This is of course no longer the case. Saudi Arabia, the Arab world economic (financial?) superpower and fourth largest spender on military (why and for what use?), is the party that sends aid not only to Yemen and Egypt but also to most Arab states (and funds terrorist factions to destabilize neighboring Arab States such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen…)

According to the World Bank, the Arab Gulf states, perhaps none more so than Kuwait, are today amongst the most generous nations with regards to financial aid, contributing more than twice the United Nations target of 0.7% of their combined gross national income during the period between 1973-2008.

Since the beginning of the Arab uprisings, Gulf Aid to the Arab world has significantly spiked.

Egypt, for example, has received billions of dollars from the Gulf States since its January 25, 2011, uprising.

The Egyptians’ loss of influence over Mecca — which was then under Hashemite rule — to Saudi founder Ibn Saud in 1925 was an irreparable blow to Cairo’s mechanism of religious soft power and a significant advantage to the Al Sauds. Perhaps no other city in the world, save for Hollywood, commands as much global soft power as Mecca.

Pilot’s stunning images of Dubai

From sports venue to luxury mini city


For decades, media output in the Arab world was produced, recorded, filmed and performed in the traditional leading Arab states of Iraq, Syria and Egypt as well as Lebanon.

Today a significant portion of television production, recording and filming — not to mention financing — takes place in the Gulf cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.

Much of this entertainment is produced in the local dialects of Egypt and Syria, but the Gulf cities can exercise a large degree of influence on material that is locally filmed and financed.

The Gulf states are also home to the most watched TV news channels in the Arab world, a significant mechanism of soft power in one of the most politically unstable regions.

Between the Doha based Al Jazeera and the Saudi owned and Dubai based Al Arabiya is a media war for the hearts and minds of the Arab public.

The two leading news channels of the Arab world are accused of reflecting the versions of events closest to the politics of their funders.

Even so, the soft power reach of these channels with their tens of millions of Arab viewers cannot be quantified and has become one of the main levers of soft power of the Gulf states.

Flourishing tourism

While tourism has come to a standstill in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Iraq it has flourished in the Gulf states.

Dubai with its infrastructure and attractions that were built over the past half-century today attracts more tourists than any other Arab state and is the seventh most visited city in the world.

This year, Airports Council International ranked Dubai’s airport, home of Emirates Airlines, as the world’s busiest — in terms of passenger numbers — for the 12 months ending March.

Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat and a number of Saudi cities are undertaking massive airport and other infrastructure projects that will keep tourists pouring in.

The Gulf cities have turned themselves into globally recognized brands, while traditional Arab cities such as Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus have become synonymous with turmoil and unrest.

The massive multi billion-dollar nation branding exercise that cities like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha have undertaken has turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

World diplomatic, business and media leaders continuously make visits to these cities attracted by their commercial, political and media clout, this in turn attracts others to be based here.

For instance, today Abu Dhabi is arguably the de facto political hub of the region having witnessed visits by most foreign ministers of regional and global powers.

When the British decided to withdraw from the Gulf states in the 1960s they left behind fledgling nations, weak and exposed to regional states and the political ambitions of neighbors.

While the traditionally culturally rich powers of the Arab world continue to face internal turmoil and fail to invest in cultural projects, the Gulf states continue to thrive.

Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and Sharjah are investing heavily in museums and education, attracting talent from across the Arab world and beyond.

For the second year running, a survey of young Arabs found that the UAE topped their list of preferred countries to live in, followed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The UAE at 39% scored almost twice as high as the U.S. at 21% — a significant show of force for a country that isn’t even half a century old.

Barely a week goes by in the Gulf states without them witnessing major international events and meetings.

The Gulf states have been on a publicity and nation-branding streak.

From Dubai’s hosting of the World Bank and IMF meetings in 2003 to the Dubai World Expo in 2020, the city is abuzz with global conferences such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils, sporting championships and media, IT and business forums.

