I have thoroughly enjoyed writing to this wonderful site "WINDS-OF-CHANGE". However, I will not be posting much during the current academic year, as which I will be (most of the time) on the move.
I have already started by my visit to Erasmus university in the Netherlands where I lectured (on September 24th) at the 1995-2005 MBA & Ph.D Alumni reunion at The Rotterdam School of Management. Next week, I will be in Austria to lecture at The Hayek Institute and Vienna university. After Austria I have a full program that includes 16 lectures at the universities that I have been lecturing at for many years (Princeton, California-Berkely, Columbia, Oxford and King's College of London university). Furthermore, I will be participating in numerous conferences. For instance, on November 17th I will arrive to Jacksonville/Florida on an invitation from the USA former secretary of defence William Cohen to participate in the world future leaders project of The Cohen Group.
WINDS-OF-CHANGE readers who might be interested to follow-up with my past archive of writtings etc. should go to:
With my best wishes to this great site and its readers, and to my friend Joe Katzman....
Until recently, I believed the first step in the Arab Mind journey to progress and modernity was the “acceptance of criticism” and the diffusion of a general cultural/intellectual climate which does not adopt a defensive posture towards criticism but welcomes it as a tool of positive feedback, a climate in which self-criticism is practiced without any reservations, constraints or taboos. I believed, and still believe, in Immanuel Kant’s brilliant characterization of criticism as “the most important building tool devised by the human mind.”
But regional developments over the past three years have caused me to revise my priorities, and I now believe that another step should precede the acceptance and practice of criticism, namely, the dismantling of the wall of denial behind which we have sequestered ourselves for the last few decades. For it is clear that we cannot embark on a process of constructive criticism of our mistakes and shortcomings before we overcome our insistence on denying their existence in the first place.
Our denial is sometimes expressed in positive terms, as when we openly deny the existence of this or that problem or the commission of this or that mistake, and sometimes in negative terms, as when we tacitly deny the existence of a specific shortcoming by simply not talking about it.
Thus our course on the road to progress should proceed in three stages. The first is to break out of the denial mindset in which we are locked.
The second is to embark on a process of constructive criticism, while avoiding personalizing the process by using it as an opportunity to vilify certain individuals. The fact is that no one in Egypt is entirely blameless for the predicament in which we now find ourselves, and finger pointing will get us nowhere.
The third stage is to come up with concrete proposals on how best to solve the problems plaguing us. There can be no short cuts here, no way we can jump directly to the third stage before first breaking out of our denial mindset and, second, embarking on a process of constructive criticism of all our defects and shortcomings after we stop deluding ourselves that they do not exist.
It might be useful here to borrow a methodological approach that is central to modern management techniques. One of the cornerstones of management science is quality management, a results-oriented operation that extends over three stages. First the status of a product or service is evaluated at the planning stage from the perspective of quality, a process known as quality audit, which corresponds to what I call eliminating denial. Then its status is evaluated from the same perspective at the stage of execution, a process known as quality assurance. Finally, there is the stage of quality planning, which is the formulation of a future vision on the basis of the conclusions drawn from the audit and assurance stages. This corresponds to the process of laying down new systems and policies in the light of the results obtained from the two processes of eliminating denial and accepting criticism.
Twenty years of working closely with leading establishments in the advanced societies of Western Europe, East Asia and North America have taught me that the presence of too many ideology-driven individuals in any society will invariably impede it from going through the necessary three stages on the road to progress. Indeed, advanced societies tend to look upon ideologists as suffering from a condition that warrants serious study and treatment, and there is not a single advanced society on the face of the earth today whose leading and ruling elite is driven by ideology. Finding solutions to the complex problems of contemporary life entails using a scientific approach based on empirical verification and adopting practical solutions that were tested and successfully applied by others, not doctrinal formulas dreamt up by ideologists to fit their rigid worldview.
In fact, there is a “prescription” for progress, a mix of values, systems and policies drawn from successful experiments, not from theoretical ideas. The ingredients making up the prescription are the end product of the collective human experience, the cumulative legacy of all the different civilizations that propelled humanity forward over the ages. They belong to the whole of humanity, to the march of human civilization in general, rather than to any specific model of civilization, whether European or Western, Jewish or Christian. This is borne out by the Human Development Report for 2003 issued by the United Nations Development Programme, which shows that the leading twenty-five countries in the world belong to different cultural and civilizational backgrounds. Some are American, some West European, some Chinese Asian, some Japanese Asian, some Muslim Asian, like Malaysia, and some Jewish, like Israel.
In other words, as I have always maintained, the engine of progress is driven by a set of positive values and systems that were developed and refined throughout history by various civilizations (while not denying that they received a qualitative boost thanks to the European Renaissance).
An ingredient the prescription for progress does not include is ideology. Indeed, once an ideological mindset takes hold among the opinion-makers of any society, that society’s prospects of making any headway on the road to progress are severely diminished. By definition, ideologists are driven by moral certainty in a system of belief, a certainty they can only sustain by suspending their critical faculties and building up a defense mechanism against any challenge to their core beliefs. They tend to take refuge in a bunker mentality which leaves little room for self-criticism and even less for breaking the wall of denial isolating them from reality. Such criticism as they do engage in is reserved for others; when it comes to evaluating their own performance, there is nothing but self-praise.
Skeptics could argue that moving from a culture of denial to one in which people are conditioned to accept criticism and to engage in self-criticism requires a lengthy educational process extending over centuries. This argument is easily refuted by living proof to the contrary. In the last forty years only, eight developed Asian countries succeeded in overcoming the culture of denial and adopting a culture that accepts criticism. Indeed, in the case of South Korea and Malaysia, the process took only twenty years.
I have written extensively on the merits of adopting a culture that accepts objective and constructive criticism in numerous articles, as well as in my book “On The Egyptian Mind” (The Egyptian General Book Organization, 470 pages, Second Edition, November 2003). Accordingly, I will limit myself here to citing a number of examples to illustrate how far we have sunk into a culture of denial, whether by maintaining a resounding silence in the face of problems screaming for attention or by openly denying that they exist.
Countless books, studies and research papers published in the outside world, not only in countries we once described as enemies (like Britain and the United States) but also in many we call our friends (like Russia, India, China, Japan and France) have praised Anwar Sadat’s foresight, wisdom and political acumen in adopting the line he did towards the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially in the last four years of his life. By the same token, they find that the Arab countries, leaderships and intellectuals who fiercely opposed his line at the time committed a grave strategic mistake.
Not content with their virulent campaign of defamation against the Egyptian president, Arab leaders met in Baghdad in 1978 (the historical irony will not be lost on the reader!) to announce their boycott of Sadat and Egypt. One of the victims of their relentless war of words against Sadat was the Egyptian minister Youssef el Sebai, who was murdered for no other reason than that he had accompanied the Egyptian president on his visit to Jerusalem in 1977.
The situation is very different today. Many of those who participated in the anti-Sadat campaign at the time are now trying to follow in his footsteps, albeit far less effectively. Most of his former detractors today admit they were mistaken not to support him, with no less virulent a critic of his line at the time than the Saudi monarch’s brother, the Prince of Riyadh (who said in 1977 that he wished it was in his power to shoot down the plane carrying Sadat to Jerusalem), issuing a statement a few weeks ago admitting that Sadat was right and those who opposed him were wrong. Despite all this, most of us are still unable
or unwilling to venture beyond the wall of denial behind which we have cloistered ourselves for so long, or, consequently, to recognize a simple truth that is staring us in the face: Sadat was right, his detractors were wrong.
This rigid denial of reality can only be ideologically motivated (whether by pan-Arabism, Nasserism, socialism or by the ideology of the Moslem Brothers). The denial mechanism is brought into play just as strongly with respect to two defining moments in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although everyone would be more than happy today to accept the partition plan offered by the United Nations in 1947, the solid wall of denial we have built to shield ourselves from painful truths prevents us from openly admitting that we committed a strategic mistake in rejecting the plan. Similarly, if we succeed today in restoring the Golan Heights in their entirety to Syria, in ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and in restoring East Jerusalem we would only be restituting losses we incurred in May and June of 1967. Of the territory lost in the 1967 war, only Egypt has managed to win back Sinai. Even those who claim that Egypt was tricked into entering a dark tunnel that began in May and ended on June 7, 1967, must admit that one of the primary responsibilities of any leadership is not to allow anyone to lead it into a trap. But our culture of denial prevents us from looking these facts in the face, and all the books and articles that have been written, all the lectures delivered and all the television and radio programmes broadcast since then avoid touching on these uncomfortable truths.
Thus while foreign analysts are united in their appraisal of our performance on all these occasions (1948, 1967 and 1977) as lamentable, we continue to turn a deaf ear, or, as the Egyptian saying goes, “an ear of mud and an ear of clay”, to the truth.
Although Egypt ranks a lowly number 120 in the UNDP Human Development Report for 2003, our media have highlighted the few points in our favour while totally ignoring the overall picture, which was described by Dr. Hazem el Beblawy as “nothing to be proud of”. But our media, true to form, have been tireless in their attempts to paint a rosy picture of what is actually an indictment of our economic performance, with all the major newspapers carrying banner headlines highlighting the one positive point made by the report and ignoring the many negative points. This is yet another manifestation of the pervasive culture of denial marking every aspect of our lives.
We all complain about the absence of modern management systems and techniques, whether in private and public economic institutions or in government departments and service sectors and admit that we have a serious management problem on our hands. But, like a doctor who proclaims a patient ill without identifying the cause of his disease, we stop short of laying the blame where it belongs, which is on the role of the state in general and of the executive authority in particular. It is a role that has changed little from the days when Egypt was a socialist country following a command economy, and leaves little room for the development of effective management systems. But on this all-important issue too, like on so many others, we continue to be driven by the culture of denial.
It is common knowledge that our educational system produces graduates who are totally unfit to compete in the international job market. They are unfamiliar with the concept of teamwork, their English-language skills are practically non-existent and they are formed by an educational philosophy based on rote learning which actively discourages personal initiative and creativity. Moreover, they are raised to believe that there exists only one model of pure, absolute Truth, with the result that there is very little room in their intellectual baggage for pluralism, dialogue, acceptance of the Other or tolerance.
Another feature shared by the vast majority of graduates churned out by the system is an inability to express their ideas in writing or to conduct research in a scientific manner. But here too we follow the pattern of denial, patting ourselves on the back for our “achievements” in the field of education while turning a blind eye to serious structural defects in the educational system which lead most international organizations in advanced countries to systematically turn down job applicants who received their education in Egypt.
Then there is the question of women’s status in society, which is in dire need of serious review. Not only do women constitute half the population, but their societal role, in terms of the influence they wield as mothers, is far greater than their numerical weight. Unfortunately, the status they are accorded in no way reflects this reality.
To redress the situation, we must first stop hiding our heads in the sand and acknowledge the existence of a real problem. Once we break out of the denial mindset, we can set out to make a critical appraisal of the situation, using a methodological and systematic approach, preliminary to laying down concrete policies designed to enhance the status of Egyptian women in line with what they deserve and with the requirements of the age. Here the wall of denial is at its highest: we are constantly congratulating ourselves on how well women are treated in our culture, how they are given rights not enjoyed by their sisters in the West. The example most often cited to prove this point is their independent patrimony. We also hold up exceptional (and symbolic) cases in which women achieved prominence as proof of the equality enjoyed by women as a whole, a myth we are able to perpetuate thanks to our amazing ability to hide behind an impenetrable wall of denial.
