The Arab World: What Went Wrong

February 13, 2017 OPINION/NEWS




Sami Jamil Jadallah

In order for the Arab world to catch up with the rest of the world, not in buying weapons or engaging in more wars (27 wars among Arabs only and counting), but to catch up in education, science, technology, vocational training, job training, employment and rights of citizenship, it must stop blaming its failures on “colonialism”, “Zionism” or “American Imperialism”, and instead address the social, educational, political, economic, military, security and religious institutions that contributed to such failings.

Recently, and under intense pressure from the US, Israel and few Arab countries, the United Nations refused to publicly release a well documented report on the status of freedom, humiliations and marginalization of people, as well as the tenuous status of citizenship in the Arab world, prepared by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA).

The Arab world was rich and powerful by its diversity and partnerships with Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Islamic culture and civilization is not only an Arab civilization but also of Persian, Indian, Mogul, and Black civilizations. Equally the Arabs were enriched by the ethnic diversity of Amazighs, Kurds, Armenians, Circassians, Yezidis, Turks and Blacks. The strength of the Arab world was in its diversity, not in its narrow “chauvinistic nationalism” that ignored and disfranchised indigenous ethnic and religious communities.

Nasser, Saddam, Assad, Qaddafi, Bashir/Turabi, Saleh, Arafat firebrand nationalism simply ignored and neglected the significant role these communities and cultures play within the Arab world; communities and ethnic groups that are indigenous to the Arab world and are an integral part of a region that spreads from Morocco to Bahrain, from Syrian to Yemen. Nasser and other Arab leaders’ brand of nationalism proved to be a total failure and took the Arab world from one disaster to another, from one failing to another. Simply look at Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, all but a few examples of what went wrong.



Even enlightened


Nasser’s failed nationalism lost the Arabs, Sinai, Palestine, Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The aftermath of the ’67 Six Day War split the Arab world between “nationalists” and “reactionaries” and instigated a rash of military coups plunging the Arab world into chaos and military dictatorship that is the source of all evils and failures in the Arab world.

The rise of military and party dictatorships in countries like Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Algeria, Palestine, and Somalia plunged the Arabs into a spiral of failures, poverty and proxy wars that costs trillions and cost the lives of millions, bankrupting nations, plunging many countries into civil wars and inviting a second wave of foreign occupations and colonialism.

Such leadership not only looted the country, creating a class of “elitists military and party parasites”, they ruled with an iron fist, creating rules of fear, no different from the former Soviet republics, with extensive use of security police and substantial networks of informers and prisons, with security and “unintelligent” forces ruling, managing everything from neighborhood bakeries to universities and textile factories.

Colonialism was replaced by ‘nationalistic dictatorships’ with loss of freedom and liberties all in the name of national liberation, steadfastness and resistance to colonialism and Zionism. Poor Palestine, it was the excuse for all of the pain and suffering Arabs had to endure, with Nasser, Assad, Saddam, Bashir, Qaddafi, Saleh and Arafat, all but a few who championed Palestine. Of course we must not forget that little dictator and fraud Arafat.

These military dictatorships, instead of investing in education, health and infrastructures, decided to invest trillions in a military that at best can be described as incompetent, inefficient, more for parades than winning wars; except of course when put to use against the people. None of the major Arab armies ever won major wars.

Investments in a failed military took priority over investing in people, something one can see clearly in the case of Yemen where close to 50% of the people are below the poverty line, with hundreds of thousands of children going hungry and millions unemployed, Sudan and Egypt being no different.

Now, and for the last decade, there is a rise in the fiery brand of “Islamism” no less dangerous than “Arab nationalism” with an emphasis on militant “jihad”, segregation of women and men in the name of purity and morality, with an emphasis on fashion style rather than a substantive value system of modern and scientific education, pursuance of excellence and human development with a strong push for religious schism between Sunnis and Shiites, and the use of ignorance, illiteracy and terrorism as a means to an end.

I write this as I recall a featured article that appeared in The Economist of July 4th, 2002 “in which a group of Arab scholars explain why the region lags behind much of the world development”.

I continue to wonder today, asking the same thing. Why and how? How can a rich region, with a rich history of education, knowledge, science, diversity, civilization, culture, abundance of natural and human resources, descend to such levels of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, violence, poor infrastructures and housing, substandard hospitals and services, failing educational system, never ending bureaucracy that humiliate citizens (ops subjects) and empowers corruption, and where bribery commissions and looting the national treasury are virtues?

I always wondered what if the hundreds of billions spent on the Iran-Iraq war was invested in the people and infrastructure. I also wonder what if the trillions spent on the Second Gulf war was also spent in developing the Arab world, investing in education, knowledge and research institutions? I also wonder what if Saddam and America’s Neocons did not facilitate the Iraqi war and occupation of Iraq.

I also wonder what if the trillions spent on failed armies could have been spent on the people, building roads, bridges, hospitals and schools. I also wonder what if the hundreds of billions spent on intra-Arab wars could have been spent again in building the Arab world?

I wonder what would have happened if the hundreds of millions invested by al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorists in suicide bombings and bombings of schools, markets and mosques were invested in schools, clinics and housing in countries like Yemen and Iraq? What could the more than 200,000 that died in Algeria, or the 100,000 who died in Libya, the 500,000 who died in Syria or the millions who died in Iraq, the tens of thousands who died in Yemen, or the more than $4 trillion wasted on wars and conflicts could have contributed to the rebuilding of the Arab world?

However, with this history and gloomy picture, there is hope. There is hope in the young people who made the “Spring” possible. And those who believe the Arab world is not an “Arab” or “Muslim” world, but a world of Arabs, of Amazighs, of Kurds, of Muslims, of Christians and Jews. Where the common unifying factors are not nationalism, ethnicity or faith, but a common value system of freedom, of liberties, of equal opportunities, a quest for excellence, knowledge and education, as well as that of building a quality future, a life of dignity, equality and equal opportunity where people are citizens not subjects. The New Renaissance is here and now.



I wrote this back in 2012 and thought it a good idea to publish and solicit from our friends and colleagues as to what we can all do about it. Let us therefore use this as a forum to address issues and recommend solutions.





Sami Jamil Jadallah

Sami is a Palestinian-American immigrated to the US while in high school. He was drafted in the US Army during Vietnam War earning the leadership award from the US Sixth Army Non-Commission Officer Academy.

After honorable discharge, Sami enrolled at Indiana University where he was active in student politics, elected class president, student president and chairman of the Indiana Student Association representing students from all colleges and universities in the State of Indiana.

Sami earned his Bachelor Degree (economics and politics), Master of Public and Environmental Affairs and Doctor of Jurisprudence. After a 2 years stint with a major Wall Street law firm Sami took on the job as general counsel of a major international construction company in Saudi Arabia. As an international legal and business consultant, Sami served as owner representative on major projects such as hotels, conservation foundation, defense, and technology.

In the area of public service, Sami was the founding member of the United Palestinian Appeal, a well known not for profit organization serving the needs of Palestinians refugees with over $100 millions in projects and donations serving 16 years as a trustee.

Sami as founding member and executive director of the New Arab Foundation, a US based Not for Profit Tax Exemp, a think tank (with a mission) and management consulting organization, and is working now on the launching of the Arab Peace Crops inspired by President John F Kennedy’s American Peace Corps.

Sami lives in Fairfax, VA and is married to Dr. Alma Abdul-Hadi Jadallah an international expert in mediations and conflict resolution, they have three children all living and working in Washington DC.


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