Dominance of Arab masculinity must be challenged

Masculinity in the Arab World is a dominant phenomenon that is falsely overrated by society. We tend to associate power with masculinity, unnecessarily strengthening and privileging males at the expense of females. Power today no longer comes in the shape of a hardcore masculine machine that requires considerable physical effort; it has emerged as a software application driven by innovation and technology in which physical masculine power is superfluous.

Beyond its gender definition, masculinity is an Arab cultural phenomenon created and advocated for by Arab males in order to acquire substantial privileges.  For centuries, Arab males have been working on optimizing their natural masculinity, leaving our female spouses to submit to the role of inferior gender in our society. Moreover, females eventually tend to adhere to this cultural trait and to raise their children with the same understanding.

Many feminists are willing to comply with the concept of masculine superiority as long as it includes an element of decency in dealing with women. However, our living reality shows that when females over-empower their male partners and are forced into the role of clear followers, the situation can easily and unconsciously evolve into one that involves harsh male attitudes and distressed females. The role of family caretaker that many Arab women find comfortable may eventually turn into a heavy burden that places them squarely in the position of blind followers.

Many Arab females tend to rely on their male spouses, believing that their respective male partners are better able to handle most of our life challenges. However, the only element of truth in this proposition is that we males have designed our work dynamics to accommodate us better than they do our female partners. This situation could be easily altered and made more suitable to both genders by offering women a decent method to commute, work and socialize – without being exposed to any male pressure or abuse.

Many successful Arab marriages are built upon a clear division of family responsibilities; husbands are responsible for meeting their families’ financial needs and wives are the caretakers of homes and children. However, dividing marriage responsibilities means that we are not capitalizing on both partners’ utmost competences, either in bringing up children or in securing earnings. In fact, alternating between female and male duties will certainly give children a better childhood as well as offer the family more financial security.

In my country Egypt, women who work outside of the home have to live with the natural challenges of their work, along with confronting many indecent attitudes at the workplace and, eventually, be fully responsible for running their households and raising their children. In many poor neighborhoods, the men tend to rely on their wives’ incomes, spending their days and nights at coffee shops! Nonetheless, the men in these neighborhoods still enjoy a clear superior status over their female spouses – who value their “masculine” protection against wide exposure to male harassment.

The Lord created Adam and Eve who shared equal life responsibilities; what has happened since then is the evolution of diversified cultures that have empowered the male over the female gender due to the need for physical power that was required centuries ago. Whereas nowadays we refuse to recognize the obvious possibility of alternating “male” and “female” duties i.e. career women and husbands who take care of the house and children (children only need to be fully cared for by their mothers during early childhood).

The over-empowerment of men and the undermining of women’s role in our society is a clear defect that negatively affects both genders and hinders social progress.  Many females around the world have fought for their rights, not only by advocating, but also and more prominently by proving themselves in various work places, demonstrating that they can work at the same jobs as men and even do it better. Men will not give up their cultural superiority voluntarily; Arab women must gently challenge them in order to live fruitful and meaningful lives.

Talented Lebanese must be given chance to help nation

At a meeting that I attended with a number of international directors who work for a leading global business enterprise we realized that the corporation deals with large numbers of business partners of Lebanese descent who live in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Lebanese immigrants are widespread across all continents and a significant number of them has had very successful careers heading large corporations – and even as Heads of State.

Many international enterprises and foreign nations have offered Lebanese citizens real opportunities for success and prosperity that they have managed to make the most of, opportunities that their loving homeland declines to offer. Nevertheless, Lebanon still possesses many talented citizens who prefer to stay home and make the best out of it. Lebanon has gone through intensive civil war and has been militarily abused by neighboring nations. As a result, four and half million Lebanese live in their country and roughly fourteen million are living abroad.

Lebanon’s dilemma lies in its inability to exploit Lebanese talents, both within its borders and abroad, to build their country. Lebanon possesses all the necessary ingredients to be a developed nation; its citizens are quite proficient, it has considerable natural resources and a large portion of the population is quite wealthy. The nation could easily attract substantial foreign investments to better develop its tourism industry facilities and thus receive more tourists.

Integrating these factors together will certainly transform the nation. However, the country lacks both the political will and the leadership capable of accomplishing this mission. Lebanese politicians are quite open to listening to advice proffered by international economic institutes that could help move their country forward, but achieving consensus among these politicians on any given economic scheme is beyond a “mission impossible”. Thus, numerous ideas land in and leave the nation, without being subjected to any kind of serious consideration.

