While sipping a cup of tea in a hotel in Calicut, Kerala, a state in India, I was approached by a group of young men and women from some Gulf countries who asked me to join their discussion. The topics ranged from the environment to sports and finally stopped at politics.
Why is the Arab World in this sorry state? asked a young man who was studying business and finance in Singapore. It’s a difficult question to answer I replied. But we all want to know, chorused his friends all in their early twenties.
There are different reasons I replied, however, in my opinion the Arab World never had a chance to take off after it was divided beyond repair by the Sykes/Picot agreement exactly a hundred years ago.
Following the Second World War, the creation of the Arab League created a glimmer of hope. The organization aspired to build a better future and uplift the people in the region. However, shocks and blows came again from the Western imperialists in the form of the creation of the Zionist state of Israel in 1948.
Israel became a deadly thorn in the region imposed by the United States. What made it worse was the inability of Arab States to harness the energies of the people and guide them to prosperity.
The humility after Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, internal strife, rivalry, revolutions, repression, bad management, dictatorship, lack of governance and at times utter stupidity by self appointed leaders plunged the Arab World to the lowest of levels. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its break up by the Americans was the last nail in the Arab coffin.
The weak bureaucratic and corrupt states caused frustrations, anger and rage among the people in the region. To gain self esteem and revive some dignity, movements in Tunisia and Egypt started, and what has been described as the Arab Spring. However this Arab Spring was hijacked by vested interests as in the case of Egypt.
In Syria a megalomaniac dictator, far removed from reason, did not read the writing on the wall and compromise to alleviate the suffering of his people. His decision has cost thousands of lives and gave life to deadlier terror organizations, who kill at random.
Iraq continues to suffer a civil war after the American invasion as does Yemen and other areas of the Arab World. The region has become a war zone for ambitious regional players.
It’s not a rerun of history I told this young group but a reflection of the past that if viewed might help us build a better strategy to address our tragedies, confront our enemies within and defy external powers with vested interests.
The root cause of the problem in the Arab World was that those in power did not want to let go. They were oblivious to the needs of a younger generation who’s goals and vision are different from military dictators and oligarchs.
Former American president John Kennedy said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” That’s what the region is seeing, the predictable clash of those seeking to stay in power and those pursuing change and a better future.
Today religious extremism terrorism and uncertainty haunts the young Arabs who aspire to live in peace and dignity; they want to have a voice in their own affairs. They want to live in a society where the individual will be judged on merit rather than by affiliation. They believe that this is the only way to go ahead.
One of the young ladies asked me, Can it be done? I answered firmly, Yes, it can be done if we put an end to global violence and give peace a chance.