By Ahmad Ali Khalid
Oct. 29th, 2011
Our earliest memories as a child are the ones that ultimately shape who we are, and for me the memories of living in Saudi are the ones that have made me the person I am today. As human beings our identity is shaped by our memories, heritage, origins, faith and national citizenship – identity is complex, never reduce it to simplistic formulations.
I watched like millions of others with awe and wonder as courage and bravery burst through Arab streets challenging dictators that seemed immovable. For me the event was more poignant, I had lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and over the years grew up with many Arabs from Egypt to Yemen.
In Saudi Arabia, Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians and many others seek employment to forge a brighter future for the next generation. Talking to the Arab youth one always encountered a profound a rage and deep sadness. Emotions run high when the discussion shifts towards the political situation at home – but always accompanying the problems were fond memories of their homeland and wondering about what could have been if their own countries were free from the clutches of tyranny. For all the despondency about the political situation, the Arab youth always maintained an enthusiastic sense of patriotism – a deep spiritual connection with the soil of the homeland always existed.
I wasn’t in the classrooms, the football grounds and streets of Riyadh and Jeddah at the time of the Arab uprisings – but I wondered what the atmosphere would have been? How would the Egyptian youth living in Riyadh react to their fellow countrymen rising above decades of oppression to challenge the status quo? The irony is that the absolute centre of Arab tyranny is Saudi Arabia – its Royal family has always provided moral and financial support to the dictators of the region.
And as the Arab world wakes up slowly but surely to a new dawn another epic is waiting to be written. The epic of Arab democracy is waiting to be written by a generation that for long has been crushed by a history of humiliation and tragedy. Many commentators, in the West particularly, are starting to suggest the Arab Spring has run its course but they don’t know.
They don’t know the dreams and aspirations of a new generation waiting to come out of the shadows of their predecessors’ failures – what was revealed throughout the Arab revolutions was a consistent misreading of the political, cultural and social trends that shaped the Arab Spring which was almost commonplace among the Western media.
Apart from stating the obvious, media pundits in Washington, London and Berlin had nothing of great value to add apart from the same rehashed neo-Orientalist nonsense which has all but paralysed the political imagination of the Western world. And although I feel a sense of unexplainable pride in the noble resistance of Arabs all over the region from Tunisia to Bahrain there is also a worry.
As a Western Muslim, it was deeply disturbing to see the inconsistent and unprincipled stand that the European and American governments took – with Sarkozy offering help to crush Tunisian protestors at the start to the tacit support of the oil rich kingdoms by America. The hypocrisy of the American and British governments was a betrayal of the principles held so dearly by the electorate they claim to represent.
European and American governments were ignoring and violating the most sacred of moral principles that have fundamentally shaped Western democracy. The issue here is not to do with loyalty or national allegiance but about basic principles – because loyalty does not mean uncritical acceptance of an erroneous and dysfunctional British foreign policy.
But the real hope of the Arab Spring was the demonstration of how people of different faiths, tribes, nations and creeds can converge on the same fundamental moral principles. It doesn’t matter whether you are an Egyptian Copt, a British Jew or an American Muslim – at the end of the day there are certain moral principles that hold true. And the reason why people from different walks of life demand freedom is because the human condition is universal – fundamentally speaking human beings harbour the same hopes and dreams.
The Arab Spring shattered the myth of a “Clash of Civilizations” and proved that the moral vocabulary of liberty and democracy is not the monopoly of any one nation. The ideals of a just society do not belong to any one culture or creed but are rather shared and expressed by multiple religious and social traditions.
But most of all, the Arab Spring for me was a personal experience – anyone who has lived in the region will know that although great injustices are committed by the regimes there is still an unmistakable charm about the region and its peoples. The regimes of the Arab World deserve no sympathy or affection – but what has stayed with me are the hopes and dreams of my Arab peers.
The memories growing up in the midst of the Saudi desert are the ones that form this inexplicable attachment to the revolutions of the Arab World. The world should spend less time judging and speculating and more time recognising the awesome effort of a new generation of Arabs – let old men grumble and let the young build anew.
Ahmad Ali Khalid is a freelance writer and blogger based in the UK. He can be reached at email@example.com or twitter.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.