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Dictionaries, Rockets and Towers

Dictionaries, Rockets and Towers

Monday, 26 November, 2018 - 11:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
Belonging to an era is not like going to the movies. It’s not enough to buy a ticket to book a seat. The issue is more complex and difficult to circumvent. You have no choice but to stand boldly in front of the mirror, to get rid of some of your illusions and old ideas and to put your dictionary on the table and examine the vocabulary and concepts that you think are difficult to change. You must open the door to an internal war within your thoughts and perceptions… your relationship with time… your community… the others… and the world.

You will not head to the future if you decide that the past is better. I don’t claim that the task is easy… that overcoming the burdens of the past is simple. But the Arab people are now at the turning point and they have to make a decision. The issue is very serious. It is whether you sleep in your ancestors’ bed and hide in their dictionary or contribute to building a world worthy of your grandchildren.

Century after century, we slept on the pillow of similarity and considered time as just accumulating stones. Many circumstances did not make our region the arena for promising events. Nothing like the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution or the Renaissance. But now the era has confronted us and dragged us to face the test. Feel the phone inside your pocket. It is the greatest traveler, the smartest spy and unyielding reporter. The world is in your pocket with all the images and sounds, with information and questions. You have to choose. The poison has leaked into your dictionary. You shall not look into your grandfather’s drawers for a cure.

There is no choice but to contact the era; no matter how much effort and rehabilitation you may require. You cannot be a journalist today in the way you were ten years ago. You cannot be a minister today as you were ten years ago. The same is true for the officer, the university professor, the engineer, the governor and the government. Our separation from the era has cost us nations, cities and seas of human and financial losses… breaking with facts and the concept of the State and institutions.

This is what came to my mind when a friend from Libya contacted me to comment on Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s interview with Asharq Al-Awsat. He recalled how Colonel Mmammar al-Gaddafi called Sheikh Mohammad and expressed his desire for Tripoli to become “a new Dubai” and Africa’s economic hub. He said that the construction of a modern city that could accommodate many nationalities and where people lived under the rule of law required a mentality that did not exist in the colonel’s system, and institutions that were not present during his time.

“Some of our countries have fallen into the hands of men who have a World War II mentality, if not older,” said the man who knows both the regime and the colonel. “These are selfish men, who don’t know the world and their real war is that of retaining power. They didn’t reflect on the deep meaning of the collapse of the Soviet Union – that of never catching up with the era and failing to improve the people’s living conditions.”

He went on to say: “These regimes were busy with security and intelligence, not with universities and education. They preferred to buy and stock missiles instead of getting engaged in rehabilitating the infrastructure, promoting investments and building towers. They believed that the citizen could provide his bread and income under the cloak of the regime and its revolutionary committees.”

He noted that Arab governments are increasingly aware of the importance of building intra-Arab relations on the basis of mutual interests. The same strategy has enabled the Europeans to remove the specter of war and transformed the ancient continent into a prominent player in international politics and economy. He expected that the process of reform and modernization witnessed by Saudi Arabia within the framework of Vision 2030 launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would have a major impact in the Arab and Islamic world. He emphasized serious and difficult measures applied by the Egyptian government to put the economy on the path towards recovery, and the same for Jordan.

He said that if Gaddafi had managed to build Dubai in Tripoli, both Libya and its leader would not have suffered their current fates. Had Saddam Hussein built something like Dubai in Baghdad, neither the Iraqi leader nor his country would have been exposed to such calamities. But you cannot build a modern city with an old and outdated dictionary. Tripoli could have now been a city teeming with tourists and investors and enjoying all the necessary resources. This is also true for Baghdad. Abandon the old dictionary... The dictionary of fear and domination…

It is clear that our region must engage in two battles simultaneously: the battle of stability and the quest for prosperity.

The battle of stability aims to restore some balance in the region, which would allow the preservation of the Arabs’ role and interests, and enable their countries to take a breath and fight for reform and modernization. The battle of prosperity must start by adopting a new dictionary in dealing with the world, the era and the people’s needs and aspirations.

The success of the two battles depends on the ability to exit the cycle of old fears to enter the circle of strategic partnerships and the exchange of benefits and expertise.

It is no secret that we need to get out of the old dictionaries. We need education that awakens the capabilities of Arab students and enables them to belong to the world of transformation, competition and innovation. We need an actual developmental effort that positively changes the conditions of people’s lives, stops the waves of despair that attract young people and push them on suicidal routes or incite them to abandon home.

We must remember that countries, which have modernized their dictionaries, have preceded those that adhered to the past; and that countries that have accumulated developmental achievements are today stronger than those that stocked rockets. The states that built towers are today more prosperous than countries that have wasted their time digging trenches.

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