Posts Tagged ‘Arab’

I am a Dreamer

09/07/2011

For ages the question about the suitability of democracy in the Arab and Islamic countries was raised. With the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, the question is coming back with hopes and fears of what path these revolutions will take. During my trip to Germany I attended the Global Media Forum organized by Deutsche Welle where many of the attendees showed a lot of interest in knowing more about what is going on. Many questions were raised such as; why they are happening? Why the Gulf countries are not seeing such revolutions and how these revolutions will shape the future of the region and, probably, the world and many more other questions. I enjoyed the discussions with people from around the globe. Yet during three different occasions, three Arab attendees insisted that Arabs are not ready for democracy. Two of them were so pessimistic about the chances of implementing democracy in the Arab World. They predicted that democracy will not flourish in this region before 50 to 300 years. My response to them was “My daughter Joori is about six years old; I hope, wish and want her to participate in the elections of the Saudi Parliament before she is twenty six years old”. Am I dreaming? Sure. But what is life without dreams?

Saudi Arabia is known to be the biggest oil producer and it possesses largest oil reserves in the world. Parts of the financial returns of selling the oil helped in establishing the country’s infrastructure, raised the level of education among the citizens and enlarged the middle class significantly. On the other hand, the country suffers on many other aspects. Saudis live under strong security grip and corruption is unprecedented. The performance of many government entities and agencies is generally below the expectations of citizens. About half of the population is below 25 years old and many of them are unemployed.

The Saudi society values are partially inspired by Islam which is demonstrated in some occasions through positive behaviors such as assisting the needy, dignity, magnanimity and others. Yet, the society has been suffering from issues such as racism, sectarianism, favoritism, the situation of women and others. As a result of all of these issues, there are portions of Saudis (that cannot be really quantified due to lack of data) who agree on the need for change. However, the details and direction of such desired change are not agreed upon and can be very controversial.

The above is a personal attempt to reflect the reality of Saudi Arabia today. Such reality is also shaped and impacted by the structure of the state and society and the relationship between them. When the power is limited to the hands of a few while the vast majority of people do not have much of influence on the country present and future, in addition to the weak – or lack of – feeling of citizenship and feelings of belonging, we find that we are facing a complex reality which might at any moment lead to unexpected developments that no one can expect their extent or outcomes.  Also, the society’s view of itself and the quality of relationships within it and its relationship to the state and its system helps in the formation of the current image of Saudi Arabia and increases the difficulties for the change or major developments.

With such gloomy view, some may find it impossible to think about democracy in a country with all of these challenges and complications. But the world around us today clearly shows that democracy is the most effective system of governance through an agreed upon Constitution that enforces the separation of powers, equality of all citizens and the participation of the people in choosing their representatives freely. Thus we, in Saudi Arabia, either belong to the faction of people, who use democratic means to rule, or we are totally different than that faction and we actually belong to another faction that has nothing to do with a majority of human beings on this planet. Can we be so different?.

I personally think that the pursuit of democracy in Saudi Arabia would be one way to address the serious structural defects in the state and society. The struggle to democratization in Saudi Arabia will help facing what must be changed and reformed through the interaction of citizens with their problems and working together to confront them and find solutions. For example, nowadays discussing the issue of the detainees for long periods without trial is widespread in the channels of the new media in Saudi Arabia which demonstrates that concepts such as the state of institutions and rights began to spread among younger generation who are the group that will make the future on their own and will be making the changes that they want despite the enormous challenges that might be faced.

But democracy today, to me personally, is not an end in itself but a means for the result I want to see in Saudi Arabia. I do not care much how long it will take as long as we will be able to move in the direction I hope for my country. The future dream I see for Saudi Arabia is a modern state that ensures public participation and equality of all citizens and at the same time economically able to face the enormous challenges ahead of the country. The road to democracy in Saudi Arabia will also be a means to dismantle parts of the obstacles and barriers that have been injected into the body of the state and society and resulted our present. What we live in today is the result of long years of mistakes that will not disappear automatically, but will need the hard work and real participation of everyone, or at least the believers in the necessity of change and who those willing to pay the price to get it.

When talking about democracy, usually the discussion involves talking about the West and the liberties practiced there which might be in contradiction with some basic values of Islam and the Saudi society. I do not think that we are obligated to the introduction of a Western model of democracy as it is. Every society should strive to reach their own model that suite their needs and values. Therefore, I know that our society is very different from other communities around the world, so we may evolve to a model of democracy that is not like any other model which may resemble or differ from other models in the world. We do not have to reinvent the wheel as they say, but we need to benefit from our own experiences and mistakes as well as from others experiences and mistakes until we reach the result that we want for this country.