Lebanon’s current rhetoric is the setting up of a new cabinet in which each political force is demanding a given number of ministerial seats (the combination of their demands far exceeds the existing number of ministerial positions). Observing the Lebanese media during a recent visit to Beirut made me feel that Lebanon, along with its citizens, should be grateful to its political forces for establishing a government – an approach to political accountability that is the reverse of that in many democratic nations.

Meanwhile, all Lebanese citizens agree that a number of foreign nations are influencing the forming of their government. Regardless of the factual weight of this belief, foreign nations certainly don’t micro-governor Lebanese politics; the responsibility for investment expansion and attracting tourists falls to the coalition government that will hopefully be formed soon. Nonetheless, apart from the disputable foreign factor, Lebanese citizens, who tend to be individualistically driven, may be the real obstacle to the solution of their challenges.

Apparently, all Lebanese citizens, regardless of their political ideology or ethnicity, admire Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (assassinated), who exerted genuine efforts to reconstruct the country and managed to move the nation forward based on a clear political stance and consensuses among all political parties – a proposition that Lebanon lacks presently. Hariri’s footprints are easily identifiable in numerous Beirut venues.

Airports often provide me with the final impression on how nations are governed. After standing over an hour in the passport control queue (which could have easily been avoided by appointing additional passport control officers), I was astonished to find that the VIP lounge at the Beirut airport was unnecessarily spacious, with plenty of unused space. To me, this signaled that the government is not eager to ease tourists’ experience by reducing queue time, but it is keen to offer an extra comfortable lounge to elite travelers.

Lebanon needs to move from its current static politics towards a more dynamic model! The most urgent political step is to establish a functioning government in which competence – not adherence to the current political obligation towards various political forces – is the driving force. This can easily be done while completely complying with the Taef Agreement. Lebanon is in desperate need of a “new Rafik Hariri”. Many Lebanese citizens certainly possess the necessary characteristics, but the current political structure denies them the opportunity. Until this hindrance is overcome, the country might be living with the same challenges for years to come.

West’s trial and error interventions in Middle East

Calls for one international political conference after another used to provide me with a glimmer of hope that some of our Middle Eastern challenges would be resolved through the initiatives of advanced Western nations – until I learnt that western bureaucracy is even worse than ours. Unlike most of my fellow Middle Easterners, I am not a believer in conspiracy theories; I believe that western nations are either unconcerned with exerting true efforts to solve some of our challenges or that they are happy with the status quo.

President Trump has famously described our region as “the troubled Middle East”, which would naturally imply that western nations would be making a wise decision by pulling out of the Middle East completely. However, the West does not want to kiss the Middle East a final goodbye nor does it want, or perhaps it is incapable of, constructively engaging in the resolution of our problems. The West is only good at assigning a delegate to each conflict, without giving him a mandate or making him accountable for any outputs.

Some western scholars argue that what we lack in this region is a clear strategy that is produced by the West, the United States in particular. However, this “no strategy” may be the intentional implicit tactic of the West in the Middle East, aimed at leaving the region to struggle with a number of clashes and thus empowering western nations to interfere at their convenience and on the scale of their choice. Meanwhile, western policy failures are often blamed on our unwillingness to resolve our issues.

The West often advocates for idealistic propositions and tends to turn a blind eye to realistic solutions. Moreover, when the West wants to stress a given problem, it is able to resolve it in only a few days, ignoring other considerably less complicated issues. Yet in certain conflicts, the West often draws red lines, indicating clearly that Middle Eastern governments should not cross these lines, and hinting at a number of political propositions that we should adopt gratefully.

The strike on Syria that took place last April is a clear example of the West’s insincerity! Three western nations (the United States, the United Kingdom and France) decided to strike the Syrian ruling regime in retaliation for its alleged use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. Regardless of the accuracy of this claim, the West appears to have no problem with the internal war raging in Syria that has led to the killing and displacement of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians – but the use of chemical weapons is the red line that the Syrian regime should not cross.

Presently, the United States wants to pull its military forces out of Syria and replace them with Arab forces. The decisions to deploy forces, carry out strikes or withdraw troops are all western presidential decrees that might conflict with the needs of innocent citizens living in the countries concerned. Western leaders are always keen to provide their fellow citizens with some justification for their military interferences in other nations, yet they don’t really care to address the suffering victims in those nations.

