Arabs: Trapped in Their Superiority Complex

Arab autocracies perpetuate suffering and encourage violence evident by the current tumultuous state of affairs in Arab World.

ArabsArabs in the Middle East are plagued by

“…autocratic rulers, whether presidents or kings, give up their authority only when they die; its elections are a sick joke; half its people are treated as lesser legal and economic beings, and more than half its young, burdened by joblessness and stifled by conservative religious tradition, are said to want to get out of the place as soon as they can.”

The ongoing bloody battles between Sunni and Shi’a Arabs in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain demonstrate the perilous stagnation of educational, social, political (freedom of expression) and economic progress Arab societies have suffered from for centuries.

Having deluded themselves into believing in their cultural and religious supremacy, the Arabs missed at least 100 years of transformational developments which include scientific and technological advancement and the evolution of democratic institutions which made it possible for the individual to think analytically, to explore and invent freely.

As correctly pointed out by historian Bernard Lewis in his famous book, What Went Wrong, the Arabs isolated their societies from the transformative processes that shaped and propelled much of the world from agrarian subsistence into scientifically and politically flourishing nations.

In an unprecedented interview on a Saudi satellite channel, a former member of the Saudi Shura Council, Ibrahim Al-Buleihi, gave a rare assessment of the reasons for Arab backwardness. He, like Bernard Lewis and some notable Arab critics, attributed the lack of Arab political, educational, technological, economic and social progress to Arabs’ rejection of the Industrial Revolution and its empowering values. However, Al-Buleihi went further, saying that the Arabs have submerged themselves in a false sense of religious and cultural superiority which he feels prevents them from benefiting from the gargantuan political and scientific achievements of other societies, especially the West.

During the Western transformational era (Industrial Revolution), Arabs refused to relinquish their centuries-old social and political arrangements such as political and religious totalitarianism and discouragement of self-reliance.

In reality Arab regimes, especially in the oil rich Gulf Arab countries, are still encouraging their populations’ dependence on the state. By clinging to old traditions of isolation and rejection of empowering modern democratic values, the Arab autocracies not only isolate their captive populations from the age of enlightenment, but from each other. Additionally, the false sense of religious, ethnic and cultural supremacy that made most Arabs scornful of non-Arabs and non-Muslims was and still is used by some Arab regimes to turn their people against each other and against Arab and non-Arab societies.

Generations of Arabs have been trained to be suspicious and distrustful of each other within each country based on religious, ethnic and gender differences. This prejudice colors their perception of and relations with their Arab brethren. Moreover, beliefs about who are “the real Arabs” play a major role in Arab societies and how citizens of each country relate to other Arabs. For example, desert dwellers, especially in the Arabian Peninsula, consider themselves “the real Arabs,” but are considered by other Arabs to be backward nomads.

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The killing and destruction that are engulfing most Arab countries now, especially the carnage in Syria, are symptomatic of religious intolerance, social stigmatization, gender segregation, political oppression, corruption and scientific backwardness that have resulted from Arabs’ self-inflicted stagnation.

For example, the daily atrocities committed by the autocratic Alawite regime in Syria (aided in part by Lebanese Shi’a Hezbollah) and their mostly Sunni opponents (supported by the Qatari and Saudi autocracies and inspired by the lethal Saudi Wahhabi doctrine) have their roots in similar centuries-old religio-political animosities.

The bloody Shi’a -Sunni conflict raging openly in Syria and other places has detrimental implication for all Muslim societies. A segment of every Arab and Muslim society is Shi’a who have been oppressed by their governments and resented by their Sunni compatriots. The strategic-turned-religious war in Syria is spelling over onto Shi’a citizens in other Arab countries, especially in the oil rich Gulf region, where sizable segments of those societies are Shi’a.

A recent announcement issued by the ministers of the autocratically ruled Gulf Arab states, known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), threatened to punish known Hezbollah sympathizers working, residing and doing business in the Gulf Arab states. The reason given is retaliation against the Lebanese Hezbollah outfit that is fighting on the side of Syria’s autocratic Shi’a dynasty. GCC’s ministerial announcement to punish members of Hezbollah residing and doing business in the Gulf Arab states, was echoed by the Qatar-based extremist spiritual advisor to the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

Alarmingly, Al-Qaradawi was complimented by the Saudi Mufti, Abdul Aziz Al-Alshaikh, for calling on Sunnis to go and fight Shi’a in Syria. Calling on Sunnis to fight Shi’a in Syria will strengthen oppression of Shi’a by their Sunni governments and will heighten resentments of Shi’a by their Sunni compatriots in their own homelands.

Despite centuries of failures, setbacks and disappointments, one would think that the Arab regimes and societies would have learned that their entrenched ways of doing things have failed them miserably. Sadly, Arab autocracies and theocracies, especially in influential countries like Saudi Arabia, continue to use and emphasize the same values and methods that contribute to social chaos, impede political reforms and prevent technological and scientific advancement.

This is still happening at a time when most Arab citizens, men and women, are educated, aspiring to a better future, economic opportunities and freedom of expression. By continuing their tyrannical and divisive methods of ruling, the remaining Arab autocracies are perpetuating suffering and encouraging violence in their individual countries and among Arab states as shown by the current tumultuous state of affairs in Arab World.

Dr. Ali Alyami is the founder and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, in Washington, DC. CDHR focuses on promoting peaceful and incremental democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, including empowerment of women, religious freedom, free flow of information, free movement, free press, privatization of government industries, free elections, non-sectarian constitution, and codified rule of law, transparency and accountability. Read other articles by Ali.

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