It is a wall that serves us well when it comes to the issue of corruption. Of course, corruption has become so rampant in our society that we cannot actually deny its existence. Instead, we deny its significance, playing down the urgency of the problem by convincing ourselves that corruption is a universal phenomenon and that it exists in all societies.
While this is certainly true, it is also true that the extent, degree and spread of corruption differs from one society to the next. A society in which corruption has become a way of life cannot be compared to those in which isolated cases of corruption are dealt with as aberrations. The same is true of crime: while human nature is the same everywhere, some societies have low rates of crime, others have moderate rates and still others have low rates.
Our complacent attitude towards the issue of corruption is yet another example of how adept we have become at using the denial mechanism to shield ourselves from unpleasant truths. The list of examples is endless, but I believe the ones I have given are sufficient to prove the point of this article.
What is required at this point is to organize a conference or symposium that will bring together some of our top intellectuals, government leaders and prominent civil society personalities for the express purpose of finding a cure for the malignant social disease of denial. Our inability to come to grips with the many serious problems plaguing us is a direct result of the pervasive culture of denial which is keeping us in a closed loop and preventing us from moving forward on the road to progress. We must break out of this culture before we can move to the stage of objectively criticizing our role in allowing the problems, defects and shortcomings of our reality to achieve their present gigantic proportions, and from there to the stage of devising solutions and laying down policies to overcome them.
Finally, there is a fourth stage we need to cover, the stage of implementing these solutions and policies. Allowances must be made for human error, that is, for the possibility that some of the proposed solutions and policies need to be modified before execution. It was precisely this that led to the introduction of the stage known as quality audit in modern management techniques.
This long essay comprises the text of three lectures I gave at the Near Eastern Studies Department of Princeton University in February 2001 – However, this text was finalized in this final form a year afterwards.
This essay addresses a subject I believe is better suited than any other to launch a constructive intellectual debate in Egypt today and which can, moreover, serve as a rallying point for all intellectuals, whatever their ideological formation.
The philosophical premise from which the essay proceeds is that there exist three frames of reference operating at different levels: humanity, civilization and culture. Civilizations occupy a higher plane than cultures, while humanity occupies a higher plane than both. As such, it can transcend any clash of civilizations or cultures.
Although all the ideas contained in this essay are concerned with the wider notion of humanity, they can serve at the same time to steer the relationship between civilizations on the road towards dialogue, rather than allow it to be swept by a breakdown of communication between them on to the road of conflict and collision. If, as Sartre said, the future is what we make it in the kitchen of the present, the answer to whether we can expect a dialogue between civilizations or a clash of civilizations in future depends on what we do today. Thus the future pattern of interaction between civilizations can be dialogue if we make an effort in the present to steer matters in that direction.
Alternatively, a pattern of clashes between civilizations can well become the norm if relations between them are left to drift by inertia on a collision course without a serious attempt in the present to open up proper channels of communication and dialogue.
Some Basic Remarks about Values of Progress.
Towards the end of 2000, the American University in Cairo invited me to speak on the nature of the educational reforms I wanted to see introduced in Egypt. In my lecture, which I delivered in the university's Greek Campus, I spoke extensively about the difference between a 'qualitative' change in an educational system and a 'quantitative' change. I said we had paid scant attention to the former because our educational philosophy continues to be based on the rote system and memory tests rather than on promoting creativity and dialogue [as opposed to monologue]. Education is not seen as an interactive process, but as a one-way street in which the teacher is a 'transmitter' of knowledge and the student a passive 'receiver' of that knowledge.
In the first quarter of 2001, I was invited by Princeton and Colombia universities on the East Coast of the US and the University of California at Berkeley on the West Coast, to deliver a series of lectures to postgraduate students in Middle Eastern studies. In my lectures, I stressed the need for an educational revolution in the region if we want a scenario of peace (real peace based on international legitimacy and the principles of international law) and comprehensive development (economic, cultural, and social) to prevail. For all its complexity, such a revolution would be based essentially on a simple philosophy of instilling in students a set of values that I call 'values of progress'.
Since August 2001, I have devoted much of my time to developing this idea further. In a way, my interest in promoting the notion of values of progress provided an outlet for the frustration I felt at the way public debate in our society tends to degenerate into private squabbles. Any topic can spark off a furious controversy: Mohamed Ali, Taha Hussein, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, secularism, enlightenment, modernity, globalization or peace in the Middle East are equally divisive, splitting people across seemingly unbridgeable ideological chasms and entrenching them still further in their respective closed systems. The rules of rational and objective debate are spurned in favour of a dialogue of the deaf, in which the protagonists engage in mutual recriminations and insults, heaping abuse and accusations against one another.
When I began looking for a subject that would not polarize society, or at least polarize it less sharply than has been the case with most topics, the only one that seemed to fit the bill was the notion of values of progress that I had touched upon earlier in several articles and lectures. Not a subject that can split society into opposing camps - Islamists versus non-Islamists, socialists versus capitalists - it is to a large extent non-ideological and, as such, lends itself to an objective and neutral debate that need not descend into the usual pattern of dogmatic intransigence.
Perhaps this was wishful thinking on my part, a scenario that is closer to fantasy than to reality. But rigid patterns can only be broken by those who have the capacity to dream and the gift of imagination. With this in mind, some schools of modern management require senior managers to exhibit two concomitant characteristics which at first glance may seem contradictory: power of imagination on the one hand and a sense of reality on the other. In actual fact, however, these characteristics are not mutually exclusive and are often present at one and the same time in ordinary people. It is these individuals who make successful senior managers. I hope my dream that intellectuals and public opinion in Egypt today can deal with the subject of values of progress in a manner free of factionalism and preconception will see the light day. I hope it strikes the proper balance between power of imagination and a sense of reality, otherwise it will be nothing more than an exercise in escapism, a mirage to which I turned out of a deep sense of despair at the inhospitable climate for any reasoned and objective debate in our society today, where name-calling and stone-throwing have replaced logical argumentation.
An essay entitled The Values of Progress must at the outset address a problematic that no intellectual can afford to ignore, namely, will democracy lead to the spread of the values of progress as defined in this essay, or can these values, even in an environment with a modest margin of democracy, create a general climate that could gradually expand this margin and transform it into full-fledged democracy? I asked myself whether it was possible to come forward with an essay entitled The Values of Progress when some could justifiably question the feasibility of disseminating such values in the context of a margin of democracy that may be growing but is still extremely narrow. These concerns nearly made me discard the manuscript of this essay and place it in the file of other writings whose publication is indefinitely postponed. This file is more voluminous than the file of my published works, although the latter comprises thousands of pages. But I decided to push ahead with publication when, purely by chance, I came across a number of studies on the experiences of ten countries in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Although as recently as ten years ago, these countries had not made their economic breakthrough, did not enjoy democracy and had not adopted the values of progress, in the last decade they have become relatively rich in all three elements.
Like many others, I was familiar with the amazing progress achieved by all ten countries in a relatively short period, but finding these in-depth studies explaining the process was a timely eye-opener. According to the studies, while certain societies had made their breakthroughs in the context of open democracy, which served as the framework in which their economic, scientific, educational, cultural and social development unfolded, others, like the case models addressed by the study, had made theirs in a different context. Instead of a slow and gradual development achieved over centuries, as was the case of Europe, the countries of Southeast Asia and Latin America took a short cut to development, making their great leap forward on the backs of two engines. The first was a human cadre of executive leaders who both embodied the values of progress and imposed them on society at large. The second was a radical reform of the educational system and the establishment of a new system based on the values of progress. The first engine served the requirements of development in the short and medium terms, the second in the long term. This two-pronged approach, based on leadership, example and creative education, laid the groundwork for the spread of the values of progress and created a general climate conducive to a dynamic and fruitful social mobility, leading to the emergence of a broad-based middle class standing on a solid cultural and economic foundation.
Parallel with this was a determined effort by the thriving countries of Southeast Asia and Latin America to expand the margin of democracy. Their experience stands as an eloquent rebuttal of the argument that democracy takes centuries to develop and that some countries are simply not equipped to live by the rules of real and open democracy. This argument can only be accepted by the advocates – and beneficiaries – of oppression. Those who believe in democracy as the greatest achievement of humanity must constantly strive to find formulas by which it can be established within the shortest possible time frame, while at the same time laying down frameworks and mechanisms to ensure that the democratic process is not abused by the enemies of democracy and used as a means of acquiring, and hanging indefinitely on to, power. The successful experiments of the ten countries in Southeast Asia and Latin America prove that we must not allow ourselves to be discouraged from planting the values of progress in our soil under the pretext that it is not ready to receive them.
Finally, despite its title, this essay does not purport to cover all the values of progress but only those the author believes to be the most important among them. The list is far from exhaustive, and others may wish to add values they consider have been overlooked. In the final analysis, the purpose of the essay is to open a debate around the values that can bring about development and progress, not to claim that it is the ultimate authority on what those values are.
The Most Important Values of Progress
An issue that has sparked an animated debate in our part of the world is the discrepancy between the value attached to time by citizens of advanced societies and its value for our citizens. Commentators offer different explanations for the phenomenon, the majority attributing the importance of time in advanced societies to the higher levels of discipline and organization displayed by the citizens of those societies. But this superficial view only skims the surface of a much deeper problem. The more discerning and insightful commentators realize that the issue is symptomatic of a more complex problem in which discipline, organization and punctuality are but manifestations of a profound difference in understanding, evaluating and appreciating time itself. In the more advanced societies, time is the framework in which plans are made and executed, projects are designed and launched – in fact, it is the framework for everything: ideas, projects, plans, programmes and reform movements as well as for economic, scientific, educational, cultural and social development. Anyone who is not aware of the value of the framework is necessarily unaware of the value of anything which that framework can encompass
Strangely enough, there is a widespread belief in our society that venerating time, meeting deadlines and showing up for meetings at the appointed time is a question of temperament, an innate quality that one is either born with or not. This is a totally erroneous assumption. A well developed sense that time must be respected, appointments punctiliously observed and deadlines met, that all ideas, projects, plans and programmes must be set within specific time-frames and that a cavalier attitude towards time and appointments detracts from a person's credibility, authority and, ultimately, his effectiveness, has nothing to do with temperament. It is not an individual's genetic makeup that determines his attitude to time, but the general cultural climate prevailing in the society to which he belongs.
Unfortunately, promptness and punctuality are regarded in our society as idiosyncrasies displayed by an eccentric few who just happened to be born with a natural disposition to stick to schedules, in contradistinction to the laid-back attitude displayed by the vast majority of their fellow countrymen.
