It's time for the Middle East to have an opinion about the world

The region has to reclaim its narratives abroad and boldly engage with the international community

epa08989888 The under-construction Museum of The Future is illuminated in red as the color of Mars in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, United Arab Emirates on 05 February 2021. Landmarks in the UAE are lit up in red in support to the Hope Probe reaching to Mars orbit on 09 February 2021. The Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe is the first planetary mission led by an Arab-Islamic country and the space probe is to study the Martian atmosphere.  EPA/ALI HAIDER
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For far too long, our global narrative as a region has been told for us, and not by us – and this could be traced back to as early as 1798, when Napoleon first invaded Egypt.

What differentiated Napoleon’s assault from other imperial conquests of his time was the fact that he took along with him more than a hundred writers, artists and intellectuals on his mission. Napoleon’s “cultural” army, if you may, proceeded to depict the Arabs as barbaric, uneducated and uncivilised; in essence, the exact opposite of the superior, white, European male they had constructed in their collective imagination and creative work.

One would think that somewhere between 1798 and 2021, western media, NGOs and think tanks would abandon these racist depictions, but unfortunately, that has not been the case.

As a writer from this region myself, I, like many Arab generations before me, have seen the impact that these outdated stereotypes and narratives have had on global debates surrounding the Middle East, a colonial term that has unfortunately, with the years, been all too exclusively associated with violence and instability in international media. As a writer, I have also wondered: why does the world insist on having an inaccurate view of the Middle East, and when will the Middle East vocalise – more boldly – its opinions about the world?

These are not easy questions, and there are definitely no easy answers – but this is exactly why I have decided to build and launch Fiker Institute, an interdisciplinary think tank based in Dubai, with a simple mission to do just that: reclaim our narratives abroad as a region and engage in an actual two-way dialogue with the rest of the international community on critical issues of mutual concern.

Unlike the rigid, academic models used by think tanks worldwide, Fiker Institute is keen on adopting a truly interdisciplinary approach to studying global challenges, by combining both foreign policy and culture, by merging both numbers and art. When we will study a region at Fiker, we won’t just publish academic reports, we will also publish poetry, plays and literature. When we analyse a country, we won’t just report official numbers and statistics, we will also showcase their paintings, their sculptures and their music.

We are launching today with six research programmes, divided into both regional and thematic areas of study. Regionally, we are going to, initially, focus on West Asia and North Africa, Europe, and North and South America. In West Asia and North Africa, Fiker Institute aims to decolonise narratives surrounding this region, and to advance scholarship that highlights the nuances of its local contexts. In Europe, we want to explore the question of national sovereignty versus multilateral co-operation in the EU, and to study in more detail the underlying reasons behind the rise of populism, decline in gender equality and re-emergence of religious extremism across the continent. In North and South America, we aim to better understand the current challenges facing this dynamic region, including, but not limited to, the increase of police brutality and rise in domestic human rights violations.

When will the Middle East vocalise – more boldly – its opinions about the world?

Thematically, we will be taking deep dives into diplomacy and global governance, gender equality, and climate change. In diplomacy and global governance, we will study the disruption of diplomacy in light of the changing nature of global affairs, as the international community finds itself connected more intimately, yet more remotely, than ever before. With gender equality, Fiker Institute seeks to explore the nuances behind the challenges that women still face around the world today, and to contextualise their wider political, economic and social participation. With climate change, we aim to study in more depth sustainable adaptation and resilience models drawn from different regions, while focusing on better understanding the multi-sectoral impact of climate change.

This is an open call for thinkers, innovators, writers, poets and artists in the region, and across the globe, to join our mission, and engage in this new and bold dialogue. We will be right in some things, and possibly wrong in others, and that is exactly the kind of platform we want to build together: a platform where we test ideas, debate constructs and advance deep intellectual understanding – as equal partners in the international community.

Published: September 08, 2021, 4:00 AM