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The Arabs' Generation of Failure - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Despite the loyalty and dedication of our generation, it has failed drastically to achieve the aspirations of the Arab people. We have come across a number of difficulties and obstacles that eventually led to this failure. We failed to reach goals that intellectuals and politicians of our countries considered achievable. The generation I speak of consists of those who were educated in top high schools and universities during the fifties and sixties in the Arab world. This generation in particular includes a number of the most educated, most energetic, and most persistent people.

Due to such enthusiasm, we believed that no goal was beyond our reach. Failure was out of the question. We were confident that in little time we could elevate the Arab world to the highest levels of human development.

We spoke about the future willingly. Our discussions back then always revolved around four main aspirations that needed to be achieved urgently and at any cost: Arab unity, the liberation of Palestine, the establishment of social justice, and the elimination of illiteracy.

The saying, ‘Arab Unity,’ was not a subject of dispute among any of us. We were firmly convinced of the Arabs one history, one language, and shared dreams and aspirations. Yet we had also realized that the borders between most Arab countries were created artificially during Western colonization. We were cognizant that those lines did not take into consideration topography, history, water resources, tribal locations and kinships etc. We were all under the spell that unifying all these countries as one Arab nation state or as a confederation would result in a new viable bloc that would have a prominent status among international blocs.

The salient belief back then was that a single powerful Arab nation would free Palestine; however, no one studied how this would be achieved. We felt that the Palestinians paid dearly for an inhumane act that nevertheless, had occurred at the hands of the German Nazis against European Jews. Moreover, we realized that Muslims, Christians, and Jews had harmoniously coexisted on Palestinian lands since the birth of the three religions. We asked why then should Palestinians pay for crimes that they did not commit? In addition, we were convinced that the creation of a Jewish state would lead to the increase of religious intolerance and conflict in the entire Arab region.

The situation varied from one Arab state to another concerning the third goal, social justice. Egypt had sufficient foodstuff, in addition to its lucrative cotton export, which was in high demand from international cotton weavers. Syria was also a major exporter of furnishings. In short, most local manufacturing in Arab states covered the local demand. However, we viewed it from a different angle. My generation believed that these economic structures represented class enslavement. We saw the producers of industries and crops as rich exploiters who enslaved the working classes. Our vision of the ideal solution was nationalization of industries and the limitation of land ownership by law. We considered Arab Socialism as the best model. We realized much later that it was simply the offspring of futile regimes that caused the fall of the Soviet Union.

We thought that the achievement of eliminating illiteracy, our final goal, would be possible only by establishing social justice and redistributing national wealth. We believed that the Arabs were hard workers but did not gain their legitimate rights simply because the majority is illiterate. We also thought that because of illiteracy, people were ignorant of their rights, and even those who knew their rights would not be educated enough to demand them in a civilized manner. We considered the elimination of illiteracy an essential goal especially in small towns. For this we tried to train and to encourage a large number of university graduates in many Arab countries to volunteer to teach people how to read and write throughout the summer.

The four mentioned goals were legitimate; in fact, they remain valid aspirations today. The main reasons for our collective failure lies in the methods we used. The common factor between these means was to depend on institutions and associations rather than on focusing on building a strong individual. The state institutions were weak because they initially aimed at securing their own future. The governments set up media institutions that were used solely to preserve their images. Thus corruption spread. Furthermore, much lip service was paid to imaginary achievements to keep people disillusioned. Regardless of the aspirations of some leaders or the demands of some people, there was no chance of success under such painful circumstances.

Then the Egyptian revolution came in the 1950’s loaded with patriotism and Arab nationalism. Those who carried out the revolution themselves were not corrupt, however, the institutions that they established drained peoples’ energy and disappointed them. The role that the revolution played in this was evident as it chose the services of “confidants” rather than those qualified to work in government institutions. This is how the retreat began. Thus, development was strangled and creativity gradually disappeared.

Those who studied applied sciences and technology from my generation found themselves in direct clashes with such environments. Therefore, some emigrated and proved that the Arab scientist could succeed in a suitable environment while others stayed to be swallowed by the state. Some of those who remained succeeded in many areas, however the norm was still that the government was primarily interested in maintaining its presence. The issue of Arab unity and other goals became detached notions to be mentioned rhetorically every now and then during conferences of the Arab League.

There was no chance for Arab unity to succeed based on emotions rather than meticulous study and analysis that would outline the benefits of unity for the public. The lack of such analysis was the reason behind the failure of the Egyptian-Syrian unification in the early sixties. The European Union began with people of different languages and various cultures because the European leaders discussed the benefits and illustrated them to their people such as easier travel, better economies, and military as well as civil security. On the contrary, Arab unity would never have materialized due to the mistrust and fear between Arab states. The strong should have supported the weak and the rich should have been generous to the poor. This was the only road to a flourishing future for the entire Arab nation based on common interests and benefits.

Moreover, the initial decision to resolve the issue of Palestine with war was incorrect. Not only were our military institutions not qualified for such a battle, but the declaration of war on Israel changed the Palestinian issue before the international community. The issue went from the Palestinians being victims whose lands had been stolen, to a matter of aggression as seven Arab armies attacked a small state of Jews.

The military solution caused the deterioration of our civil institutions because the war was used as a pretense to suppress democratic demands. This was especially true concerning Israel’s neighboring countries. The true meaning behind the slogan “No voice is louder than the voice of battle,” that was popular during the wars under former Egyptian president Nasser is not to ask for anything because resources will be allocated to war. In addition to the increase of government control over civil society, this slogan taught people to be silent and comply. Finally, there was an expensive economic bill for the war that added to the deterioration of the national economies.

As for illiteracy, this matter gradually disappeared. It is true that most Arab governments decided to offer free education. However, the increase in the number of students was not accompanied by changes to the way of teaching. When specialization was no longer necessary at university, a rise in unemployment amongst graduates took place. What was to be done?

If my generation failed to achieve the afore-mentioned goals, then perhaps we should not be leaders. We should step aside. We need a more dynamic, younger, and courageous generation to purge the Arab world of our present crises. To pave a new road, we need a new vision by a younger generation. Primarily, however, my generation should acknowledge its failure to identify the mistakes committed so that the younger generation could avoid them.

We should be able to depend on the well-built individual rather than the institutions. The individual is the one who can advance institutions and lead them away from their failed course. We should respect and trust the human individual again whether male of female, and especially trust his or her ability to renovate and create. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Arabs await the elevation of Egypt, because when Egypt improves, the rest will too. Arabs have not been strong except for when Egypt was strong. Therefore, reform should start in Egypt based on well-established scientific foundations.

This means that in Egypt, we need a generation that is confident and brave, as any progress in any field requires confidence, which is the result of continuous learning and training. The self-confident individual will always be respected by others. However, the new generation must realize that acquiring knowledge is not as easy as it may believe. It requires patience and dedication to work. The young male or female should consider work a great honor rather a great burden. Also, the idea of gaining financial rewards in the quickest and easiest ways amongst the new generation must be rejected. We need a generation that respects righteousness. We are in need of individuals who would once again raise the Arabs to enable them to take their appropriate position amongst other nations.

Dr. Farouk El-Baz

Dr. Farouk El-Baz

Dr. Farouk El-Baz is a research professor and the director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University, in Boston, Massacheussets, USA. He is adjunct professor of Geology at the Faculty of Science, Ain Shams University, in Cairo, Egypt. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Geological Society of America Foundation in Boulder, Colorado, USA.

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