I am definitely dreaming and I will keep doing so, not because I am a romantic person, but because we are in front of a sad reality that does not present much of encouraging options and without dreams the present will be difficult to bear. Also, I really believe that part of any change is the dream that brings disciples of change as seen through the great Egyptian revolution. During the eighteen days of the revolution I lived something like a dream, and even now I feel the dream is not over yet. Though I realize that only the head of the snake is been chopped and still there is a long way to remove the snake’s spirit from the body of Egypt and the Egyptians.

So I dream of democracy in Saudi Arabia, and not after 100 years, but in the near foreseen future. Because those who deny our readiness for democracy today do not offer much of alternatives except the present which is not desirable. They do not have much of influence into shaping the future except waiting for the gifts of the state which might not ever come. We might not be ever ready for the democracy, but silence and stillness will not make us ready tomorrow. But promoting awareness and stimulating debate among people helps imagining and forming a better future for our children.

In the Middle of the Noise

23/02/2011

The Arab World is going through a very historic time. The head of states in Tunisia and Egypt have had changed after 23 and 30 years in power, respectively. Libyans are strongly pushing for changing their current regime which is lead by Mumar Al-Ghadafi for more than 40 years. The regimes in Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Morocco are also faced by different levels of popular uprising.

 

Many of the people in the other Arab countries are following what is happening in these countries with mix feelings of fear, hope, excitement and unbelief. People are so fearful of how things might end up and of the number of victims that might be caused by these uprising. Yet they are so hopeful and excited about tomorrow and how it’ll be shaped once the normal people have finally a say over how their countries shall be run and developed. Till this moment I, sometimes, feel that what had happened in a month is just a dream because it was so hard to even think of before.

 

What about Saudi Arabia? Would the world see similar uprising in the land of oil? What do you think about as a Saudi of what is going on?. These are for sure questions in the minds of many people around the world, especially diplomats and journalists. I personally think that what happened in Tunisia and Egypt was not something that can be predicted to happen, then I think that the predictable is not really the norm these days in the Arab World. The predictable in Saudi Arabia is that nothing will happen. Things, regardless of how much I can complain, are very different compared to many other places in the world. However, I believe that there are at least four groups of Saudis when it comes to how a Saudi might interact with what is going on in the Arab World. The first group consists of those who don’t care much because they live isolated from what is going on, either because they are rich and live the elite life or poor enough to have most of their focus on what is in their food table every day. There is no way to really quantify this group in numbers. Yet, as more of this group becomes engaged in what is going on and feel that they must have a say over what is going on, the shift in power then might spark the unpredictable.

 

The second group includes Al-Qaeda supports and alike those who believe in overthrowing the government using violence. I heard many analysts claim that Al-Qaeda is losing ground in the Arab World these days because people can see an alternative to the violence Al-Qaeda adopted in its effort for change. On the short term, I agree. However, on the long term, time only can tell. If things improve in Tunisia and Egypt and the rest of the Arab World, the legitimacy of Al-Qaeda tactics will diminish. Yet, if things don’t improve or the new governments in the new Arab World adopt constitutions that are rejected by Al-Qaeda, more supports might be then following the route of Al-Qaeda seeking change in their countries.

 

The third group consists of those who are hopeful of change that lead to democracy, human rights and the state of institutions. This group in Saudi Arabia includes Islamic reformists, liberals (or so called), many females, educated younger generations and others. The latest calls for change in Saudi Arabia coincided with the return of King Abdullah after a long medical treatment trip. So far, I am aware of three letters that were signed by more than three thousands Saudis asking for reforms. These letters represents the voice of this group and the three letters had many basic common demands including an agreed upon constitution, elections for Shura Council, the release of many long term prisons who are in jail without trial, and Separation of the executive, legislative and judicial the powers. My friend and fellow Saudi blogger Ahmed Al-Omran translated the last of the three letters in the link here (Declaration of a National Reform). This group has been active in the cyberspace for the past few years. The current changes in Tunisia and Egypt inspired this stream and created more followers to its desires.

 

The Saudis who are not comfortable with change and think that things are not that bad represent the fourth group. This group includes various group of citizens who believe in the system and cannot see themselves crabapple or responsible of change. They feel that the government is the sole responsible about what to do to them and for the future of the country. I personally believe that this group is one of the larger groups, however cannot make much of difference since they are passive and expect things to happen to them by the government.

 

The last group consists of those who usually adopt the government and religious clerks. Some friends think that this set of people is getting smaller as people are exposed to more sources of information and discussions. I don’t completely agree since I believe that many Saudis trust the government decisions and look for the opinion of the pro-government religious institution in almost every problem.  

 

The interaction between these five groups and the government will be very crucial in determining the future of Saudi Arabia. It is extremely difficult to predict what exactly might happen, but it is evident that more Saudis demand more changes and freedoms inside their country. So far the government did not show much of understanding of what type of earthquake is hitting the Arab World. A very generous financial support package was announced through Royal Decrees but some Saudis felt that the government is not listening to their hopes. I personally felt very disappointed. In the era of new Arab revolutions, a financial package felt like a bribe that does not address the real constant issues in the country. The package will benefit some Saudis greatly, yet the prominent issue in the past was not the lack of the financial resources but the extremely weak monitoring of how these resources are spent and misuse of these resources.  I am dreaming of a constitution, elections and freedom of speech. If not enough Saudis show their readiness to be in charge of their future and take some risk and pressure the government to adopt change, things will be difficult to move ahead and completely dependent on the government’s choices only.

Israeli Apartheid Week

07/03/2010

Saudi Blogger Qusay suggested publishing his latest post “Israeli Apartheid Week” in Alternative Saudi Voices blog. I am delighted to have this post in the blog since it touches in an important subject for many around the globe.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for a while now, and what better time to actually write it and publish it than during the Israeli Apartheid Week.

Let me be clear, I do not hate Jews. I’ve had Jewish friends, we talked, we ate , we celebrated, we got into heated debates about this and that, we helped each other on homework and projects and I have some good memories of some of them, and bad memories of others. I have never subscribed to the idea of grouping people into one category, and I was never comfortable with generalizing a whole community and demonizing or exemplifying them.

Now that I have that out of the way, Israel is an apartheid, just like South Africa was, and worse in my opinion.

Many years ago, when I was not even in high school, I read about Israel not accepting the African Jews of Ethiopia into the Israeli society and imposing restrictions not imposed on Jews of other nationalities who get almost free admission into the settlements, and let’s not forget that they push the people who’ve lived on the land for hundreds of years off the land to build the settlements and call upon Jews from all over the world to come and get the Jewish aliya (literally “ascent”).

One of the reason I’ve loved blogging is because it gave a voice to people, those who I’ve never heard of, saying it like it is. Israel hates Arabs so much that they not only attack Arabs and treat them bad, but they also treat their Jewish people with disdain for looking like Arabs, this is a post by an Iraqi-Jewish-Israeli scholar, Ella Shohat telling it like he lives it. “The discrimination Mizrahi Jews face, like their Palestinian brethren, is a testament to the racist nature of the state of Israel.”

I saw a 60 minutes report a few months ago, some good Jewish people who work for the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem in a remarkable project called Shooting Back. They live on the land gave some poor Palestinians video cameras so they can video the attacks (watch this), and then they take the footage from them and upload the videos for the world to see. I have to say that I am proud of them, I hate discrimination, I even wrote a post about it, and these people stood up against it, thank you.

I really do not care who governs the land, but what Israel is trying to do is copy what has been done to the Native Americans and the Aboriginals and the Africans, but they were a few hundred years late, plus the area was not living in the stone age so they can not just push the natives off the land (which somehow humans intend to do even to inhabitants of distant planets if they have the chance, seen the movie Avatar?).

I write this post, to include my voice in a global movement that I hope will change the situation for an uncountable number of people to the better, and raise awareness.

In a previous post I said I hope I have the courage to speak up against any discrimination I see, and I could not resist to speak up on this one.

The Arab stance was once that as written in a letter by Prince Faisal Hussaini King of Syria and Iraq to Felix Frankfurter in 1919, which I quote here “We Arabs, especially the educated among us look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organisation to Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate proper. We will do our best, in so far as we are concerned, to help them through: we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.” (full letter and correspondence)

It started with a welcome, and went through many genocides, I hope it ends soon.

Haile Selassie in his eternal 1963 Speech delivered to the United Nations and popularized in a song called War by Bob Marley said it well “That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained”

The Israeli minister was grilled on apartheid issues that “he made a confounding claim that Israeli Arabs may have “full citizenship,” even if they do not enjoy “full rights.”

There is no excuse for this type of discrimination to keep going on at all.