The conflicts that have emerged in the Middle East are certainly our responsibility; our various political forces have contributed to their creation. However, once the West decides to interfere, whatever the method, it should assume some of the responsibility, which it often declines to do. Many of the West’s intervention policies intensify the conflicts on the ground that we alone must bear, without exceeding the political ceiling that the West has clearly delineated for us and that sometimes works to our citizens’ disadvantage.

I learnt from my western acquaintances that people should think prior to acting. However, when it comes to intervening in our region, the West tends to apply a “trial and error” approach. In dealing with western countries, Middle East nations have two clear options: either to endorse western (military or peaceful) interference or to submit a resolution to the U.N. Security Council – that will be vetoed by the same western nations. My answer to the famous Western question, “Why do you hate us?” is, “We do love you, but the magnitude of our love is equal to the extent of your intervention in our region!”

Time to pursue the Palestinian cause intelligently

The United States administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel was a disappointing notion for the Arab and Muslim Worlds, but it should not have surprised us. The United States has been clearly and explicitly supporting the State of Israel for decades, using very precise political and economic means. The Arab World’s repeated call for the United States to play the role of fair arbitrator is based on an illusion, conceived by Arabs and Muslims, that contradicts reality.

Our tendency in the Arab World to express our anger in an extreme manner is a cultural trait that is much more likely to affect us negatively than to support our position. I have watched the burning of the American and Israeli flags on hundreds of occasions probably; invariably, the outcome was that we were left with the ashes of the flags – and the occupation of additional land. Furthermore, in an attempt to regain our occupied lands, many Arabs advocate for boycotting American products that are sold in the Middle East, while others express their sympathy for the Palestinians by using the Al Aqsa Mosque as the profile image on their social media accounts.

These kinds of reactions are well intentioned, but they have absolutely no impact on either the State of Israel or the United States. Both nations are well established politically and have strong economies that won’t be affected by such gestures. We need to think of our strengths as Arabs, explore the most effective methods that the world understands and values today, and stop insisting on resorting to means that give us pleasure or make us feel heroic; both are personalized responses that work on boosting the status of many individual politicians – with zero value to the Palestinians.

A true Arabs dilemma is that the world perceives Israel’s use of military and security troops to fight Palestinians as a legitimate, but Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli troops are seen to be committing violent acts. We are living in an era when no one wants to watch violence on the air, even if it is committed by victims. This phenomenon should stimulate us to explore other means with which to convey our anger, methods that are more valued by the world today than those that we have been using for decades.  As for suicide bombers who target innocent civilians; this is clearly defined as a terrorist act.

The majority of the world’s citizens certainly sympathize with the Palestinian cause, their decade-long daily suffering, and their displacement from their homeland. Nevertheless, the world is ruled by powerful nations, not by the accumulated sympathy of its inhabitants. Still, there is room for achieving success by peaceful means. We need to work on influencing nations with our political arguments. It is a lengthy and protracted process, but would probably lead to better results, with fewer causalities.

We Arabs need to renew the battle for communicating our case to the World peacefully and intelligently. Eventually, we will be able to build a clear case based on strong arguments – and many nations and universal citizens will support us. While the Palestinians have tried this method before, they have been alternating between using peaceful means and expressing their anger in demonstrations and protests. We need to use this method only and exclusively. It will be a long battle, but one that is certainly worth undertaking.

I do not contend in this commentary that the world is a fair place! On the contrary, injustice is extremely intense and widespread, and it has affected the Palestinian people more than citizens of any other nationality. Nevertheless, we have already tried many methods, often affiliated with elements of aggression. The outcome has been the occupation of more Palestinian land by the Israeli State and the heaping of blame on the Palestinians for their violence. These results should have prompted us to explore other methods much earlier. It is high time to do so now.

The Arab Youth Struggle: Between Employment and Identity!

Seeing hundreds of young Arabs across the Arab world hanging out in cafés all day long leads me to wonder how our respective governments can better release their energy and ideas by providing them with genuine employment opportunities! Do these youngsters agree with their nations’ doctrines, or do they harbor different beliefs? Are they happy to be unproductive citizens? The Arab youth challenge is certainly extensive and it exists in all the Arab nations; to neglect the issue is to magnify and compound it.

