All Writings
January 27, 2002

September 11 Left The Arab World Scared And Confused

The Arab world will probably never be the same as it was before September 11th. The question is what kind of changes will we witness? Will they be the type of changes geared toward meeting public yearnings for human rights, freedoms, better social and economic conditions and personal security or will they be cosmetic and therefore only intensify the social and political discontent leading to political instability and escalating violence.

The Arab world remains to a great extent in a state of denial, that the September 11th terrorist attack on the United States was perpetrated by Muslims, and in the name of Islam, is simply incomprehensible. Many Arab leaders recognize, however, that self-denial is at best self-serving and that they, themselves, are threatened by fundamentalist-leaning terrorists instigated by distorted teachings of the Koran. Every Arab leader knows that terrorism is deeply rooted in his own backyard and also knows that shifting the blame for public discontent on to Israel or the United States will not work indefinitely. What each leader will do about this remains an open question. Marking time may prove to be the worst enemy, and many leaders may already know that only too well. There is, however, a growing awareness among the elite in most Arab states that unless their governments begin systematic efforts to address the endemic social and economic problems, massive violent unrest will be only a matter of time.

Egypt, the largest and most influential Arab state and Saudi Arabia, the guardian of the Muslims' holiest shrines, are especially experiencing tremendous trepidation, knowing that business is no longer as usual.

Their leaders have not figured out, however, what to do to change the growing international perception that both countries are the hub of current and future terrorists. What the leaders of these two nations decide to do will have a ripple effect on the rest of the Arab World. Indeed, they are between the rock and the hard place. Opting for democratic reforms, which of necessity requires them to relinquish some of their powers, will expose their corrupted regimes and severely undermine their political base. But maintaining the status quo will become increasingly intolerable for the masses and lead inevitably to an explosion. In one way or another these two government must face reality–they are the prime breeding grounds of terrorism and only they can do something about it.

The intellectuals in most of the Arab nations have either been coopted by their respective governments to do their bidding and mislead the public or have left their country of origin to find an outlet for their yearnings to think and work freely. In either case they have abandoned their countrymen to languish under corrupt regimes. If September 11th has not awakened Arab intellectuals to the social and economic ills that permeate their homelands, nothing will. They must be in the forefront of change.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia must also rethink their positions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the one hand they protest that a resolution to the conflict will stem terrorism and stabilize the region politically, but on the other, they cynically continue to exploit the Palestinian plight to distract public attention from their own shortcomings. It is high time for Saudi Arabia and Egypt to make supreme and transparent efforts to persuade Arafat to pursue political means to achieve a genuine and lasting peace with Israel. September 11th made terrorism unacceptable regardless of its source or cause. A suicide bomber may kill scores of Israelis, but at the same time, he also destroys bit by bit the political ground on which Palestinian and other Arab leaders stand.

Finally, from the inception of most of the Arab States in the 1930's and 1940's, the Arab people have known nothing but corrupt kings and princes installed by colonial powers or self- appointed military dictators who pillaged and robed their countries and shattered their pride. There is widespread sympathy throughout the Arabs world for Bin Laden cause. Arab leaders are no longer immune to public outrage. They can no longer hide, run or bury their head in the sand; neither should they be able to rely on the United States to bail them out.

To be sure, the Arab World is a scared world, confused and uncertain of the future, a world that lives in the past. It was jolted by the September 11th into a rude awakening. A new and far-reaching strategy, entailing social, political and economic reforms, albeit gradually implemented to preserve political stability, is their only and last resort.