In today’s Arab world, there is a treacherous tendency for people to turn into a one-dimensional identity, be it religion, sect, ethnicity or nationality. We often hear voices claiming that the Arab world does not exist and that the persecution of Palestinian peoples is not our concern or that our Muslim faith is our only identity.
This worrying uncertainty about our identity is also the result of decades of unfortunate wealth management by incompetent authoritarian rulers who have often engaged in power struggles, holding the public hostage to their personal magnification.
This degenerative and deadly trend has contributed to the suppression of social cohesion and the fragmentation of the Arab world. It has also plunged many parts of the region into violence and misery.
Ironically, this trend is at odds with the reality of our world today, which is characterized by the constant movement of people, goods and ideas and a vivid intercultural interface. Today, identity is becoming more and more complex and multi-layered, and it is also consciously trying to emphasize the common and reduce differences in order to nurture peaceful coexistence between peoples and nations.
Perceiving our identity through this prism means that what the Egyptian Copt, Lebanese Shiite, Iraqi Kurd or Moroccan Amazigh have in common with their compatriots and neighbors in terms of language, roots, culture, history and geography goes beyond the differences that may exist. This way of thinking is crucial for the present we share and the future we must build together.
Although the world is in the process of searching for a soul due to the pandemic, it is important, at this lowest point in our history, to start resetting our current trajectory. The choices we make today will be essential to our future. Are we better off in terms of security, economic and social development, cultural progress, etc. When we are divided, do we easily fall prey to foreign interests and have little political and economic leverage?
Or should we look at models, such as the European Union and other emerging entities around the world, whose members rightly recognize that most of the threats they face know no bounds and that most of their challenges and opportunities require collective action?
If, as I hope, we conclude that it is in our best interest to close the ranks, we must first discard the habit of copying papers or sharing the blame on someone else. Then we have to talk carefully between our intellectual elite in the Arab world, an elite that is largely marginalized. For this conversation to make sense, it must involve civil society, long repressed and sidelined, as well as the general public. We should focus on who we are, what our national security is, what we want to achieve and how best to do it.
In many parts of the Arab world, we have not even agreed on the necessary social contract that prescribes the basic values and principles needed to protect our social cohesion. The often ambiguous and sometimes controversial relationship between religion, morals and law that leads to many conflicts and disputes is just one of the glaring examples.
This public conversation would painfully show that the Arab League, which has long been considered the embodiment of our common identity, is clinically dead. It would also become apparent that our regional security system has been upgraded and outsourced. It would also highlight what the Arab Spring has made quite clear – that there is an urgent need for governance reform that guarantees the rule of law, political participation and human rights. It would also become apparent that we are lagging behind in the basic tools for progress – science, technology, research and education – despite the financial and human resources at our disposal.
We urgently need a democratic system of governance with transparency and accountability backed by a vibrant civil society. We definitely need to learn to live together, both within and across borders, as one nation that accepts diversity and respects minorities.
A credible autonomous regional security system that protects us and protects our interests is of the utmost importance – a system that can help resolve complex relationships with our neighbors. In that context, the dialogue with Iran and Turkey, with which we have many disagreements, but also a lot in common, should have already ended. A clear, unique strategy on how to deal with blatant violations of Israeli rights is a high priority.
We must catch up with the modern world by investing in state-of-the-art technology centers, top-level universities and research centers. We must become an active contribution to civilization, not just passive observers.
And above all, we must end the futile wars and horrific bloodshed that continue to ravage our people and seek to resolve our differences through dialogue and mutual adjustment. These wars have been a stain on our collective conscience for too long.
This is undoubtedly a great order, but I hope we have the courage and wisdom to start with the first steps. A gradual and inclusive reform process is imperative and time-sensitive if we are to avoid further decline and the risk of uncontrolled turmoil.
The views expressed in this article are authorial and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of Al Jazeera.