x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

For democracy to prosper, Arab societies have to split from styles of tribalism

Egyptian novelist Alaa Aswani argues in Al Masry Al Youm that democracy and tribalism are at odds with each other because democracy advocates individual responsibility while tribalism adopts collective responsibility. Other Digest topics: vandalism in Egypt, Hamas

Tribalism in Arab societies is a major obstacle to building democracy because it paves the way for tyranny, injustice and discrimination, Egyptian novelist Alaa Aswani wrote in an article in the Cairo-based newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.

While democracy advocates individual responsibility, tribalism adopts collective responsibility. Thus police officers in Egypt for instance are all seen as responsible for the crimes committed by some of their colleagues, all Americans are held responsible for the crimes of the US army in Iraq, and all Jews across the world are held accountable for Israel’s atrocities.

An aspect of tribalism is the stigmatising of particular professions. Once a negative character appears in a film, series or novel, anyone with the same profession protests vehemently. In Egypt, lawyers, doctors and journalists would lash out over these characters and file complaints.

This is not only an obstacle to freedom of creativity, but it can also be incompatible with democracy when members of the same profession seek to advance only their own interests.

Under democracy, all people are equal before the law. By contrast, tribal attitudes demand that people of the same tribe must support each other during conflicts with others, no matter who is right and who is wrong.

In democratic countries, the head of state is seen as a public servant. People can and should criticise presidents and prime ministers when they are at fault, and can even get them impeached if they fail to put things right.

In democracies, there are many satirical programmes in which the objects of derision are senior officials who accept any criticism levelled at them, however harsh, because they know that it seeks the greater good.

In Egypt, however, tribalism prompts people to elevate rulers above the level of ordinary people so that a ruler is not a public servant, but rather “our father to whom we bow down and kiss his hand; he is the symbol of the nation and so criticising him is considered an act of indecency and, perhaps, betrayal”.

A case in point is what has been happening to satirist Bassem Youssef. After he had faced objections from supporters of former president Mohammed Morsi, Youseef on his return to the show after a prolonged hiatus is now facing outrage over some comments about army chief Gen Abdel Fattah El Sisi.

The Egypt-based CBC broadcaster which airs Bassem’s programme has distanced itself from the last show, and many have complained about the satirist making fun of Gen El Sisi because he is the “the symbol of the nation”, just as some sycophants would do under all the previous presidents – treating them as pharaohs above any accountability or criticism.

Egypt: vandalism is no exercise in freedom

Acts of vandalism attributed to young followers of the Muslim Brotherhood on the campus of Al Azhar University in Cairo on Wednesday must be condemned and should prompt all Egyptians to take a strong stance against “those who are trying to fell the Egyptian state”, the Cairo-based Al Ahram newspaper has said.

“Over the past several days, many universities have seen demonstrations by Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated students. Some of these demonstrations remained peaceful, and so faced no resistance, but most involved violence and acts of disturbance to try to force classes to be cancelled,” the newspaper stated, citing videos on local television stations and news websites.

“There is a huge and clear difference between the right to peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression, on one side, and some perceived right to vandalise property,” the newspaper said.

Some of the events that took place on Wednesday, in Al Azhar and other institutions, went beyond destruction of property and in some cases involved death threats to professors and students, the newspaper added.

“Brotherhood students could be seen destroying the entrances to the administration of Al Azhar, removing even air conditioners, throwing property from the windows and besieging the president of the university and other staff in their offices.”

These actions require “decisive measures”, the paper concluded.

Hamas is between a rock and a hard place

Recent developments in the Arab region have left Hamas without allies, especially because of the restrictions on Hamas’s parent organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, wrote Mazen Hammad, a columnist with the Qatari newspaper Al Watan, yesterday.

When Khaled Mashaal, Hamas’s political bureau chief, recently put in a request to visit Tehran, its one-time supporter, the reply was terse and clear: Iran is too busy because of the Syrian crisis and is hard at work reconstructing international ties, Hammad wrote, citing a press report quoting a former advisor to the head of the government in Gaza.

Iran is said to be angry at Hamas over the latter’s criticism of the Assad regime in Syria.

“The other factor is that Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, prefers to enter the Middle East from its front door, not through the backdoor of organisations and political movements,” the columnist observed.

This means that, not only did Hamas lose its Syrian sponsor, it is also losing much-needed Iranian support.

“To top it off, Egypt has also severed its relations with Hamas, while many other Arab states that had amicable relations with the movement also abandoned it, leaving it practically friendless.”

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk