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2020: Road to Renaissance and Road to the Abyss

2020: Road to Renaissance and Road to the Abyss

Monday, 30 December, 2019 - 09:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

In the final days of the year, the citizen has the right to evaluate himself. Where did he go wrong and what did he do right? Where did he win and where did he lose? Did he manage his time right? Did he grab the opportunities that presented themselves to him? Did he limit his losses when they were unavoidable? These questions help the citizen make the transition to the new year, which he hopes will be better than the last.


The citizen also has the right to ask whether his country is better off at the end of the year than it was at the beginning. He has the right to ask whether his government had worked on fulfilling its pledges and had properly managed time, public funds and the people’s interests and prepared for the future.


The days when citizens were barred the right to ask questions are over. Gone are the days of complete silence and when a question was treated as an accusation that demanded punishment. Gone are also the days of fabricating numbers at party committees and security agencies. This is a new world where the official story can no longer operate without solid facts and figures. We are living in a world that is governed by other rules. The age of secrets and violations committed under the excuse of national interests is over.


Governments are aware that a new citizens has been born. A young citizen who is ambitious and demanding. A citizen who wants what any other youth in the “global village” wants. A citizen who receives the world right on his smartphone, from news, to comments, to photos, to the latest achievements. And because he knows, he wants to know more. He demands transparency and numbers and tests means and goals. The new citizen does not derive facts from old portals, but from this fast-paced, open and tense world. The citizen has a personal Twitter page, which gives him the immediate opportunity to cheer or protest.


There is no justification to fear the new generation because it does not resemble us. It should not necessarily love the same music we do or read the same books we did or adhere to the same rhetoric we follow. Each time has its own rhetoric and books. Each time has its ideas and ways.


We are writing about the youth because they have massive energy that is being accumulated in our societies. Energy that must be shared in the process of development, advancement, stability and prosperity in order to avoid despair and failure that will destroy the present and return us to the past. They can only be attracted by relaunching the renaissance and the dream of joining the world to take part in the process of open advancement. The renaissance begins by building bridges of trust and an ambitious program that promises modern education, job opportunities, investment and a welcoming society where citizens are allowed to practice their humanity away from fear and backwardness.


Years ago we used to write about Singapore. A poor country that succeeded through the leadership of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in making incredible leaps that set it as an example of building progress by resorting to human potential, planning, modern education and combating corruption.


Years ago we used to write about China’s massive success in saving millions of citizens from poverty and becoming the world’s second most powerful economy. This success story began when Deng Xiaoping realized that the window needed to be opened and that Mao Zedong’s ideals were no longer enough to catch up with the times. China would not have been able to achieve this incredible leap had it sufficed with droning the phrase that imperialism was a “paper tiger” and “death to America”. It realized that the key was scientific and technological advancement and improving the lives of the people.


It is hard to welcome the new year with an optimistic article if you were a journalist born in the Middle East. In this part of the world where wasting time and blood is all the rage. Large parts of the region are still mired in the wars of the past. Several countries are still prisoners to old conflicts and outdated ideas. Vast areas are still living outside the normal and modern state. The state that strives to construct a nation through institutions worth naming. The state that is tireless about pursuing development and building schools that unleash the students’ potential and universities that connect the students to the current age and meet the needs of the job market. The state that plans, executes and correctly and transparently manages public funds. The state that diligently manages the wealth of stability and the wealth of time because it realizes their importance.


I write about the youths because I heard their calls in Baghdad, Beirut, Sanaa, Khartoum, Algiers and other capitals. I was pained by the despair in their voices and their feeling that the future appears bleak to them. I write because I encountered youths in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Algeria who have flung themselves in the “boats of death” to grab at least a single grain of European soil. The images coming from Libya are painful. The country lost years to the “king of kings” of Africa and lost more years to the age of militias, adventures and interference. It is not easy to see Iraq slip towards civil war whenever it searches for a new prime minister. It is painful to witness the failed and spiteful policies push Lebanon towards poverty and bankruptcy.


Arab despair is not an inescapable fate. Waiting may not be the best answer. For the first time in a long time we have an Arab example that should be examined. This is what any visitor to Saudi Arabia senses. He is met with a Saudi Arabia that is confident, open and filled with the dreams of its youth. It is an open construction site that is operating around the clock to build a better future for its people. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman listened to the hearts and minds of the young generation and the Vision 2030 was born. A program of renaissance, progress and hope that the youth are racing to join. Public funds are not being squandered and neither are the lives of the citizens. We are seeing education, work, technology, tourism, investment, prosperity and stability.


Let the new year be one for listening to the youths across the Arab world. Failing to do so will leave us captive to backwardness, stagnation, bitter wars, suspicious ambitions and factories of widows and orphans. It is not necessary to copy examples as each country has its own unique traits. The battle of joining the age and modernity is the mother of all battles and failing to wage it means one is insisting on traveling to the past and jumping from one abyss to another.


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