And here we come to the crux of the matter. The measure of any society's development and progress does not lie in the wealth of which it disposes or the natural resources that it harbours but in the value system to which its citizens subscribe, the mores by which the entire community, from the base to the summit, are governed. The most important of these values are a respect for time, a strong work ethic, a belief in the effectiveness of teamwork, an emphasis on developing human resources, the adoption of an educational system based on promoting initiative and creativity rather than on teaching by rote, fostering a spirit of perseverance and encouraging people to strive for excellence, instilling the notion of universality of knowledge in young minds, and, finally, promoting a spirit of healthy competition from the very start of the educational process.
Once this value system is in place, progress can be made. In its absence, or in the context of a value system that runs counter to these basic principles, a society is doomed to remain locked in backwardness. Rather than admit their own responsibility for the rut in which they find themselves, these societies tend to attribute their inability to move forward either to factors beyond their control, such as a lack of resources, or to external factors, such as a conspiracy hatched against them by foreign interests. Such self-delusion only serves to reinforce the negative features of their society, for it is only by admitting to themselves that what holds them back is their own crippling inertia, their own lack of drive, that they can hope to break the vicious cycle of backwardness.
Venerating time and placing all human, institutional and social activities within its framework is not simply a personal idiosyncrasy or an innate virtue enjoyed by some and not others; it is what distinguishes between two value systems: one that responds to the requirements of the age and another that derives either from the antiquated cultural traditions of a primitive agricultural society or from a Bedouin culture. Students of the development of values in general and the values of progress in particular know that time did not acquire its high value, its status as the dividing line between progress and underdevelopment, until the advent of the Industrial Revolution. It was this watershed event which imposed a new understanding and appreciation of the importance and value of time and the need to observe it rigorously. Nowhere is the respect for time more graphically illustrated than in Switzerland, where trains run on schedules measured not in hours, or even minutes, but in seconds, in what is surely the highest possible expression of industrial values and the values of a service society. The Information Revolution and the requirements of the age of technology have further enhanced the value of time, which has come to be venerated with an almost religious fervour by those who believe it is the key to progress.
The value system of any society can be enriched with progressive values inculcated in the collective conscience by examples set by those at the summit of the societal pyramid. Conversely, if those expected to set an example fail to uphold the required values, including a respect for time, then it is virtually impossible for those at the base of the pyramid to take on such values as part of their cultural baggage. The influence of the upper echelons of society on the behavioural patterns of that society is recognized by the folk wisdom of all cultures. It is a theme that appears in several Arabic proverbs, such as "people follow the religion of their king", "a fish begins to putrefy at its head", "it is the shepherd who guides the flock", and many more. In other words, if the values conducive to progress, including, of course, a well-developed sense of time, are not promoted by those holding positions of authority, such as senior public officials, cabinet ministers and economic and business leaders, they will never become part of the reference system of society. These values can only be disseminated from the top of the societal pyramid to its base and not the other way round, as those at the base have neither the clout nor the channels through which to impose their values as examples to be followed by society at large.
In the decade during which I served as CEO of one of the largest economic corporations in the world, with thousands of highly qualified employees drawn from some twenty countries working under my direction, I was able to ascertain at first hand the existence of a direct link between high levels of performance and a strict observance of time, an almost mystical belief in the importance of punctuality and of completing work assignments within the designated time-frame. Nor did this apply only to staff members. It was also true of the thousands of high-ranking political and economic personalities I met by virtue of my office: the more punctilious they were about keeping appointments and adhering strictly to schedule, the higher their level of competence and performance – and the more intolerant they were of those who did not attach the same high priority to the time factor.
The nature of my job, which entailed doing business with people from different cultural backgrounds, made me realize that the whole concept of time varied from one culture to another. There were occasions, for example, when I had to terminate a contract for hundreds of millions of dollars because the other party had defaulted on its obligation to complete execution within an agreed deadline. If the defaulting party happened to be from the Third World, the decision would be derisively dismissed as an over-reaction to a trivial matter, and accepted with resignation, if not good grace, when the other party happened to be from the West or from Southeast Asia, where termination is seen as the only possible response to a failure to meet agreed deadlines.
The different reactions to the example I have chosen to give reflect the very different appreciations of time between one culture and another. For Third World societies, time is of such little value that taking a person to task for being late for an appointment or penalizing a contractor for failing to deliver works by an agreed date is regarded with genuine surprise. In fact, being late has become a symbol of personal worth, a validation of one's importance in the scheme of things. After all, important people are so busy that they are entitled to be late, and whoever is lucky enough to be granted a slice of their valuable time must understand that waiting is par for the course. This phenomenon is turned on its head in advanced societies, where people running huge enterprises with budgets greater than the combined economies of all the Arab countries pride themselves on never being late for an appointment or running over schedule. In fact, they consider themselves in a constant race against time, often striving not only to meet agreed deadlines, but to beat them.
I have learnt from experience that a lack of respect for time, whether it takes the form of showing up late for appointments or not completing assignments and projects within the agreed time-frames, condemns the individual, company or institution displaying this aberrant form of behaviour to failure, not only in the sphere of business but in all aspects of life. Any exception or willingness to condone exceptions is seen as running counter to science, progress and the movement of history in advanced societies. There is a big difference between punctuality motivated by fear, which is sometimes the case in Third World countries, and punctuality as a way of life, the natural expression of an ingrained sense of the importance of time and a recognition that unless schedules are rigorously observed and time-frames respected, there can be no progress, which is the case in advanced societies.
In Third World countries, members of parliament are invariably late for meetings of the legislative assembly, which are usually chaotic affairs with members chatting among themselves, talking on their cell phones, using the time to catch up on their private businesses or engaging in side conversations with officials. However, when they are invited to a meeting attended by the head of state, these same parliamentarians show up well ahead of time, sit quietly in their seats and refrain from engaging in side conversations. Such uncharacteristic punctuality and discipline are not motivated by a respect for time as such or by a sense of occasion, but by entirely different considerations that will not be lost on the reader. The problem is that obsequiousness and fear cannot drive the wheel of progress and development forward.
A main reason for the lack of respect in Third World societies for the value of time, the failure to recognize its importance as one of the cornerstones of civilized behaviour and progress, is the emergence of a new moneyed class in many of these societies. The members of this new class are for the most part poorly educated and largely uncultured, having built up their fortunes through political patronage and cronyism rather than by virtue of any special business, economic or scientific skills.
As their numbers grew and their political and economic clout increased, they became social trend-setters, a new source for the dissemination of negative values in society, including a lack of respect for time. The notion that time is one of the principal values of civilization and progress is totally lost on the members of this new parasitical class, who acquired unimaginable wealth suddenly and in the complete absence of any cultural background. Moreover, the often dubious way they made their fortunes hardly qualifies them to serve as examples to be followed or role models to be emulated. How can we ask our young people to follow the example of the leaders of economic life in the country, the so-called businessmen, when they are the living embodiment of negative values in general and a disdain for time in particular? There is also the fact that in a number of Third World countries the class of businessmen and new rich has been infiltrated by the Mafia – how then can we expect them to serve as examples or to uphold positive values, including a respect for time? I have dealt closely with many of those who pass themselves off as business leaders in our society. Unlike their international counterparts, the vast majority are characterized by a complete absence of managerial talent, astounding cultural poverty, blatant political opportunism and a lack of leadership qualities. Most had established their institutions and businesses on a basis of personal relationships rather than on management skills, proper economic use of state-of-the-art technology or ability to administer services. In other words, they are totally unfit to fill the leadership role into which they have been thrust or to serve as role models for new generations of young people.
Of all the points made in this essay, the one that cannot be repeated often enough is that the top management of any enterprise cannot hope to run a successful and efficient business unless a respect for time is a basic feature of its makeup. That is not to say that a respect for time is a sufficient condition for efficient management, but it is certainly a necessary condition. Although a respect for time is perhaps the most important prerequisite for successful management, other features must also be present. As matters now stand, we do not have a cadre of executive managers capable of achieving what to many may appear to be an impossible task but which I believe is a goal well within our reach, namely, attaining a degree of economic and educational development similar to the countries of South Europe. This should proceed parallel with the development of a rich cultural life and the social peace that can guarantee for all of us the society to which we aspire: a stable, safe and thriving Egypt in which Egyptians will once again come to display the characteristics for which they have been famous throughout history: humanity, tolerance, kindness, patience, geniality and respect for others, far away from the violence, hatred and daily clashes between people, classes and the various component elements of society.
(2) Culture of Systems Not Individuals.
Some time ago, I was reading an article by a well-known writer when I was struck by his remarks about an Egyptian ambassador who had just been recalled from one of our larger embassies abroad. After heaping some probably well-earned praise on the ambassador, he quoted a highly placed personality as saying that if it were up to him, he would have kept the ambassador in question on at the same embassy, regardless of the rotation system in force at the foreign ministry, because it was a shame to let the many contacts he had built up go to waste and have his replacement start from scratch. As a man interested in management and culture at one and the same time, I was shocked at this logic, not because it was wrong – indeed, it made sense from a practical point of view – but because it revealed a dangerous facet of the Egyptian mind-set that has been forged over centuries under specific historical and cultural circumstances. The case of the ambassador is far from being an isolated incident. The same logic is invoked whenever a public official shines at his job, the same voices are raised to call for exceptions in the system to accommodate that particular individual. This graphically illustrates that we believe far more profoundly in the role of the individual than we do in the effectiveness of systems in which the individual is only one cog in a complex wheel of interactive and interdependent elements.
Having lived until the age of twenty-five in a purely Egyptian environment, it was not until I was exposed to different cultures that I realized how vast a difference separated our perception of the respective roles of the individual and the system from that of other societies, most notably those of northern Europe, where the exact opposite logic prevails. While placing a high value on the individual and devoting huge resources to ensuring his formation in the best possible manner, these societies place an even higher value on the system.
It is hard for most people in our society, who tend to attribute success, efficiency and the achievement of goals to the fortuitous presence of an outstanding individual in a specific post, to realize the disastrous consequences that can flow from such a logic. To count on chance is to suspend all the rules of rationality, while to believe that an outstanding individual must remain in his post because his replacement will have to start from scratch is to give in to a problem rather than attempt to resolve it. Our approach to the issue is a reflection of the discontinuity of our organizational structures and the lack of a coherent strategy governing trends and endeavours in our society. It also works against the social mobility that is essential not only for the promotion of the middle class but for the promotion of society as a whole. Moreover, the approach carries within it the seeds of deeper problems, in that it proceeds from the premise that we are ready not only to pay the high price of dealing with the laws of chance, but to accept whatever results come our way. This is in direct opposition to the rationale governing modern management sciences which, while believing in personal abilities and talents, believes more strongly in systems than in individuals.
The implication of linking achievements to the fortuitous presence of an outstanding individual in a specific post is that we allow the reins of our lives and future to be controlled by random chance which operates outside the realm of any rational laws. This approach is the exact opposite of that advocated by the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, who believed the future did not exist as such but was the product of our actions in the present. Stressing the importance of existence and the freedom and responsibility of the individual, he believed the future begins in the here and now, more precisely, that what we do today will determine the features of tomorrow. We, on the contrary, make no attempt to shape the features of our future through planning today. Rather, we count on the laws of chance to occasionally throw a few outstanding individuals our way – laws that are the direct antipode of the notions of system and planning.