Qatar’s hosting of the World Trade Organization Doha Round of talks in 2001 to the World Cup 2022 as well as Abu Dhabi’s massive Guggenheim and Louvre museums — which are scheduled to open in the next few years — will cement these states’ soft power advantages.

Today — due to their incredible soft power — it is these Gulf states that carry influence over the rest of the Arab world.

Editor’s note: Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a UAE based columnist. He tweets at @SultanAlQassemi. The views expressed in this commentary are solely his. This is the first of four opinion articles giving readers a snapshot of major issues in the Middle East. Follow the discussion this Ramadan on Connect the World with Becky Anderson as it travels from Abu Dhabi to Cairo, Beirut, Istanbul and Sharjah. Weekdays 4:00pm London time 7:00 pm Abu Dhabi time.

Dignity? Bkhsūs el-karāmeh in the Arab World

The Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (CAMES) at American University of Beirut invited Sami Hermez to give a lecture on Jan. 30, 2014 on the topic of

Understanding Dignity in Political Struggle in Lebanon and Beyond

And “On Why People Kill: On the Perpetrators of Political Violence

Freedom, dignity and social justice have been the basic demands of the revolutions that swept the Arab world since 2011.

This lecture is to explore one of these demands: karameh or dignity.

People have been screaming this across the region, and calling for a return of dignity by seizing it from the state.  What happens when we take dignity as an analytical category to think through political mobilization?

And what can anthropology tell us about the micro-workings of dignity (its everyday practices, embodiment and emotions) in political struggle?

By focusing on the context of Lebanon, the first question is the use of honor as a trope by which to look at political engagements within the modern state system, and instead ask that we more closely explore dignity as a structure of political emotion that gives people and their lives meaning and power.

Second, through ethnographic fieldwork that looked at how people in Lebanon live everyday with instability and a coming war, it is  shown how dignity becomes contested and conflicted in times of instability, and consider the way people use this notion in their political struggles.

Note:  Sami Hermez is a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University.

He has taught at University of Pittsburgh and Mt. Holyoke College, and was Postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Lebanese Studies, St. Antony’s College, Oxford University.

He holds a PhD in Anthropology from Princeton University (2011). He has published in PoLar (2012), Cultural Dynamics (2010), and Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism (2011).

Dr. Hermez is a candidate for the CAMES position in Middle East Studies with a focus on the contemporary Arab world.

Culture of Contempt: Misplaced comprehension of Personal Failure

A week ago, I sent a link ten speakers at TEDxBeirut, asking for their feedback.  I received a single reply.  Two of the speakers’ email, as noted in the biography booklet, were not functional. I reminded TEDx electronic address on these facts, and I have yet to receive an answer.

Was I expecting such result?  The first realization was that most of the speakers’ enterprises were Lebanon-based, and consequently, behaved within the realm of culture of contempt prevalent in our societies.

For example, when I taught at the Lebanese American University, I sent administrators, Chairpersons of departments, and “professors” many emails.  Fact is: I didn’t receive a single reply over 4 years. Never received “Thank you for letter”, “read your mail”…Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I got into thinking: “Is this lack of civility a consequence of our society culture of contempt? Or this contempt is a tradition acquired from the “classes of authority” that indulged in humiliating communities, or is it basically an “elite club” ethics of ignoring non-members…?

Speaker at TEDxBeirut, Ali Jaber, answered my request and replied: “I very much enjoyed your critical piece. Such critical thinking is required in our Arab World, so we can move ahead. Two thoughts I would like to share with you.

1.  The most oppressive of limitations for the Lebanese expatriates is to realize (achieve) what they aspire to (becoming) abroad, and not in their own country.
2.  Collaboration, listening and turning to others for support, — whether they know you or not — is very important in the creative and liberal process. Creating a collaborative environment around the activities that you endeavor in the land of big egos, increased individualism and egotistical attitudes, is the road less traveled.”

(I have discussed at length the second thought in many articles.  For example, mankind intelligence evolved because they managed to realize the great advantages in trading goods, expertise, and culture…)

People in the Arab World expect to be ultimately recognized by the restricted clan, in the general modern meaning of restricted community, as a member who can be of real support.  If by the age of 40, an individual fails to be perceived as a “useful” member of the clan; for example, the members stop paying him regular visits and asking for his input and opinions, then he thinks that he is a failure.

