Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Arab Uprisings

By Wageh Saad - 02.28.2011

Recent events in several Middle-Eastern countries are driven by a multitude of factors that have been brewing for the last three decades.

What we read in the Western media, however, is only the backdrop.

At the top of their list are factors such as poverty of the masses & extreme wealth in the hands of a few (a phenomenon that describes most countries in the Middle East).  Alongside poverty is the fact that Middle Eastern governments are dictatorial whether they are run by an individual or by a party.  Couple this with strict control of free speech, and press and media usually managed and run by the regime.

Opposition, democratic or otherwise is not allowed and in many situations opposition leaders are persecuted, jailed or exiled.

Leaders have always focused on their survival as rulers forgetting about what is important for the people and the country.

Governments are perceived by their people as very strong and heavy handed vis-a-vis their own people, yet very meek and weak when dealing with the outside world.

This last fact taps into historical shame.

Muslims feel in their hearts that many opportunities to realize the status and level of achievement once held by the Muslim Empire have been lost.

The period following 9/11 made matters worse. Leaders were caught between the fire of terrorism in their land and the accusation by other countries that they were not doing enough to stop it.  This had a crippling effect on their efforts to improve the image of their countries and to maintain the progress needed in their land and made them appear even weaker.

Add to this the absence of any final peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians. For the last 60 years Arab leaders have claimed that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is behind the lack of progress in their countries.  For countries that made peace with Israel this justification does not work anymore.

Authoritarian leaders are the product of  the 1950 generation; their leading style — lacking the essential social justice ingredient– are out of sync with the expectations of a younger, more educated generation.

In the past, leaders have been able to harness the intermingling of faith and politics to their own advantage.  The new enlightened and faithful younger generation are no longer taken in by this tactic and are aligning with secular forces to voice opposition to these regimes.   On top of this are concerns over the military occupation of many Arab and Muslim countries by foreign armies.

These elements have all been enumerated by the Western Media as reasons for the present uprisings. Yet, visionary leaders who were able to unite their people around national goals and who command trust are still able to maintain power notwithstanding all of the above factors.

So what is missing from the Western media coverage?

I would maintain that the Western media fails to grasp the relevance and significance of  cultural and psychological factors.

The first is the breach of trust by leaders who use their positions to accumulate big fortunes for themselves and their families.

There is a saying in Arabic, ” The leader of a group of people is their servant”.

A leader who accumulates wealth at the expense of his people deviates from such Middle Eastern core values as generosity, hospitality, charity, religion (giving to the poor), reputation, and honesty.

That act alone would cause leaders to lose people’s trust.

The second is a critical loss of hope.

After many decades of people waiting for the sun to shine, things have instead gone from bad to worse.

These elements are the ones driving the uprisings in the Arab countries.

They are also what need to be restored by the next group of leaders to have any hope of  bringing calm and political stability to the region.

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