What do the Arab people want?


What do the Arab people want? A visiting journalist asked me this question last week.

First of all, the Arabs are not a monolithic group, I told him. You have Maghreb Arabs and those of the Levant and the Gulf with their different attitudes, goals and aspirations.

However, there is an underlying common denominator, which is that of a shared language, music, literature and culture. And most important of all, a spirit of nationalism.

The Arabs have always had the dream of unity – egged on by Pan-Arab nationalism during the Nasser years, the liberation of Palestinian lands occupied by Israel aided and abetted by the West, and a sense of frustration with some of their own leaders who stand accused of complicity with foreign powers.

Sadly, they did not adopt the right approach and they resorted to force to change the domestic status quo. Thus we witnessed coups and counter coups throughout the 1950s and 60s. Many were bloody. While Egypt had relative stability after the revolution in 1953, self-appointed saviors of the Arab world and “liberators of Palestine” popped up in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Their misadventures caused Arabs a lot of hardship.

While the world grappled with economic issues, many Arab leaders were more focused on cementing their rule through oppression and by depriving their citizens of basic human rights.

Today, we are in a mess. The Arab Spring, which many hoped would usher in a new era, has failed to deliver. Was it an Arab Spring or was it the Autumn of the Despots?

The failure to build institutions throughout these years, the absence of a free media, the instilling of collective fear in the population by dictators created a vacuum. Today we see chaos. Long years of suppression which have now been replaced by what is perceived to be freedom have caused all types of people to surface who have no idea what they want.

There is complete anarchy. Add to that the creeping extremism and intolerance that continues to threaten the whole region. Many extremists were clever enough to ride the train of democracy until they were able to grab power.

And let us not forget the interference of the big powers; the unjustified attack on Iraq, its disintegration, perpetual violence and its spillover continue to be a major cause of concern. A civil war is raging in Syria unabated.

Sadly, both the Arab League and the UN have failed to resolve this conflict and the world has watched while tens of thousands have died.

“Enough is enough,” say the younger generation of Arabs as they look with dismay at the past performance of their governments.

“We want a good education, jobs, an efficient social system and a voice in our future,” say the youth of the Arab world.

Today, the young of the Arab world are united as never before in the idea of economic and social security. They want to determine their path and their future independently. The overwhelming majority of Arab youth reject violence and extremism. They want the rule of law to prevail.

The Arab people have a lot of talent. They are like their counterparts elsewhere. They want peace and will not submit to bullying and interference by outside powers.

They want governments that establish balanced mechanisms and institutions that guarantee freedom of thought and expression within the framework of law and order.

This is what the Arab people want. They deserve to live in dignity.

– The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at kalmaeena@saudigazette.com.sa and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena

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