This keenness to keep outstanding individuals at their posts indefinitely is a result of one of our main defects, which is the virtual absence of continuity and methodology in our development drive. For development to proceed as a consistent process rather than in fits and starts, mechanisms must be set in place to ensure continuity regardless of changes in names and faces. The argument invoked to justify keeping efficient functionaries at their posts beyond the prescribed period, which is that whoever replaces them will have to begin from square one, is a painful admission of the lack of continuity between generations of individuals. Adding impetus to this argument is the fact that in our society no public official leaving his post will ever praise his successor, unlike his counterparts in the political, economic, cultural, educational and media institutions in advanced societies. Another disadvantage of keeping the same individual at his post indefinitely, however outstanding that individual may be, is that it is not conducive to the social mobility that is the basis for positive interaction in and the progress of any society, as well as a prerequisite for the growth of a strong and broad-based middle class that can lead that society. Moreover, the tendency to believe more in individuals than in the system exposes society to another, even greater, danger. While a culture of systems can keep destructive elements from occupying prominent positions, the same is not true in societies where a culture of individuals prevails. To the same extent that such a culture can promote outstanding individuals to positions of influence, it can also promote destructive and dangerous individuals. In the absence of an effective mechanism to prevent them from reaching a position of influence in time – and time is of the essence here – these negative elements can wreak havoc.
In addition, our infatuation with a culture of individuals is in direct contradiction with the basic premises of modern management sciences which, while drawing on the best qualities of the individual, give precedence to the big picture, that is, to the framework in which the individual operates, in other words, to the system. In advanced societies, the basic building stone for progress and success is the system, and not, as in the case of underdeveloped societies, a few, albeit exceptionally talented, individuals.
There is thus a clear dichotomy between the culture of individuals that has been all too manifest in our society for tens of centuries and the culture of systems which developed and put down deep roots in the West before moving on to many other societies that do not belong to western civilization, like Japan and other countries in Southeast Asia, as well as to various societies in Central and Latin America. It is pointless at this stage to make value judgments or to address the issue from an accusatory perspective. Rather, it should be placed in a historical perspective, and seen as the natural result of specific historical and cultural conditions. The question is whether a society governed by a culture of individuals can gradually transform itself into a society of systems. Judging from the experience of many societies, the answer is a resounding yes. These societies transformed themselves through a two-pronged approach, one that set its sights on short-term results and another that aimed at effecting a radical long-term transformation. The first can be summed up in one word, 'leadership', or leading by example, which succeeded to a great extent in imposing a culture of systems on society. The greater achievement, however, was to entrench this culture deep into the collective psyche of society, a feat accomplished through the medium of education. Only education is capable of bringing about a real transformation through curricula designed to minimize the dimensions of subjectivity and promote those of objectivity, the basis of any system or systems.
Once a culture of systems takes root in society, the issue of specific individuals staying on at their posts is no longer a do-or-die proposition that takes on the dimensions of a military campaign as careerists scheme and manoeuver to remain in place. In a culture of individuals, one of the main concerns of public officials is to fight off potential successors, making for an ugly relationship between incumbents and those they fear will replace them. That is the case in a society like ours, where rivalry for a position often degenerates into smear campaigns in which the predecessor and his successor are intent on blackening each other's reputation and are not above resorting to slander and character assassination to achieve their end. This pattern of behaviour is symptomatic of a general cultural climate in which each official seeks out those who are qualified to step into his shoes at some point down the road and goes all out to undercut their chances of succeeding.
As a result, we are left with a static situation in which genuine social mobility is replaced by what some call the rotation of elites, a process that is, by definition, opposed to change.
(3) Implementing a Quality Culture.
The idea of setting quality standards has become an independent field of study known as Quality Management (QM), which was added over the last four decades to the system of social sciences. Today there are academies offering Quality Management as their only course of study. Although there is a great deal of literature on QM, the most famous being the works of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who is widely regarded as the father of this new discipline, I do not want to go to deeply into the details and definitions of QM and its subject headings, which are quality management and control at the planning stage, quality management and control at the stage of execution, then a careful check of quality at the final stage. The application of the science of Quality Management and the spread of a quality culture are no more than reflections of a more fundamental issue, namely, the presence of an effective process of social mobility that allows the best elements in society to reach the top of the societal pyramid. It is these elements who can spread quality consciousness throughout society and, eventually, lead it to adopt a culture of quality.
A society that does not allow for a process of social mobility which favours its best human elements and propels them into prominence will never be governed by a culture of quality. In the absence of such a process, a culture of randomness and slipshod performance takes over and the fickle hand of chance is left to determine the course of events, usually with disastrous consequences far removed from any notion of quality control.
As I mentioned in an earlier work, entitled Egyptian Transformation, untrammeled social mobility and the chain reactions it sets in motion are what allow the most able elements in society to occupy the leading positions in all walks of life. This creates a solid social pyramid that is developed over time by what some social scientists call social Darwinism and others (particularly those of a socialist formation) attribute to social mobility and the opportunity it provides for the best elements to reach the upper layers of the societal pyramid and contribute effectively to shaping society's present and future. Whatever the mechanism by which such a dynamic social pyramid is built up, at the end of the day it remains the only way to propagate a culture of quality in society.
Conversely, a society whose composition does not allow for free social mobility leaves the door wide open for inept and mediocre elements to make their way to top positions in its organizations and institutions, thereby dealing a death blow to any prospect of a culture of quality and creating a totally different cultural environment in which mediocrity holds sway, quality disappears and virulent campaigns are unleashed against talented individuals by those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. They know that unless they work relentlessly to keep the rules of the game from changing, they are doomed to topple from the leading positions they occupy to positions more in keeping with their limited talents and abilities.
The question of the culture propagated by mediocre people in high places and the general climate they create should be a matter of grave concern for intellectuals and scholars who, more than anyone, are capable of seeing the big picture and understanding the negative implications of this phenomenon for society at large. There is no question but that our social and political structures suffer from the ascendancy of mediocrity and the mechanisms set in place by its beneficiaries to keep themselves and others of their ilk in influential positions. The fallout from this phenomenon is reflected in the decline of values, ideals and ethics as well as in a shocking drop in our political, economic, cultural and educational standards.
A point worth making in connection with the notion of quality is that it is not linked to technological development, but to an abstract notion that perfection is a goal one strives to attain using whatever resources are available. This was the theme of a lecture I delivered at the Juran Institute for Quality Management in the United States, in which I elaborated further on the idea that quality was a notion in the minds of certain outstanding individuals and not the fruit of technology, itself the fruit of the intellectual prowess of outstanding individuals. To illustrate my point, I reminded my audience that quality control was a feature of the Ancient Egyptians, which found its most salient expression in the Great Pyramid of the Pharaoh Khufu. The amazing precision and unequaled grace of this remarkable monument to human ingenuity graphically illustrate that quality and high standards of performance have nothing to do with the stage of a society’s technological development. Commenting on my lecture, the head of the Juran Institute remarked that I had chosen the best possible example to prove my point, as the logo of the Institute depicts an Ancient Egyptian worker chiselling in stone! Thus the biggest quality management institute in the world did not link quality to high technology, but chose to depict the notion with the image of an Ancient Egyptian craftsman using the most primitive technology to create perfection that defies time itself. In fact, the history of Ancient Egypt is filled with evidence that quality is a notion rather than anything else. A comparison between the pyramid built by Khufu and the two built by his father, the Pharaoh Snefru, shows how an enormous leap in the level of quality can be achieved in just a few years, which, in the absence of any significant technological breakthrough, can only be explained in terms of a human cadre that took the vigorous pursuit of quality to a higher level.
As to the notion of quality in Egypt today, it is practically non-existent. No one can argue with the fact that standards have dropped alarmingly in this country over the last half century. The only explanation is that it is no longer people of distinction who stand at the top of the societal pyramid but mediocre elements intent on keeping those who can expose their mediocrity as far away as possible from any position of influence. To that end, they work actively to downgrade the notion of quality, a notion that is completely alien to them. The spread of the values, culture and standards of the mediocre elements now holding leading positions in this country makes the words of Psalm 12 come to life before our eyes every day:
“The wicked walk on every side when the violent men are exalted”.
(4) Planting the Value of Pluralism.
If it is true that democracy is the greatest achievement of the human race since the march of civilization began, it is equally true that one of the wellsprings of democracy is pluralism. When people came to realize that diversity of creeds, opinions, viewpoints and tastes was one of the most important features of humanity, it was natural for political systems to incorporate and respect different trends without allowing any one of them, even if it enjoyed a strong or even absolute majority, to deprive the others of the right to differ from the majority view and to believe in other programmes, ideas, systems and theories.
Indeed, as the march of civilization progressed, the realization that pluralism was a basic feature of humanity evolved into a conviction that pluralism was a source for the enrichment of human life as it expanded the horizons of creativity, innovation and renewal.
Although most members of the community of nations subscribe to the notion of pluralism as a basic component of their political systems, below the surface is a different reality in which the vast majority of people remain at a very primitive stage when it comes to really embracing this notion and fully understanding and appreciating its meaning and benefits. This is as true of the most advanced societies (led by the United States) as it is of the less developed societies, including those of the Third World. There is a mutual lack of understanding and mistrust between different civilizations that render the benefits and potential advantages of pluralism far fewer than they might otherwise have been. Some see the way out of this dilemma as the 'standardization' of the world, i.e., the replacement of diversity by a uniform model of civilization. Not only is this an unattainable goal, it is the direct antithesis of the notion of pluralism. Moreover, any attempt to impose a universal norm would lay the ground for the spread of conflicts and clashes between civilizations to the detriment of humanity as a whole.
Evidence of the vast legacy of mutual misunderstanding, mistrust and misconceptions between civilizations can be found in western civilization's view of most eastern civilizations, which is often based on fanciful notions totally divorced from reality. It can also be found in the often distorted perceptions ancient civilizations have of the West, which tend to focus on the negative aspects of western civilization while disregarding its positive aspects, even those which have benefited the whole of humanity.
In recent years, the traditional mistrust between Orient and Occident was given new impetus with the emergence of a school of thought in the West in general and in the United States in particular which believes future relations between civilizations will be marked by clashes and conflicts, particularly the relationship between the West and Islam. The literature put out by this school of thought reveals a startling lack of understanding. Samuel P. Huntington's seminal book, The Clash of Civilizations, and other similar works by authors such as Paul Kennedy and Francis Fukoyama, are closer to journalistic articles than they are to scholarly works based on a sound knowledge of the subject matter. In fact, Huntington's book is an expanded version of an article he wrote originally for the American quarterly, Foreign Affairs. Moreover, the authors of these works lack the vision that would enable them to see a mechanism which could replace the scenario of inter-civilizational clashes with a scenario of dialogue between civilizations. That is not to say that the scenario of a clash of civilizations can be altogether excluded, only that dialogue is possible if the vision exists and if serious efforts are made to transform it into reality.
Contemporary political discourse is peppered with references to democracy, human rights, general freedoms and pluralism. But raising these slogans is one thing, applying them is another. While nobody denies that these are noble values representing the highest stage yet in the march of civilization, the fact is that the way they are translated into reality leaves much to be desired. This is particularly true of the value of pluralism. For example, the West raises the banner of pluralism with one hand while some of its citizens raise the banner of standardization with the other. This confusion leaves a bewildered world convinced that humanity has a long way to go before it can claim to have genuinely adopted these values.
