In today’s Arab world, there is a treacherous tendency to classify people into a one-dimensional identity, be it religion, sect, ethnicity, or nationality. We often hear voices claiming that the Arab world does not exist and that the persecution of the Palestinian people is not our concern or that our Muslim faith is our only identity.
This disturbing uncertainty about our identity is a reaction and the result of decades of botched management of our fortunes by inept authoritarian rulers who have often engaged in power struggles, holding the public hostage to their self-aggrandizement.
This degenerative and murderous trend has contributed to the unraveling of societal cohesion and the fragmentation of the Arab world. It has also plunged many parts of the region into violence and misery.
Ironically, this trend runs counter to the reality of our world today, characterized by the constant movement of people, goods and ideas and a dynamic intercultural interface. Today identity is becoming more and more complex and multi-layered and there is also a conscious effort to highlight commonalities and minimize differences to foster peaceful coexistence between peoples and nations.
Perceiving our identity through this prism means that what an Egyptian Copt, a Lebanese Shiite, an Iraqi Kurdish or a Moroccan Amazigh has in common with their compatriots and neighbors in terms of language, roots, culture, history and of geography transcends the differences that may exist. This way of thinking is essential for the present that we share and the future that we must build together.
As the world is in a process of soul-searching due to the pandemic, it is important at this low point in our history to embark on a reset on our current trajectory. The choices we make today will be fundamental to our future. Are we better off in terms of security, economic and social development, cultural promotion, etc. when we are divided, that we are easily prey to foreign interests and that we have little political and economic clout?
Or should we look to models, such as the European Union and other emerging entities in the world, whose members rightly recognize that most of the threats they face know no borders and that the Do most of their challenges and opportunities require collective action?
If, as I hope, we conclude that it is in our best interests to close ranks, we must first get rid of the habit of covering up our shortcomings or laying the blame on someone else. . Then we need to have a thoughtful conversation among our intellectual elite in the Arab world, an elite that has been largely marginalized. For this conversation to be meaningful, it must include civil society, long suppressed and sidelined, as well as the general public. We need to focus on who we are, what constitutes our national security, what we want to achieve and how best to go about it.
In many parts of the Arab world, we have not even agreed on the required social contract which prescribes the basic values ââand principles necessary to safeguard our social cohesion. The often ambiguous and sometimes controversial relationship between religion, morality and law giving rise to many conflicts and disputes is just one glaring example.
This public conversation would painfully show that the Arab League, long seen as an embodiment of our common identity, is clinically dead. It would also show that our regional security system has been disrupted and outsourced. It would also highlight what the Arab Spring has made clear – that there is an urgent need for governance reform that guarantees the rule of law, political participation and human rights. It would also show that we are lagging behind in the basic tools of progress – science, technology, research and education – despite the financial and human resources at our disposal.
We urgently need a democratic, transparent and accountable system of governance, supported by a vibrant civil society. We absolutely must learn to live together, within and across borders, as one nation accepting diversity and respecting minorities.
A credible, autonomous system of regional security that protects us and preserves our interests is of paramount importance – a system that can help resolve complex relations with our neighbors. In this context, a dialogue with Iran and Turkey, with which we have many disagreements, but also much in common, is long overdue. A clear and unified strategy on how to deal with Israel’s blatant violation of Palestinian rights is a high priority.
We need to catch up with the modern world by investing in cutting edge technology centers, leading universities and think tanks. We must become an active contributor to civilization and not just a passive spectator.
Above all, we must end the futile wars and horrific bloodshed that continue to devastate our people and seek to resolve our differences through dialogue and mutual accommodation. These wars have been a stain on our collective consciousness for too long.
It is undoubtedly a tall order, but I hope we have the courage and the wisdom to start taking the first steps. A gradual and inclusive reform process is imperative and urgent if we are to avoid further decline and the risk of uncontrolled unrest.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.