A large segment of Arab youth is either unhappy with their jobs or doesn’t earn enough money to found a family – the majority suffers from both issues. Our work culture in general is not rewarding for young people, both morally and materialistically. Meanwhile, learning about the western work culture, with its higher wages and decent employment environment, tempts Arab youth to look up to western society – and to seriously attempt immigration.

The Arab youth struggle stems from the combination of our education systems and work culture on one hand and exposure to the more appealing and rewarding western society on the other! The work culture gap in Arab nations is widening because our youth’s ambitions conflict with the reality of the work market, which does not support their dreams. This has not only resulted in young people condemning many of our cultural traits; it is also distancing youth from their Arab identity.

What our parents and grandparents used to do proudly for decades is no longer of interest to Arab youth. Yet Arab job market dynamics continue to operate according to the old-fashioned approach of our older generations, who often accuse our youth of being immature and unwilling to assume responsibility. Our governments’ failure to capitalize on the latest technologies and modern workplace trends is further complicating the problem and widening the gap between generations; causing young people to intensify their condemnation of our work environment and to admire the western lifestyle even more.

Many young Arabs who dream of living and working in Europe are not only interested in earning better incomes; they also want to enjoy the decent work environment that western nations offer and that rarely exist in our region. This obvious consequence is moving many of them to either completely accept western social culture (which is different to ours), or to reap the benefits of the western work environment while struggling with their social life.

This dilemma has had a negative effect on the Arab identity, which is turning into a blend of our Arab heritage overlaid with a veneer of some western norms. Of course, abiding by cultural identity is a matter of personal choice that cannot be imposed by governments; nevertheless, the employment struggle in the Arab world has definitely affected our identity. For instance, Arab cultural values that western nations used to admire (such as personally caring for elderly family members) are fast eroding over time.

Nations tend either to abide by their own cultures (while discarding all others), or to emulate foreign cultures completely. Many young Arabs, however, tend to copy westerners’ social and leisure customs but ignore their strong commitment to work and to being productive citizens. Regardless, what is best for us is to “pick & choose”; we need to work on modernizing our work culture while maintaining our identity – which will require open-minded modern leaders that value this concept and are willing to apply it.

Arab culture has many positive traits that are overshadowed! To maintain our identity, we need to modernize our work environment. Unfortunately, our growing population drains any effort made in this regard. Therefore, we need to tackle our population and employment challenges using a different method than the ones that have failed us for decades. Neglecting to address these challenges will result in erasing our identity over time – this is already starting to happen.



Arab League’s Challenges decades after its Establishment!

Listening to some Arab leaders describe their countries’ internal challenges during the recent Arab Submit should help us to understand why we have been living with the same difficulties for decades; unable to provide true and valid resolutions. Culturally, Arabs tend to present their problems without offering practical solutions, accusing their opponents of being difficult and stubborn – and eventually labeling them as enemies. When delivering their speeches, Arab leaders usually sound as if their aim is to share their pains with their peers, but they show no desire to arrive at permanent solutions to their problems.

A couple of decades ago, we Arabs had to contend with a single complex crisis (the Arab-Israeli conflict); today we are living with internal conflicts in each of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, along with various concealed conflicts in Lebanon, Sudan and Egypt. Nevertheless, apart from expressing an earnest desire to resolve our problems, the League of Arab States did not submit for debate a single concrete proposal aimed at resolving any of these conflicts at the recent Arab Submit.

In a way, the League of Arab States symbolizes our chronic Arab challenges. The League that was established with the goal of uniting Arab nations to better deal with external challenges is today stuck with the internal challenges of its own member states. The League that was supposed to become the mind and engine that drive Arab nations forward has managed to gradually weaken its role, becoming a financial burden on the Arab nation without contributing any clear outputs. The League is continually expanding its bureaucratic mechanism; it hosts many experts who are over-compensated but don’t have a clear mandate to address our challenges.

Every time a new Secretary General is elected (and they are generally persons of high caliber), I tend to revive my hope that he will manage to stimulate the role of the League. My infantile hopes are then dashed as it materializes that having been a good Egyptian bureaucrat has helped the new incumbent to assume the post of Secretary General of this deadweight entity. The Arab League that was supposed to act politically on behalf of its member states has recently been delisted from invitations to many political conferences organized by relevant stakeholders who have come to regard the League as an entity of no value.