If pluralism means that a diversity of trends, creeds, cultures, tastes, opinions and lifestyles is a basic feature of human life and a source of its enrichment, it follows that we should strive for 'unity through diversity'. This entails expanding a culture of respecting Otherness, provided this applies to all parties simultaneously and on a basis of parity. Respecting Otherness is in direct contradiction with the idea of standardizing the world. Fortunately, this idea is not advocated by the West as a whole and has not been taken up by western Europe. It is an exclusively American notion based on nothing but America's cultural poverty.
(5) Self Criticism & Constant Self Improvement.
I have for long believed Immanuel Kant's famous statement that "criticism is the most important building tool devised by the human mind" to be the cornerstone of a healthy and dynamic educational/cultural environment. The analogy of the German philosopher's aphorism in eastern literature is Omar Ibn el Khattab's statement, "Blessed is he who shows us our defects", by which he calls on God to bless those who open our eyes to our defects through the medium of criticism.
After I had embraced the notion that a cultural climate which promotes critical faculties and celebrates critical minds is a prerequisite for a society's development and progress, I had the opportunity to work for twenty years in one of the ten largest economic corporations in the world. The experience allowed me to see this notion put into practice every day. With a history going back over a century, the corporation I worked for had its own internal culture, and it never ceased to amaze me that every single meeting, discussion and seminar I participated in during the twenty years of my tenure embodied the axiom that criticism is the most important building tool devised by man. It did not occur to anyone to hold back from criticizing ideas, plans, programmes and projects, not only before, but during and even after their execution, in order to minimize the negative and maximize the positive aspects of performance in future. Nor was the right to criticize vested exclusively in the upper echelons of the organizational structure; it was a right available to and actively exercised by every thinking person in the firm. And it is from the collective efforts of critical minds that success and distinction are achieved.
For criticism to become an effective mechanism deployed in a constant quest for excellence by pinpointing whatever is negative as a prerequisite for minimizing it in future and identifying the positive aspects of any idea, process or performance with a view to maximizing them, it must operate in a general climate in which every member of society is familiar with the notion of objective, and hence constructive, criticism. It is a type of criticism which differs in spirit, motivations and aims from the subjective criticism found in some cultures, where criticism is often used as a weapon of attack, revenge, and defamation to further personal agendas or settle old scores. The blame for this aberration lies squarely on the shoulders of a general cultural and educational climate which fails to develop the critical faculty in young minds or to promote the notion that criticism should be used as a rational, objective tool to serve the general interest and not private interests.
It is not surprising that societies governed by a general cultural climate in which pluralism is accepted and respected should be better equipped to use objective criticism as a means of optimizing all aspects of life than societies which do not tolerate any dissenting opinion or any departure from the norm. In such a monistic climate there is no room for the sort of constructive and objective criticism that targets subjects and not individuals. Nor is it surprising that societies which I have called in a previous essay societies of systems not individuals should also be better equipped to deploy constructive criticism as a weapon against objective shortcomings.
There is a strong link between a culture of constructive criticism on the one hand and social mobility on the other. In a society marked by an active process of social mobility which allows for a dynamic process of job rotation in general and among elites in particular, there is a wider scope for planting the seeds of a culture of constructive criticism. The opposite holds true in a closed society where, in the absence of real social mobility, hanging on to the job becomes a do-or-die proposition. This blurs the distinction between what is objective and what is subjective and creates a climate that is inimical to objective criticism.
I also believe in a strong link between the values of mediocrity referred to in the essay on Quality on the one hand and the difficulty of propagating a culture of constructive criticism on the other. People of mediocre abilities are aware that they cannot survive in a climate of constructive criticism that would expose their limited skills and talents. And so they ferociously oppose the introduction of a system of performance evaluation based on objective criteria by working actively against the dissemination of a culture of constructive criticism.
In the final analysis, the diffusion of a general cultural climate which welcomes and encourages constructive criticism and educates people on the merits of developing their critical faculties and the enormous benefits this will bring to society as a whole is one of the most important values of progress. And, like all the other values of progress, it can only become generalized throughout society in the immediate term by a determined effort on the part of those in positions of leadership to set an example and, in the long term, by means of educational curricula designed to inculcate its importance in people's minds.
(6) Universality of Knowledge.
One of the most salient features of the globalization process has been the unrestricted flow of information between the various sectors of the global community, not least in the domain of science. Even those who reject some of the aspects of globalization cannot deny the positive effect it has had in opening up channels of communication between the many institutions working in every branch of science and scientific research. This is particularly true in the field of applied science and technology, where universality of knowledge has become an established feature. The main reason why this feature has acquired such importance is the strong relationship in advanced societies between scientific research on the one hand and life in general and economic life in particular on the other. It is also the reason why the field of Research and Development, or R & D as it is known, which is concerned primarily with the practical application of scientific findings, has come to eclipse in importance the field of scientific research proper which, in the traditional meaning of the word, is almost totally divorced from life functions.
As advanced societies removed science from behind the high enclosures of universities and research centres, and put many of its branches to work in the service of their life/economic/social functions, universality of knowledge in the service of life functions became an inescapable fact of life in the world of applied sciences. The importance of R & D is reflected in the size of the budgets it commands, which far exceed those allocated to pure scientific research. And, while the latter is subsidized for the most part by states and academic institutions, most R & D is funded by private economic institutions driven by the need to stay ahead of the competition. Anyone working in an industrial, commercial or services sector today must seek out the latest technology in that sector, wherever it may have been developed, and put it to use in enhancing performance, expanding activities and maximizing returns. Hence the growing relevance of the notion of universality of knowledge.
It would be no exaggeration to attribute much of the credit for promoting the notion of universality of knowledge to the unique experience of post-war Japan. Like the fabled phoenix, Japan rose from the ashes of its crushing defeat in World War II to assert itself as an economic giant on the world stage, largely thanks to its determination to seek out the latest achievements in science and technology in every part of the world, thoroughly assimilate their inner workings and put them to use in remarkable ways. Things are not quite so simple in the field of social science, where outlooks are conditioned by cultural factors and considerations. And yet the notion of universality of knowledge is gaining ground in certain branches of social science, albeit not at the same pace as in the domain of applied science. For example, modern management, human resources and marketing sciences and many other economic disciplines have managed to cross borders and apply the notion of universality of knowledge in practice. This may be due to the fact that they are largely culture-free. But even those branches of social science with a strong cultural dimension are being infiltrated to one degree or another by the notion of universality of knowledge.
Resisting the notion may appear to some, particularly in the Arab world, as a natural feature of ancient civilizations. Not so. Consider the case of China, one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Among the most passionate adherents to the values of progress in general and the notion of universality of knowledge in particular are the Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, and it was this which allowed them to play an instrumental role in the remarkable progress achieved by the region. Then there is the case of Japan, another ancient civilization which stands as one of the foremost examples of the values of progress in action, most notably the universality of knowledge. There is also India, an ancient civilization which, despite its many social problems, is one of the few Third World countries whose scientific institutions can hold their own with the best in the world. By keeping the bridges of scientific and technological research open between it and the rest of the world, India was able to score impressive achievements in many fields, notably in the arms industry and in computers and information technology. These examples attest to the ability of ancient civilizations to adopt the notion of universality of knowledge without threatening their own cultural specificity.
How then to explain the reluctance of Arab societies to partake of the benefits of universality of knowledge? I believe it is due to the lamentable deterioration of their educational institutions and scientific research centres as a result of the subjugation of education and science in these societies to political life. This has, not surprisingly, cut them off from scientific progress in the rest of the world, smothered the spirit of creativity and turned them into stagnant entities totally cut off from scientific research in all branches of applied and social sciences. As a result, there is a near total Arab absence in the domain of scientific achievements and creative research in these fields.
Contemporary Values of Work.
(Or Modern Management Concepts).
If the previous six values are among the values of progress in general which must be firmly planted in a society's general cultural and educational environment as a prerequisite for that society's development, they are also among the most important values on which modern management concepts are based. Thus the five values addressed by this essay should not be seen in isolation from the values of progress addressed earlier in the essay, as the eleven values together constitute the conceptual framework governing work in the modern workplace.
In the course of the many years I spent working in an environment that was international in the real sense of the word, bringing together as it did thousands of people from different countries and with widely divergent cultural backgrounds, I had many occasions to see how the concept of teamwork is totally alien to most Egyptians. Unlike their colleagues from Asia, notably those from Japan or China, where the spirit of teamwork is particularly vibrant, or from other parts of the world, like Europe, which also has a tradition of teamwork, the majority of Egyptians I worked with found it extremely difficult to subsume their individuality in collective endeavours as members of a team. The ego issue often led to clashes, as each individual sought to ensure that he would get the credit for any success and others the blame for any failure. None was prepared to have his contribution regarded as just one component element in a collective endeavour. In hundreds of cases, this attitude led to crisis situations, with a disgruntled employee demanding that either he be taken off the team or that so and so be dropped – or else! This was in stark contrast to the attitude displayed by others belonging to different cultural backgrounds, such as the British, Asians and Germans with whom I worked, and only served to confirm how hard most Egyptians find it to put their egos aside and accept thanks for a job well done when they are not singled out for praise.
Given that modern management sciences are based on a set of fundamental values, among the most important being teamwork, applying modern management techniques to large numbers of Egyptians is a difficult proposition – unless they happen to be working abroad, in which case they have no choice but to submit docilely to the prevailing system of work or lose their jobs. Many expatriate Egyptians succeed brilliantly in their chosen field of expertise. All too often, however, their individualistic streak takes over, and they attribute their success exclusively to their own innate talents, conveniently forgetting that these talents would not have flourished as they did had it not been for the healthy environment which imposed on them the modern values of work and brought out the best they had to offer.
In this connection, I recall what a professor at the California Institute of Technology said to me at the end of 1999: "Ahmed Zeweil is, by any standards, a prodigious scientist. But we should remember that seventeen people working in the same institute in which he works won Nobel prizes for their contributions to science. The moral to be drawn here is that the 'miracle of the system' is not only equal to but surpasses the 'miracle of the individual', although both must be present at the same time in order for the required result to be achieved." This view has been echoed by Ahmed Zeweil himself, who never tires of praising the 'team' without which he could not have achieved what he did. The Nobel laureate has also praised the 'working environment' in his Institute, which he says deserves much of the credit for his 1999 Chemistry Prize. But as members of a culture of individuals we tend to forget all aspects of the story and focus on the individual, because for over fifty centuries, from the time of the Pharaohs on, the Egyptian mind-set has been conditioned by the cult of the individual. The system has no place in our scheme of things, even though it is the primary engine for progress and human achievement. The only mechanisms by which this defect in our makeup can be cured are those referred to in earlier parts of this essays, namely, leadership (as a tool of development in the short term), and modern education (as a tool of development in the medium and long term).
