Abu Dhabi // Tribalism and political Islam are the gravest threats facing the Arab nation state, the audience at a leading discussion forum heard today.
The inability of some governments to provide acceptable levels of infrastructure, health care and education contribute to people’s lack of respect and civic pride, said Mohammed Al Murr, the author, FNC Speaker and former editor in chief of Khaleej Times.
“Economic failure has led to groups turning to their tribes and sects before the state,” Mr Al Murr told the annual forum organised by Al Ittihad, the Arabic-language sister newspaper of The National. “An example is that a third of Lebanon is being provided for by Hizbollah.”
Political Islam viewed the nation state with doubt and fear, Mr Al Murr said.
“One of the Islamist leaders in Egypt said he viewed belonging to his country as secondary. He has a vague concept of an ancient caliphate system he wants to enforce on the region today.”
Instead, Mr Al Murr said, “we need to emphasise the pride felt for the culture and heritage of nations as well as strengthen educational institutions, fight corruption and further mediate between parties. A return to sectarianism, tribalism and political Islam provides a dark future for the region.”
In contrast, he said, “countries able to transform their citizens’ passion for the nation into respect for the country’s laws and institutions will develop further”.
The Arab world lagged behind other areas in the development of the nation state, said Mohamed Aujar, the Moroccan politician and deputy secretary general of the National Union of the Moroccan Press.
“We have seen progress in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa despite its poverty, and Asia, all of which the Middle East is behind,” he said.
“We are in a period of transition and to expedite this process we cannot go back to the old systems, we must transfer to new ones.”
He said transition was being hampered by corruption as well as political Islam.
The activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, he said, had created an “unclear foggy future in the country”.
Amar Ali Hassan, a professor of political science, told the forum partial secularism was essential in the running of a government. “Separating religion from people is wrong but separating religion from power is a necessity,” he said.
Students from UAE university who were among the audience found the forum educational.
Suhail Al Ameri, 23, who is studying public relations, said it was important for him and others to attend such events.
“The young citizens of the country need to know about these issues and how they affect our countries. These debates help us to act on this information, which can help improve the country, give it a better future and avoid future problems.”
He said talking about such topics out in the open would help more UAE nationals to be loyal to their country when they know their leaders’ points of view on these issues.
Ali Al Neyadi, 23, a mass communication student, said: “We discuss these topics in class so it was nice to listen to opinions outside the classroom.
“Nations could solve their own conflicts through many methods but security should be above all.”
He said that the conference cemented his notion of being part of a stable and secure country. “I feel proud to be from the UAE and wish the other Arab nations the same prosperity we have.”