A State of Individuals

The time has come for change in the Arab world, first of all in thought, before we rush to revolutions without a clear vision, a plan and gradual steps leading us to the state of institutions, to the state of democracy, to the state of the rule of the people by the people. 

Written by: Hazem Al-Qawasmi

We were raised listening to stories of champions and heroism, to that invincible hero who defeats everyone. All our historical stories, novels, heritage and Arab culture are based on individual heroism. Likewise, the history of all other world cultures was based on the valiant leader and not the valiant leadership, the wise leader and not the wise leadership.

We did not see in the state, in the army, or in society, except one leader who everyone followed and obeyed, whether it was the emperor, the king, the caliph, or the president. The people took pride in the leader’s strength, character, and firmness, along with the number of people he killed and the armies he defeated. In some societies, the leader’s glorification sometimes reached divinity or direct association with God. We are not referring here to prophets; but to human beings of whom the common people dressed them in the clothing of holiness because of their admiration for them, their actions, their leadership of the army and the state, or for personal material interests.

We do not only speak of ancient history, as the myths and fairy tales that entertained children, abound in the deification of heroes, were abundant. However, this still applies in the present and is the reality of some Arab countries, where some Islamic and Christian clerics do not hesitate to link the ruler of a particular country to God. If you doubt that this is true, then open YouTube to find dozens of videos that openly speak about it. Don’t even think that this is limited to our Arab countries. Look at the evangelical Christian clergy in the United States and how they deify President Trump, and how George W. Bush said that God inspired him to invade Iraq. Even in the greatest democratic country today, there are still faults and slips, where sometimes the leader is linked to God.

In the Arab society and third world countries, many are nostalgic for the heroic past and old victories. As we live today in the worst times of intellectual and military defeats, it is imperative that we review the situation honestly and openly. We have to admit the disease of our exaggerated love of history, our great attachment to it, and our passion for its details in order to know how to treat this disease. It is natural for people to be proud of their history and victories; but, that their pride and attachment to it reach a degree that separates them from their current reality and from their being is an imminent danger to the nation that must be faced with all audacity.

Despite the darkness of the Arab situation today, it is not all the same in the world around us. Many countries across the world have made great strides in the modern era in building a state of institutions that do not only depend on a single individual, savior, or leader. There are many countries where their people decided to change and tried to get out of dictatorial regimes to become a democracy. Arab youth monitor the progress and development of Europe, Asia, America and Australia, as these countries do not depend on heroism. Therefore, the youth are trying hard to accommodate the vast difference between countries led by one individual, as he/she learned as a child, and between modern countries led by elected democratic institutions from the people. Due to the despair and frustration present in the Arab world, young men and women would rather pack their luggage and emigrate to a country that provides him/her with rights, freedoms, and a decent life instead of working to change their own country.  

Reducing all state powers in the hands of one person is a very high risk, because only he will decide the fate of the country and its people, for it will be easier for him to resort to war and destruction due to reckless governance, power, and fateful decisions. Good governance depends on the goodness of the individual or his corruption, and has no clear relationship to the people with power or government. In a democratic country, there is a parliament that holds the president and government accountable and an independent judiciary that tries them, if they are corrupt. As for the dictator, no one dares to speak of holding him accountable or trying him because he is above the law, above the state, and above the people. The dictator stays in the seat of government until his death and makes every effort, before his death, to pass on his seat to one of his sons. As for the state of institutions, the people choose their ruler for a specified period, where they either re-elect him or vote for another ruler because the state and its fate are not dependent on one person. The ruling cannot be passed onto his family and children.

The time has come for change in the Arab world, first of all in thought, before we rush to revolutions without a clear vision, a plan and gradual steps leading us to the state of institutions, to the state of democracy, to the state of the rule of the people by the people. We don’t want new heroes because our stories are full of them. What we want is a new era that differs from the past because times are changing and conditions are evolving. It is time we work for a better future.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.

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