Most Arab governments don’t want other nations to offer ideas that could solve their problems; in our region, such proposals are defined as ‘external interference’. Each country is happy to live with its challenges and crises for decades, willing to accept any support that strengthens the regime in power – but instantly declining any initiative that might undermine the ruling regime. This being the implicit behavior of most of our nations, do we still need the League of Arab States that contributes nothing while imposing significant financial obligations on its member states?

Our main dilemma and challenge lies in the prevalent culture in this region that prevents us from ruling inclusively. To be able to solve some of our problems, we need to agree that leaders in power are not always right to relegate national opposition parties to the ‘wrong side’; at the very least, this prevents them from benefitting from any solutions the opposition may propose. Additionally, our common language is not the only thing that can unite us; we Arabs need a level of political maturity that does not exist in most of the nation; accepting and tolerating ideas put forth by Arab citizens to solve our problems is the only way to move us forward.

To modernize the Arab League, we could begin by recruiting heads of committees and departments based on their ability to devise solutions to our challenges, instead of continuing to rely on the current bureaucratic mechanism that offers secure high-paying jobs, with no accountability. Furthermore, the Egyptian state that insists that the Secretary General of the League of Arab States be an Egyptian should also ascertain that this Secretary General is committed to carry out a specific mandate, prior to his nomination.

Does the Western business drive trigger more terrorism?

“The West wants to take our money,” is a widespread conviction among many Arabs. Most Westerners who do business in the Arab world probably believe that their activities are undertaken on a mutually fair basis, in which the West often offers its products and expertise in exchange for Arab money. A large segment of Arab society, however, does not share this view, especially when they observe the decline of their countries’ wealth while they continue to live as developing nations.

I am struck by the lack of morality in the relationship between Arab and Western governments. The West, which abides by advanced moral values, tends not to extend them to its relationship with the Arab world. The outcome of being completely business-driven is that Arabs end up acquiring many products that their societies do not need (military equipment in particular), and receiving know-how and expertise that is never applied, leading them to blame their inadequacies on the West.

Many government business transactions are contracted to please Arab rulers at the expense of their societies. Western business people who are active in the Arab world justify their behavior with the phrase: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In other words, do not be concerned with corruption and lack of morality in the Middle East as long as business is good.

During Egypt’s 2011 revolution, British newspaper The Guardian reported that former President Hosni Mubarak’s family fortune could amount to $70 billion, deposited in Western banks. Hi six-decade-long career was spent serving in the military prior to being appointed vice president and eventually becoming president. He should therefore never have been allowed to open a foreign bank account in which to accumulate his wealth in the first place. Yet it was only when he was about to be ousted that the West released this information.

Cause and effect

Furthermore, terrorism in the Arab world did not emerge from a vacuum. There are fundamental pillars that trigger and motivate terrorists: the absence of democracy, the spread of violence in society, government deficiency (including corruption) and misperceptions of Islam. The combination of these factors contributes to the emergence of terrorists who realize that Western interference in the Arab world, and the West’s continued support of autocratic Arab leaders, compound the region’s deficiencies.

Unfortunately, the attacks that took place in Western countries have not opened minds and eyes to the core problem of terrorism. On the contrary, by offering strong support to authoritarian leaders to enable them to continue their repressive policies with the (false) aim of eradicating terrorism, the West’s reaction to the attacks has led to the neglect of the real cause of the terrorism that initially emerged in the Arab world.

I once told a Dutch acquaintance that The Netherlands appears to have a large number of handicapped citizens (often seen on the streets). My acquaintance replied that there are probably many more disabled people in Egypt; the difference is that in The Netherlands the disabled are integrated into society, whereas in Egypt they are physically and mentally marginalized.

Thinking about this story made me realize the scope and magnitude of our problems, concerning not only our handicapped citizens but our numerous other challenges. We need to work on integrating citizens who perceive violence to be a tool, by establishing a constructive dialogue with them and applying true democracy.

By promoting and sharing positive values, the West might experience a temporary reduction in the size of its business in the Arab world, but such a course of action will eventually bring Western countries peace. The expansion of security measures will not be of much help since the symptoms of terrorism will continue to exist and flourish.

As long as large numbers of potential terrorists who are ready to commit their lives to a false cause exist, the West will continue to be vulnerable. The sympathy expressed by world leaders in the wake of terrorist acts will not prevent further crimes. The only valid solution is to address the core of our terrorism problems.