THE BLOG
05/22/2014 09:55 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2014

The Middle East Between the Culture of Destruction and the Culture of Enlightenment

Who in the Middle East wakes up exhausted by nightmares that haunt them the following day, and who wakes up looking forward to realizing their dreams? Between the culture of destruction and the culture of enlightenment, the Middle East is stumbling as it walks a tightrope in inharmonious steps toward change. This proposition is neither rhetorical nor the result of a scientific survey (though it may be worthwhile to conduct one), but is an attempt to return to what citizens want in any country of the Middle East and how government leaders or oppositions seeking to replace them are dealing with this.

In the United Arab Emirates, citizens wake up to headlines celebrating competence, achievements, international competitiveness, leadership, recognition, and rewards. As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai said this week, after the UAE was ranked first globally in government efficiency according to the Global Competitiveness Report, the UAE government leads as one team, from Al Sala'a to Al Fujairah, and the happiness of its people is the basis of its work.

In contrast, happiness is forbidden in Iran. It is forbidden for people to be happy, to dance, or to sing in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran's police chief Hossein Sajedinia, commenting on a video made by three young men and three young unveiled women dancing to the tune of Pharrell William's Happy, told the Iranian news agency that the police arrested the people involved in making the "obscene video clip that offended the public morals and [that] was released in cyberspace." The young Iranians were released following a campaign on Twitter with the hashtag #FreeHappyIranians. Iranian President Hassan Rohani commented on the incident by quoting a previous tweet of his, saying, "#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy."

The moderate reformist President Hassan Rohani's defense of freedoms does not please the hardliners, the actual rulers of Iran. The battle for power there is ongoing, and internal tensions are raging, but for the time being, Iran remains under the control of the mullahs' regime, and will not celebrate any time soon gaining the freedoms that have been prohibited for over three decades and a half.

No matter how much the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran boast of their statesmanship, nuclear achievements, or regional dominance with victory in Syria after Iraq, or for having forced the West to kowtow, the outcome of what these rulers did is that they took Iran's astonishing civilization three decades back in time since they took power, imposed religion on the state, and withheld happiness from Iranian citizens, who now wake up afraid of joyfulness.

In Turkey, which has long prided itself on being democratic and secular, separating religion from state, Recep Tayyip Erdogan took power to rule Turkey and render it into a model for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Turkish people rebelled against him, because they began to wake up, terrified by the nightmare of looming religious dictatorship. People have given him credit for engineering Turkey's economic rise, but they want to hold him accountable for daring to assume that Turkey would surrender to religious dictatorship and a leadership carrying a dangerous project. Turkish citizens now wake up to face a new day of confrontation with a leader who thought he could control their fate.

In Egypt, where the Egyptian citizens rose up to thwart the most sinister scheme by which the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to monopolize power and subjugate the Arab region to their bid to impose religion on the state, Egyptians now wake up aware of the ability to impose change out of Tahrir Square. Egyptian citizens now have an instrument for accountability, which will be used again if any new ruler forgets that it was the Square that brought him to power.

It does not matter that some Western - and Arab - writers and journalists often tout the claim that what happened in Egypt was a coup meant to restore military rule. This is nonsense. But if this claim becomes true after Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi wins the presidential election, whereby he rules as a military dictator, then what is absolutely certain is that Tahrir Square will hold him accountable and overthrow him, if he should deny the Egyptian citizens their right to wake up to a new day to rebuild Egypt, internally first, but also to restore Egypt's position in the regional balance of power with the support of the Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait.

The Citizens' Egypt or the Street's Egypt as it is called is now the foundation stone in redrawing the Arab region in the wake of years of receding involvement by the Egyptian people. What happened in Tunisia, with the correction of the Jasmine Revolution and the challenge against the monopoly of the Muslim Brotherhood, would not have happened had the Egyptians not foiled the Muslim Brotherhood plot in Egypt. Today, Tunisian citizens wake up hopeful again to smile and smell the jasmines, for they can celebrate their ability to hold rulers accountable and force them to reform and adjust their course.

Libyan citizens might yet succeed in emulating the Egyptian and Tunisian examples, despite the nightmare they are living in day and night. The page of accountability and punishment has been opened for those who assumed that NATO toppled Gaddafi's rule to make way for a corrupt tyrannical clique to loot the national wealth, and for al-Qaeda and ISIS and their ilk.