The word leadership here is not just a vague and abstract term, but denotes a modern manager formed in accordance with the requirements and culture of modern management sciences, which make every top executive responsible for managing work in his enterprise according to a system that groups employees into harmonious teams whose members complement one another, as opposed to the top executive who promotes individualism and factionalism by requiring each person in the establishment to owe allegiance to him personally. One of the most important tasks of a manager formed and trained according to the spirit, culture, requirements and techniques of modern management sciences is to foster a team spirit in his establishment. Unfortunately, most executives in our part of the world tend to promote a very different spirit in which employees are islands isolated from one another and in communication only with the employer. This is a source of personal power for the top man, but it comes at the expense of the collective good and does nothing to promote the spirit of teamwork that is one of the fundamental values of modern management science.
The negative culture which prevails in our workplace derives in large part from the virtual absence of management education, in addition to the fact that most businesses are run by 'bosses' rather than by contemporary executive managers. It is further encouraged and conditioned by the culture of the Egyptian village, where for decades the 'omda', or village headman, has maintained his grip over village affairs by ensuring that the only channels of communication are between his constituents and himself. Any other pattern is frowned upon as a violation of the personal loyalty they owe to his person and a direct challenge to his authority. All these factors conspire against the adoption of the values of modern management, including the important role assigned by contemporary management sciences to the executive manager. Indeed, most people find it difficult to understand just what the function of an executive manager is. On the surface, he does not appear to do much but the truth is very different. An executive manager can be likened to an orchestra conductor who is required to ensure, at one and the same time, the high performance capability of each orchestra member taken separately, and the high quality of their collective performance as one team.
Thus in the ten years I was responsible for projects worth billions of dollars, my days were not crowded with appointments and meetings and my desk was not covered in paperwork, even though I was handling a daily volume of work running into well over a hundred million dollars, while others who were running businesses and projects amounting to less than one percent of the volume and value of the projects for which I was responsible were drowning in meetings, paperwork and files. I believe this was because they spent much of their time doing work that should have been done by others. Because they believed neither in teamwork nor in delegating authority, they ended up spending three quarters of their time wading through mountains of unnecessary paperwork. Despite these strenuous efforts, however, the final results they achieved were at best mediocre and, more often than not, disgraceful.
Disseminating a culture which values teamwork begins with the formation of a human cadre of contemporary executive managers who understand what being a boss entails in the modern sense of the word, not in its Pharaonic or medieval sense, when the top man was everything and his assistants nothing. Without an administrative revolution in this field, any attempts to reform the working environment in our country and make it more amenable to the notion of collective work and the spirit of teamwork are doomed to fail, because the heads of administrative organizations have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo so that they can continue to keep all the reins of authority in their hands and take full credit for whatever success is achieved.
If the development of a high-caliber human cadre of executive managers capable of leading by example is an essential condition for development in the short term, what is required in the medium and long term is an educational revolution that will develop a strong work ethic in future generations, educate them in the importance of collective work and promote the spirit of teamwork at every stage of the educational process. Both targets must be achieved if we are ever to move from the culture of individualistic work inherited from Pharaonic times to the work culture prevailing today, in which teamwork is used as a mechanism to maximize output by drawing on the collective minds, abilities and experience of the members making up the team.
Over two decades ago, I went to Switzerland to study the latest modern management techniques at the International Management Institute of Geneva University, the largest specialized institute of its kind in Europe. The experience was a culture shock, as I found myself having to adjust to a system of learning very different from the one I was used to. Indeed, at first I thought I had made a mistake in registering for the course, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that I had been misinformed about how good the Institute was. In the academic environment where I obtained my graduate and postgraduate degrees from an Egyptian university, the professor was the transmitter of knowledge and the students passive receivers. The situation was very different at the Institute, where the professor would begin each class by bringing up a particular theme or problem that was to be addressed by the students. These would then be divided into working groups and each sent off to a separate room. The groups were given a set time to study the problem, use the library for research and come up with a report representing the collective views of their members. All the members of the group contributed equally to the report and then chose one amongst themselves to present it on their behalf.
It was a technique of teaching that at first filled me with dismay, and I wondered why we were spending so much to receive such a meager education. But over the following weeks and months, I gradually came to realize that it was in fact a highly sophisticated technique designed to develop leadership qualities and produce a human cadre capable of leading the world in every field. Contrary to the educational technique with which we are all too familiar, and which produces submissive followers trained to suppress their creative impulses while indulging their streak of destructive individualism, the technique employed at the Institute produced innovators and believers who displayed a highly developed esprit de corps. This educational environment is what produces the best elements in any working environment. After all, what is work but a continuation of the early stages of education? The workplace is where the final output of the educational system, the individual, eventually ends up, and his performance in the workplace is as negative or positive as the education he received.
Accordingly, collective work or teamwork is a phenomenon linked to a society's cultural values, and some societies show a greater inclination for teamwork than others. Two of the leading examples are China and Japan. According to management and QM scientists, these societies show a marked propensity for teamwork. However, it is an acquired characteristic not a natural one, built up through their cumulative cultural experience. A yardstick that can be used to measure the extent to which a society has adopted the value of teamwork is the management techniques followed by that society's governmental and economic institutions. Another is the philosophy and technique of its educational system. The example set by the executive leaders in society can be instrumental in developing the spirit of teamwork. There is also a link between teamwork and the level of democracy in society. The greater the margin of democracy, the better the prospects of making teamwork an essential component of a society's work ethic. In an undemocratic society, the opportunity for advancement is restricted, and upward mobility in an organization is either slow or nonexistent. This does not create a favourable climate for the development of a team spirit.
What we have here is a problem for which there is no one reason and no one cure, a multidimensional problem entailing a multilateral approach. As the German-born American political sociologist Herbert Marcuse pointed out thirty years ago, the theory of the unidimensionality of cause has collapsed in all spheres of human thinking.
B. Human Resources:
If management is the nerve centre of success in all the institutions of advanced societies, the optimal use of human resources is the backbone on which the success or failure of management rests. Human resource sciences have branched out to cover many areas, such as employee recruitment, selection, and training, performance appraisal, human resources and organization, discovering leadership qualities and other areas related to one of the most important fields of modern management, namely, human resource management.
Modern human resource sciences proceed from a number of fundamental premises, such as the belief that in every person on earth there exists a 'gap' between his actual performance and his potential performance, and that it is one of the main tasks of management to discover that gap and work to overcome it by placing an individual in the position best suited to his abilities, temperament and personality within the organizational structure on the one hand, and through constant training on the other.
Another fundamental premise is that any individual belongs to one of two basic groups made up respectively of specialists and generalists. Both groups are equally important and both must be present in any successful and thriving organization.
Yet another is the need to make a basic distinction between potential and performance. While standards and rates of performance can be raised, all that can be done in respect of potential is to discover whether or not it exists. One of the principal tasks of top management in modern organizations is to discover those with a high potential early on in order to elevate them to leading positions and to devise the required training programmes to hone their potential and imbue it with professionalism. Human resource sciences also attach a great deal of importance to the issue of motivation, whether in the material or moral sense.
The role of the 'chief' in a modern establishment differs from his role in a traditional bureaucracy, where he concentrates most of the centralized power in his hands and, over the years, transforms his fellow workers into an army of followers. In enterprises applying the techniques of modern management science, which are based on delegation, he does not involve himself in the day to day workings of the enterprise, leaving himself free to focus on strategic planning. In a sense, his role is closer to that of an orchestra conductor than a military leader.
While traditional bureaucracies create followers, modern management seeks to create a cadre of human resources whose members are believers in the mission and aims of the establishment in which they are working. The sense of identification with the work organization is reflected in the quality of the on-the-job performance of the true believer, who sees the job not simply as a duty but as a medium of self-expression and a source of personal gratification. In modern management terminology, this phenomenon is known as "ownership", i.e. ownership of the moral returns of success at work.
In short, modern management does not regard human resources as machines but as the key to success or failure. As such, they are entitled to enjoy the benefits and glory of the success they were instrumental in achieving. According to this view, there is no more effective engine for the advancement and success of an organization than the people working in it. This view is not the prevailing one in underdeveloped societies, where little attention is paid to creating an environment that encourages people to work and give of their best. The opposite holds true in advanced societies, where the importance of the human element in moving the wheel of progress forward is widely recognized. The wealth of nations is not measured in terms of their natural resources or the riches they have amassed in the past but in the quality of their human resources. This asset is built up through a process of planning and meticulous application of systems designed to discover the best in people, develop their potentialities to the full, and provide them with motivation.
Modern management science tries to utilize each person in the best possible way. To that end, it attaches great importance to discovering latent abilities, training and motivation, in the belief that enabling each individual to realize his full potential and allowing the free interplay of ideas is a source of enrichment not only for work but for life in general. Advanced societies discarded the model of centralized management applied for long decades in the work establishment, which some believe they imported from the military establishment, when experience proved that it hindered the development of individual potential. That is why delegation has become one of the most important instruments of successful management today. Delegation is a reflection of the values I mentioned earlier, which lead to transforming work groups from armies of followers to teams of believers and create an environment conducive to innovation and creativity.
In a modern management system where top managers delegate their authority to others, the role of the manager can be likened to that of an orchestra leader who does not play each instrument himself but directs others to play their best as an ensemble. In some modern establishments, the degree of delegation is such that the manager appears to have no work at all. This is, of course, a fallacy, as he is responsible for strategic planning not for carrying out work that others can do as well as, and usually better than, he can. It would be safe to say that an establishment run according to all the values of modern management except for delegation is doomed to fail, because delegation is the translation of all these values into practice. However, delegation and training must go hand in hand: delegation without training cannot hope to succeed.
D. Marketing in the driver's seat:
The difference between countries which achieved remarkable progress in the economic field (through manufacturing a product or providing a service then, at a later stage, through information technology) and those which spent billions on 'industrial arsenals' at the expense of real economic development is that the activities of the former were focused on the end product, i.e. on 'marketing', while the latter's activities were focused on the initial process, i.e. on 'production'. Modern management science recognizes that a production-driven approach can only lead to failure and bankruptcy, while an approach that is marketing-driven is the best guarantee of success and growth. The truth of this axiom is corroborated by the huge discrepancy between the economies of the East European countries (before the collapse of the eastern bloc in the nineteen eighties), which were production-driven, and those of western Europe, which are marketing-driven.
If management is the secret for the success (or failure) of societies in general and economies in particular, marketing is the brains of management, in the sense that a successful management is one whose strategic thinking, business philosophy and internal mechanisms are marketing-driven.
While the importance of marketing as an essential value for the
successful management of any enterprise cannot be overstated, its own success is contingent on the adoption of other values of progress. One such value is universality of knowledge. There can be no successful marketing in a closed environment shut off from the outside world. How can anyone hope to successfully market anything on a wide scale if he does not know enough about his competitors, international markets, the demands of those markets and the cultures of the prospective buyers of his products or services? Another value that goes hand in hand with marketing is pluralism. How can we have one unique model for everything (the opposite of pluralism) and succeed in marketing, which is based on the highest objective of quality management science, which is to meet the expectations and satisfy the needs of the recipient of a product or service?