This misplaced comprehension of personal failure blocks any further attempts to continuing education, to trying harder, to looking at failure from a different perspective…He has reached the psychological dead-end for trying to changing and transforming his life and his “destiny”.

This urge to be recognized as an “Important” person, who can be relied upon to come to the rescue (of the clan members), is the direct link to our view of the meaning of personal failure:”Officials”, public servants, or private employee who are unable to dissociate the “good positions” with personal failure when they are fired or transferred to a job that is viewed by the community as a downgrade in importance.  The job has been personalized: I am the position and I refuse to go but higher in responsibilities and recognition, as a very important person in the community…

For example, when I taught at the Lebanese American University, I sent administrators, Chairpersons of departments, and “professors” many emails.  Fact is: I didn’t receive a single reply over 4 years. Never received “Thank you for letter”, “read your mail”…Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I got into thinking: “Is this lack of civility a consequence of our society culture of contempt? Or this contempt is a tradition acquired from the “classes of authority” that indulged in humiliating communities, or is it basically an “elite club” ethics of ignoring non-members…?

At this university, it was a Russian Poutine/Medvedev style of chair swapping among the tenure-track “professors.  My course of Human Factors in engineering was very popular. One semester 60 students registered; it is not a math class, and there are plenty of reading, writing, reflecting on many issues…I asked for the class to be divided into two sections. My request was declined.  In reaction, almost all engineering departments decided to drop the course as optional.

No wonder that our universities are chaperoned by foreign powers:  How to disperse this climate of stagnation, which is poisoning attempts for healthy development and improvement in academic affairs. Part-timers were disposed of so that tenure-track teachers fill in course, which they were never expose to and not proficient in.

The irony is that US appointed Presidents of Lebanese universities can remain in their posts as long as they are serving according to dicta, and repressing opposition opinions and free speech zeal among the students.  And you can understand why our region enjoys natural dictatorial regimes.

For example, was it the custom of the club of full-teachers or tenure-track “professors” of ignoring part-time teachers and professors?  Why is it that, in general, foreign professors answer your request and reply to your email, even if they are originally from your home country, and your countrymen refrain from basic civilities at home?  The irony is: As a foreign teacher stays in Lebanon for a couple of years, the culture of contempt sets in, and he stops replying to mails…

This is normal behavior.  The difference in social behavior among developed and non-developed communities is the availability of sustainable institutions, which can be transformed and be changed, by taking seriously the input of the communities…a culture of respecting individual opinions and intelligence, regardless of position, clan, genders, or religious affiliation…

Note 1: My four-year stint of part-time teaching courses related to Human Factors in engineering was challenging.  It was an opportunity to publishing over 50 articles in my field, and also describing my various teaching methods to adapt to university student tendencies in Lebanon. You may go to my two categories “Human Factors” and “Educational methods”.

Note 2: A speaker at TEDxBeirut, Michael Kouly, was specifically on the perception of personal failure as jobs are transformed. He said: “Never take as personal failure changes in positions or job transfer…Current responsibilities are basically temporary roles and they are volatile.  We are NOT our role.  Conflict is the norm and we need the heat to cook a conflict into resolution. Thus, your main job is to staying on stage and confront conflicts.  Learn to identify and understand authority, the psychology and system of authority: How to dance with elephants, learn the many manifestation of dynamics in role-playing. The default value of 5 in the middle of the scale of ten is: Respect yourself and respect authority.  Going overboard on the two kinds of respect defines your status in the hierarchy.

Be flexible and negotiate with authority. Nelson Mandela was scared shit of the warden on his first day in prison but he took a chance on saying “I am a lawyer, don’t forget it…” Nelson went on “I wished the warden was not looking at my shaking knees…”

Note 3: I received today a short “thank you” reply from Yorgui, but no feedback.




December 2022

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