One important development took place in Libya when the air defense branch and the National Forces Alliance led by Mahmoud Jibril joined Operation Dignity spearheaded by the Libyan National Army, and led by former Chief of Staff Major General Khalifa Haftar. Another important development was that the Libyan National Army has asked the Egyptian army to help maintain the Egyptian-Libyan border, saying that the Egyptian army was the safety valve for the Arab nation. More importantly, Libya is trying to wake up from the nightmare of intimidation and terrorism, and the Libyan citizens are waking up now itching to get rid of religious and tribal extremism fueled by calculated external support, and to join Haftar's call for a civilian council to take over and correct the course of the Libyan revolution.

Yemeni citizens are still living in the throes of a difficult transition, and have yet to get rid of both al-Qaeda and its ilk, and the wretched ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood. They are still waking up to fear and anxiety, although they have achieved important steps in the process of salvation from tyranny. Yemeni citizens are in a state of profound anxiety.

Anxiety is also blighting citizens in Iraq, who are haunted by the specters of civil war that could destroy everything they have built. Anxiety plagues the nights of Iraqi citizens, who realize that sectarian war would not only divide them, but also destroy them. Citizens in Iraq dream of the day when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki makes a daring move and leaves power voluntarily, after he realizes that staying in power is one of the causes of the calamity. They dream, but they wake up to the reality of power, and they catch their breaths before returning to anxiety.

Pity the Syrians who have lost the ability to sleep wherever they may be in Syria -whether they are dispossessed, combatants, rulers, or on the run - and outside Syria, be they refugees in the camps, fields, or even in fancy hotels. They are the citizens of disaster and tragedy. Sleep is not an option and if Syrians were to close their eyelids, they will find themselves panicked and terrified, no matter how much they try to reassure themselves about having won a battle or the war. Long are their sleepless nights, and many are the nightmares that come with their unmindful dozes.

In Lebanon, people are accustomed to sleep. What they fear is waking up to news about security incidents that shatter their wakefulness and not just their sleep. Lebanese citizens are not worried about the lack of quorum to elect a president in the inactivated and unemployed "club" of deputies. What irks them is that Lebanese deputies continue to receive high salaries for life, although they, even when in office, do next to nothing for the citizens' wellbeing - with some rare exceptions. Citizens speak of power vacuum, its meaning, and its duration, but they are used to the absence of the state. They have long decided not to link their right to be happy, to dance, and to take joy to the decisions of their leaders, and proceeded to build in the face of destruction, while lamenting how a God-given paradise was turned into a sort of hell by various Lebanese leaders.

Palestinians, for their part, are now used to the hell of the occupation, which is truly one of the worst known violations of basic human rights anywhere. Still, Palestinians have not familiarized themselves with the occupation, because this would be incompatible with freedom and humanitarian principles. The oppression the Palestinians are living with under the occupation is cause for the Israelis to lose sleep, too, and have nightmares for sustaining their occupation, no matter how much they try to escape this reality now or later. Israelis live in a siege mentality, and this can bring no joy, and they fully understand the meaning of subjecting Palestinians to occupation, and this is no joke.

In the Gulf region, Saudi citizens wake up to daily changes, which though do not seem obvious to non-Saudis, are a massive event in the daily lives of the Saudis. Riyadh is now competing with Jeddah, and reform is proceeding forward albeit at a Saudi pace. There is some anxiety in Saudi, yes, but no nightmares.

Back to the UAE, perhaps one of the most distinguishing features of this country is the sense of tranquility, aspiration, optimism, and happiness that accompanies the lives of Emirati citizens there. Two events this week provide a model for what concerns the Emirates:

The 13th session of the Arab Media Forum celebrated the achievements of journalists from the Arab region, and recognized talent during a gathering of senior journalists in the region attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid in support of the efforts of the President of the Organizing Committee of the Conference and Chairwoman of the Dubai Press Club, the competent and esteemed Mona Ghanem Al Marri, and the Director of the Dubai Press Club and director of the Arab Media Forum, Mona Bu Samrah.

Another event of note was the latest Global Competitiveness Report, which ranked the UAE first globally in government efficiency, quality of government's decision taking and lightest bureaucracy, and second in attitudes and values, and the ease of doing business. It is great to celebrate being the world leader in government efficiency according to the Global Competitiveness Yearbook for 2014, one of the most important global reports of their kind issued by the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland. It is great to take joy in Dubai being granted the title of the city of global opportunities and in Sharjah hosting enlightened and moderate religious events.

Emirati newspapers are full of good news, from congratulations, inaugurations, and the country's attraction of innovation and investment, to stories about how competencies are rewarded in order to compete to achieve the best and take first position.

Congratulations to the citizens who wake up happy with their leadership, and joyful about being able to work to achieve their dreams.

Translated from Arabic by Karim Traboulsi

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