E. Absolute Belief in the Effectiveness of Management:
Many are the truthful statements repeated by people without realizing their real meaning and significance. A statement one hears very often these days is that Egypt's main problem today is 'management'. Although this is absolutely true, any attempt to elicit an explanation from people who utter the statement with a great deal of assurance reveals that, more often than not, they have no clear idea what they are talking about and that, moreover, the word management means different things to different people.
Still, even if they are not clear on the details, they are right in their diagnosis: the main problem in our lives in general and our economic life in particular is that the methods and techniques of modern management sciences and modern marketing sciences are virtually absent from government departments, the public sector, the private sector and all the service sectors.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the eastern bloc, made up of the Soviet Union and its legion of followers, collapsed at the end of the nineteen eighties because of the absence of effective management in all sectors of the socialist world, particularly in the economic sector, where the absence of management led to a state of bankruptcy which brought the whole temple of socialism crashing down.
If the collapse of the eastern bloc can be blamed in large part on poor economic management, much of the credit for the flourishing economies of the western world and the Asian tigers, which led to the growth of a prosperous and dynamic middle class, can be attributed to the application of modern and efficient management and marketing systems. It is worth noting in this connection that efficient management is capable not only of steering a country on the path of economic prosperity and allowing it to reap the positive social benefits that accrue, but also of dealing with crises and reversals. It was thanks only to sound management that the countries of Southeast Asia and, before them, Mexico, succeeded in overcoming their financial crises in record time, confounding the expectations of some of our pundits who were patting themselves on the back for having adopted a more cautious approach. The swift recovery of the Southeast Asian and Mexican economies proves that a country with a clear vision of where it is heading and which proceeds to implement that vision by means of a scientific methodological approach can, when exposed to a crisis situation that causes it to slip backwards on its chosen path, regain its footing as long as the methodology is still in place.
Before going any further, it might be useful here to define exactly what success means when applied to an economic venture. This entails first clearing up a certain ambiguity which arises from the absence of any distinction in the Arabic language between the two notions of administration and management, both of which are translated as 'idara' in Arabic. In fact, the two notions are quite distinct in English. While administration means the set of rules governing work in the workplace, such as personnel regulations, working hours, disciplinary measures and the like, the word management denotes something altogether different. In essence, it is the mechanism by which an enterprise achieves its desired goals which are, specifically realizing given economic returns, parallel with a process of growth, by using the tools of modern marketing sciences.
Thus the economic enterprises established in countries which adopted a system of centralized planning, the so-called command economies, could impress us with their massive size, machinery, equipment and huge workforce only if we look upon them from the perspective of administration. But however impressive these factors may be, they mean absolutely nothing from the viewpoint of modern management, where the only criterion for success is an enterprise's ability to deploy its resources, machinery and workforce efficiently to realize economic returns which must not be less than the interest accruing on bank deposits.
A project which does not yield a return on investment greater than the interest on bank deposits will inevitably reach a state of bankruptcy that renders it incapable of performing its economic and other functions, the most important of which is employment and the creation of new job opportunities.
The pride with which some people continue to regard the huge enterprises which once dominated our economic landscape and which, because of the absence of effective management, failed to realize economic returns greater than the interest on bank deposits, is both strange and misplaced. What they are proud of in the final analysis is the money spent rather than the returns on expenditure, which were in most cases extremely modest and led to the failure of the entire experiment.
Societies which confuse the notion of management in the sense we have explained and that of administration as the system of checks and balances governing the workplace should understand that, for all its importance, administration cannot be a vehicle for economic prosperity. The only way this can be achieved is through the application of the principles, techniques and procedures of modern management and marketing sciences.
Management, like medicine or architecture, is a profession for which special skills and training are required. Like a doctor or architect, the modern manager chooses his career path on the basis of personal inclination and aptitude and then undergoes an extensive course of study and training. Promotion to a higher rung on the administrative ladder does not in and of itself create a modern executive manager capable of leading and planning in order to achieve the desired targets in terms of profitability and growth, while at the same time giving high priority to the development of the most important element in the success of any enterprise, its human resources.
As anyone who has had the nightmarish experience of dealing with our bureaucracy can testify, the concept of modern management is a totally alien one as far as all government departments are concerned. Unfortunately, this is equally true for the economic units of both the public and private sectors, which are run according to a bazaar mentality having nothing to do with the spirit and mechanisms of private economic institutions operated in accordance with the principles of modern management, human resources and marketing sciences. Scientists in these fields are well aware that the vast majority of private economic establishments in Egypt today are almost totally dependent on public relations rather than on management in the modern sense of the word. Operating as they do in a general climate in which public relations reign supreme, they have spared themselves the trouble of building modern institutional systems and recruiting efficient human elements capable of running them in accordance with the principles of sound management. On the one hand, building such a system is a costly business; on the other, simple minds cannot grasp its merits, especially in the context of a business culture that venerates public relations as a short cut to power and influence.
Unless we create a general climate that is conducive to the introduction of modern management practices in government departments, public sector units and the manufacturing and service establishments of the private sector, we cannot hope to attract a significant flow of direct foreign investments. Investors are wary of pouring money into an environment that does not allow them to function in accordance with the mechanisms and techniques of modern management, human resources and marketing sciences, and it is precisely the absence of those mechanisms that stands at the root of our deteriorating economic situation. True, we began to address the problem ten years ago, but we need to adopt a far more forceful approach if we are ever to transform the business environment in this country into an investor-friendly environment governed by the principles of modern management in all spheres of life.
Until then, repeating the slogan "Egypt's main problem is management" without fully understanding the real significance and implications of this diagnosis will remain nothing more than a meaningless mantra.
The Values of Progress: Source & Identity.
A closer look at the values of progress presented in Part Two shows that, despite the different characteristics of human civilizations, ancient and new, they are values that belong to the whole of humanity, to the march of human civilization in general, rather than to any specific civilization. As civilizations rose and fell, humanity was moving steadily ahead on a course that transcended the fortunes of this or that civilization. Thus human history proceeded along two parallel courses simultaneously: the march of civilization and the evolution of humanity, and the values of progress owe their existence more to the latter than to the former. The failure to recognize that humanity is higher and more sublime than any civilization can only lead to racism and fanaticism. There is no disputing the fact that every civilization has drawn on the cumulative experiences of other contemporary or earlier civilizations and weaved them into the fabric of its own culture complex.
Given the undeniable existence of a common fund of human experience, a “cumulative legacy” as it were, built up through the ages in such fields as mathematics and other applied sciences, how is this common legacy assimilated into human consciousness, which is the repository of values? If we admit that much of modern mathematics came from Ancient Greece, that modern music owes much to Aristotle, that the Latin-Germanic lawmakers based their codification on the principles propounded in the Roman Justinian Code, and if a great Egyptologist like James Henry Breasted found an undeniable link between the highest contemporary value systems and those in force in Ancient Egypt, which he called the 'Dawn of Conscience', we cannot fail to see that as culture ranks below civilization, civilization ranks below humanity.
Students of history will find that all civilizations, whether ancient or modern, were based on the values referred to in Part Two. They will also find that when these values move from one civilization to another, they undergo a process of development and refinement which, on the one hand, represents the contribution of the host civilization to humanity and, on the other, way stations on the road to developing these values further by elevating them to a higher plane and opening new vistas before them. This does not negate the fact that the contribution of some civilizations to this refining process has been greater than others. For example, by far the largest contribution to developing the contemporary values of work has been made by western civilization which, as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, provided a favourable climate for the refinement and consecration of these values. Still, the values of progress in general and the values of work (including modern management concepts) in particular have been developed over the ages by humanity at large and not by any specific civilization, even if the ability of the West to put them to optimal use makes them appear to be products of western civilization.
The “humanistic” nature of these values is borne out by the fact that in the course of only one century, the twentieth, they passed over from an environment that was purely western to others which followed altogether different models of civilization, such as Japan and tens of countries in Asia and Latin America, which adopted these values as part of their culture complex and put them to use in fueling the engine of their remarkable economic growth. This proves that even if at one stage they took root and flourished in a western environment, they are, in the final analysis, human, not western values.
Values of Progress & Cultural Specificity.
In the last forty years, fears of a cultural invasion have dominated the thinking of many in our part of the world. When the bipolar world order collapsed at the end of the nineteen eighties and the world began to talk of an emerging phenomenon that is now widely known as globalization, the proponents of the cultural invasion theory adapted their language to the new terminology and began to talk of the globalization of cultures as a dangerous development which threatened to erode our cultural specificity.
I have addressed this issue in many of my writings, and came to the conclusion that only those with a meager fund of cultural specificity have anything to fear from the globalization of culture. Those standing on a solid foundation of cultural identity, with a cultural specificity derived from factors related to history and geography, like Japan, need not fear the loss of their cultural identity under any circumstances. The examples some people give of the effects the winds of change coming from abroad have had on Japan's cultural construct can all be classified as "secondary issues" like eating fast food, wearing American clothes and the like. But when it comes to human relations, the high esteem in which old people are held, family values and other intrinsically Japanese values, such as the Japanese understanding of work, Japan has not surrendered one iota of its cultural specificity despite the fact that for the last sixty years it has been dealing extensively with the outside world.
But while there might be some justification to fear that our cultural specificity will be unable to stand up to the onslaught of cultural globalization, this does not apply in respect of the values of progress, all of which find much to support them in the models of civilization from which we derive our specific cultural straits. There is nothing in any of these models, the Egyptian, Arab, Islamic or Christian, that can be construed as running counter to values like a respect for time, quality, universality of knowledge, teamwork, a culture of systems rather than a culture of individuals, or a belief that management is one of the most important instruments of success. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that these values were upheld and applied in our history hundreds of years before another essay in humanity's civilizing process took them over and used them in creating a better life. There are those who would agree with me save when it comes to the value of pluralism, on the grounds that Islamic religious thinking is based on a 'a unique model of righteousness'. This is an erroneous assumption which is belied by numerous Qur'ânic texts, perhaps the most important of which reads as follows: "And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together", (Surah of Jonah, Verse 99). There are also many texts in the Sunna, (the rules of life according to the hadith, or teachings of the Prophet), extolling pluralism as one of the sublime values which all Muslims should strive to uphold.
How then can anyone allege that values of progress like time, quality and, even, pluralism, threaten our cultural specificity? And yet that is the theme of an ongoing debate in our society which is both bizarre and humiliating. Those who argue against the adoption of values of progress on the grounds that they run counter to our value system and cultural identity expect us instead to embrace values that can only drag society on the road to backwardness and underdevelopment. This regressive trend is a relatively recent phenomenon in Egypt's modern history. For additional proof that the values of progress are compatible with our cultural specificity we need only look at the last hundred years of our history. These were marked by periods of enlightenment during which most of the values of progress were far more present in our lives than they became after what has been termed by some as a process of 'dismantling' Egyptian society began.
