Perhaps I have had individual cultural, professional and commercial successes over the last 50 years of my life, however, it was also a period during which I saw how several nations in the region experienced many setbacks.
I was a child in 1948, when the State of Israel was established in Palestine. In 1967, I was a young man when television networks began to transmit images of the destruction of Egyptian airplanes and airports. Back then, I said to those around me: “What you see is nothing but a trap that leader Nasser has set for his Jewish enemies and now he will throw them into the sea as he has repeatedly told us.” But it seems that I was wrong, and overly enthusiastic, just like millions of Arabs who watched the television screens at the time.
The October War was a defining moment in modern Arab history. There was a near-Arab consensus, with a high-level co-ordination between the two commanders and the military in Egypt and Syria. But once the war started, views differed between Anwar Sadat and Hafez Al Assad, the first stopped declaring his victory and regaining his land while the second continued in an absurd war of attrition. Then old allies began to blame each other with submissiveness and betrayal, and the rest of the story is well known.
I experienced the first and second Gulf War, the fall of Baghdad, the July war, the ruin of Libya, Syria and Yemen, including the emergence of another Arab state in early September on the border between Sudan and Egypt that was named “Kingdom of the Yellow Mountain”!
Whey can’t we Arabs score a collective military, cultural, or economic victory? Even in sport, the name of an Arab player may emerge in a European league, for example; or, in another instance, a Tunisian or Jordanian champion could win a gold medal in running or swimming in an Olympic tournament. But it seems impossible to see an Arab sports team gaining a prestigious position in a global competition, not in football or anything else.
The Arab media scene is also mired in endless polemics. I remember how a dispute over a football match between Egypt and Algeria was enough to ignite the media fronts on both sides. It was a war in which intellectuals and artists also participated, in which the most vociferous words were used. Thankfully, things did not develop any further, and, as the Arabic saying goes, ‘the water returned to its streams’ between the two major Arab countries. Meaning everything returned to normal between them.
I recently read this statement, which is attributed to the most prominent Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. He is reported to have said it when the establishment of the State of Israel was declared in 1948, and the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party held a meeting to consider the matter. The allies were divided between supporters and opponents of recognising Israel. Stalin then made this statement “We will plant a thorn in the back of the Arabs and let them rub until the end of the world”, and the Soviet Union was the first country in the world to recognise the State of Israel at the time.
Is this the thorn that prevents us as Arabs from attaining unity and convergence? It is true that the establishment of the State of Israel cut the Arab world geographically into two parts, and brought the region into endless wars and conflicts. But I do not believe that this is the only reason for our disagreement as Arabs. Quite the contrary, the threat Israel posed to us as Arabs and its control over Jerusalem and the occupied Arab territories should prompt us to overcome disagreement and discuss how to restore Jerusalem. Instead we have left the scene to countries such as Iran and Turkey, which are fanning the feelings of their people and our people under the pretext of embracing and liberating the cause of Jerusalem.
Individual victories or achievements remain incomplete unless they are within the framework of the collective successes and development of a nation. What is the point of having a private jet but not in your own country’s airport? What is the point of having your son hold a degree in surgery or banking in a country where most people have nothing to live with?
For decades, there has been a trend towards “corporate social responsibility” in the sense that companies that invest in a country and make money from it – especially those that pollute the environment, for example – are returning a portion of their profits to serve the community. In a sense this responsibility also applies to individuals.
The goal is to ensure the stability, cohesion and well-being of society, to ensure the continuity of the work of companies and profit-making also for individuals. This means that everyone is in one boat, and it is in the interest of everyone to continue this journey safely, and this is the concept of social solidarity, or belonging to society and the nation.
Within 10 minutes of tweeting and sending news broadcasts, is enough for you to see the catastrophe of Arabs, at a time when we are in dire need of unity or unification, and to reach agreement. An agreement that is capable of keeping pace with regional and global powers, and has scientific, economic and military power.
I reached the end of my article and I repeat a verse of the poet Nizar Qabani: “O friend I am tired of my Arabism, Is Arabism a curse and punishment? I walk on the map, scared; On the map we are all strangers. I speak Arabic with my clan and repeat, but there is no reply”.