The debate over cultural specificity versus values of progress takes me back to a period I spent in the eighties working in one of the fastest developing countries in Southeast Asia, where the two largest ethnic communities, and hence the main sources of labour, were the Chinese and the Malay. The prevailing view at the time was that any economic establishment wishing to run an efficient and successful business had to recruit its staff from the Chinese community, whose members were diligent and hard-working and who, moreover, displayed a natural propensity for teamwork, as opposed to the Malays, who were generally regarded as lazy, slipshod and highly individualistic. This negative image of the Malay worker remained in place until one man came to lead a country 90% of whose inhabitants belong to the ethnic group once maligned in the international labour market, the predominantly Muslim Malays, towards a miraculous recovery. In less than twenty years, Malaysia, whose people were mired in backwardness and stigmatized as lazy and inefficient, broke through the barriers of underdevelopment to gain world-wide recognition for the high quality of its products and services. With one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Malaysia has come to embody all the values of progress, breaking the stereotype of the ‘lazy Malay’ and opening the eyes of the world to two inescapable truths:
The Malaysian experience can also be used to illustrate another truth, namely, that progress can go hand in hand with cultural specificity. Malaysia’s strong cultural traditions relating to human relations, family relations and religious values have remained as constant since its economic takeoff as they were when it was a struggling underdeveloped country. The credit for Malaysia’s economic miracle is sometimes attributed to its Chinese minority. Even if this were true, it means that progress can come about by ‘contagion’, which is not a bad thing. But this is an overly simplistic explanation for the Malaysian miracle. After all, the Chinese minority has always been around. The only new factor is the emergence of Mahathir bin Mohamed, the man who wrought this amazing change in Malaysia’s fortunes through visionary and efficient leadership.
Values of Progress & Building a Strong Society.
Every political thinker has a list of priorities which he tries to serve through his writings. My main priority is building an internally strong Egypt, that is, a healthy society characterized by a broad-based and dynamic middle class, economic stability, modern education and a general cultural climate in synch with the age. Of course, moving with the times should never be at the expense of an awareness of and pride in our history, but a sense of history must not be allowed to degenerate into a love affair with the past. Those who have different priorities on their list, be they pan-Arab or otherwise, should realize that none of their priorities stands a chance except in the context of an internally strong, stable and flourishing Egypt. This applies just as much to those who dream of a successful pan-Arab project as it does to those who aspire to see Egypt play a prominent role on the regional or intemational stage. These are dreams that can only come true if Egypt is stable and strong on the domestic front. In fact, building a strong and stable society is a prerequisite for the attainment of any of Egypt’s aspirations and ambitions, whatever they may be.
Despite my boundless admiration for Mohamed Ali, who is generally recognized by scholars and historians to be the founder of modern Egypt, I have no doubt that his preoccupation with matters that distracted him from his main project, which was to build a strong Egypt, led to a series of disastrous setbacks that were to have long-term ramifications. Had Mohamed Ali focused his main efforts on building a strong and stable society, Egypt would have been in a position to play the pivotal role for which it is uniquely qualified by the factors of history and geography. Unfortunately, the pattern of squandering our efforts in other than what should be our main priority, which is to deploy all our resources to build the strong foundations of a modem society, has been repeated in Egypt’s recent history with equally disastrous consequences.
Many factors tempt Egypt to play a role beyond its own borders. The real problem is not that it succumbs to the temptation but that it does so before completing its sacred mission to build itself up as a strong, stable and thriving society. It is not by casting its eyes outside its borders that Egypt, or any country for that matter, can hope to take a short cut to development. External ventures undertaken in the absence of a solid internal structure can only result first, in the failure of such ventures and, second, in slowing down the process of building a strong and stable internal front.
My view has always been that our primary mission and the main task confronting us is to mobilize all our resources and focus all our efforts in the direction of building a country that is internally strong, modern, successful, thriving and stable, and that is, furthermore, at peace with its past and its present. The only way this can be done is through a campaign to instill, cultivate, diffuse and propagate the values of progress in society, at the level of the leadership and by means of an educational institution whose primary task will be to instill those values in the minds and consciences of our young people. Parallel with this, there must be a radical change in the religious discourse of this country, whether Muslim or Christian, which is one of the two main elements by which public opinion in Egypt is formed, the other being the mass media.
In the meantime, many of us are wallowing in nostalgia. Some dream of pre-1952 Egypt as an ideal to strive for, others of Egypt as it was under Nasser and others still of what it was in the days of Sadat. But while we certainly want a middle class of the quality that existed in pre¬-revolutionary Egypt, we certainly do not want it to be the same in terms of quantity. Before 1952, only a tiny minority of Egyptians belonged to the middle class; the vast majority belonged to a downtrodden lower class that lived in conditions of abject poverty and squalor. From Egypt of the fifties and sixties we want to recapture the “big dream” which saw the emergence of a broad middle class but we want a middle class standing on solid economic and cultural foundations. From the Sadat years, we want to recapture a climate in which rationality and debate prevailed most, if not all, of the time. I write these words in the conviction that condemning others is an extremely negative process that can only further polarize society rather than bring about the desired reconciliation between the different trends which make it up. Such a reconciliation can only be effected through a comprehensive project to propagate the values of progress in society. This is the only way we can look objectively to the era of Mohamed Ali and see its positive and negative aspects. It is also the only way we can objectively assess the eras which followed it, without downplaying or exaggerating their negative or positive aspects to serve whatever viewpoint we wish to advocate. Only in a cultural and educational climate that succeeds in planting the values of progress can this be possible.
The biggest challenge facing Egypt is its middle class, which is undergoing such structural economic, educational and cultural changes as to make it difficult for anyone to try and define what the middle class means in Egypt today. The progress of any society depends not on the existence of an upper class but on the quality, type, size and level of its middle class, which depend in turn on the extent to which that class subscribes to the values of progress.
In short, Egypt’s economic and social problems can only be solved in a general climate governed by the values of progress. Then and only then can Egypt embark on a role beyond its borders, a role no one can stop it from playing because all the givens of history, geography and culture attest that Egypt is the only Arab and Middle Eastern country that is qualified for the role of 'regional leader' But before aspiring to any such role, Egypt must first put its own house in order.
This is not an article. This is (literary) the answer I gave in an interview with the well-known European Channel R.T.L a week ago. The following text represents what I improvised in answering a question about the quality of political leaderships in the world today. – Tarek Heggy
Our world can not be adequately and efficiently managed by writers,
journalists, professors and well-educated civil servants ...
but by leaders who are VISIONARY + COMPETENT.
I do not say that because I am short of academic degrees or
cultural/intellectual knowledge base. On the contrary, I have a dozen
of post-graduate degrees and read approximately 30,000 books in all
social sciences and humanities domains more than most of the
professors of our world. Yet, I know that what most of the countries
(including a super-power such as USA) miss is THE AVAILABILITY OF TOP
LEVEL OF COMPETENT LEADERSHIP IN EVERY SINGLE DOMAIN OF ITS EXECUTIVE
To tell the reader the truth, I never found the level of competence I
mean except in the major corporates i.e. organizations such as EXXON,
SHELL, GM, TOYOTA, BP, IBM, ELF ...etc. When I started (in 1996)
dealing with the most senior people of the governments/administrations in many countries, I was astonished of the low level of what we call in management CEP (current estimated potential)... That is why, most 0f the excellent graduates with above 150 IQ in the top 20 countries (from per capita GDP stand-point) go to corporates.
(Knowledge will not give you a part of
itself unless you give it your whole,
And in giving your whole you are treading a dangerous path).
Abu Hanifa al-No'man
(d. Second Islamic century/early 8th century AD).
In my first three books, I presented what I believe was a
comprehensive critique of socialist thinking and experiences. My
writings during this stage covered the period between 1977 and 1981.
Between 1984 and 1986, I embarked on a second stage in which I tried
to identify and analyze the myriad problems of contemporary Egyptian
life. Starting 1997, I entered a third stage in my writing, which
proceeded from the premise that the underlying cause of all our
problems is cultural in nature and has to do with methods of thinking,
the general cultural climate and educational systems. Between 1997 and
2005, I wrote extensively on what I call defects in the Arab mind-set.
Some commentators remarked that the defects I cited exist in other
societies. My response was that in highlighting certain negative
aspects of the Arab mind-set I was in no way suggesting that they were
exclusive to Arab societies. Indeed, the idea never crossed my mind,
for to believe that is to believe that these defects derive from the
organic makeup of the Arab mind, that Arabs are somehow genetically
programmed to think in a certain way, which is, of course, patently
absurd. What I believe, rather, is that these defects developed over
time as a result of historical, political, cultural and societal
conditions which, if they had existed in any other society, would have
produced the same defects, albeit to different degrees. There is no
such thing as a defective thought process determined by ethnicity; the
defects I mention are all acquired, not inborn.
My writings on this subject have been published in more than one book
in the Arabic language. This chapter includes the English translation
of much, if not all, of what I have written on the defects in the Arab
These defects are mainly the result of internal factors, of our
historical experience, our political, economic, social and cultural
circumstances and of the most prominent features of Arab reality
today, namely, despotism, bad governance and a sharp decline in the
educational and cultural climate. Although there is no denying that
external factors contributed to the problem, I do not believe they
brought it about. The truth is that these defects are a product of our
own societies, not of external factors.
I have written many books and articles over the last ten years about
the defects in the Arab mind-set, all of which are cultural defects
stemming from three main sources. The first is the repressive climate
that prevails throughout Arab societies, the second a backward
educational system that lags far behind modern educational systems and
the third a mass-media apparatus operated by those responsible for the
climate of political repression to serve their interests. The
following are the most obvious defects from which the contemporary
Arab mind-set suffers:
1. A lack of intellectual hospitality;
2. It is steeped in a culture that encourages conformity and
3. Limited tolerance for the Other;
4. Limited tolerance for criticism and the virtual absence of
5. The adoption of stands not on the basis of their coherence,
validity or intrinsic value but on the basis of tribal or religious
6. Deep feelings of inequality with others in terms of results
and achievements makes for a sense of inadequacy that is sublimated
into an exaggerated and unfounded pride;
7. A tendency to indulge in excessive self-praise and to glorify
past achievements as a way of escaping our dismal reality;
8. The prevalence of what I call the ‘big-talk culture’, in which
overblown rhetoric is used to compensate for the appalling lack of
9. A lack of objectivity and the growth of individualism;
10. An unhealthy nostalgia for and escape into the past;
11. An aversion to the notion of compromise, which is deemed to be
a form of capitulation and defeat;
12. Lack of respect for women;
13. A tendency to unquestioningly accept stereotypes at face value;
14. Setting great store by the conspiracy theory and believing
that the Arabs are always the victims of heinous plots hatched against
them by their enemies;
15. An ill-defined sense of national identity: is it Arab, Muslim,
Asian, African or Mediterranean?
16. The spread of the personality cult phenomenon in Arab
societies, where the relationship with the ruler is based not on
mutual respect and accountability but on the excessive adulation, not
to say deification, of the ruler;
17. The prevalence of an insular culture that knows next to
nothing about the outside world and the real balance of power by which
it is governed, let alone the science or culture of others;
18. A lack of appreciation for the value of the bond that links
the human species together, which is their common humanity. For most
people in the region, the only bonds that count are either tribal,
sectarian or nationalistic, although humanity is the most exalted
common denominator of all;
19. The spread of a mentality of fanaticism due to a number of
factors, the most important being the tribalism that dominates the
Arab mind-set to varying degrees;
20. Finally, the Arab mind-set is not overly concerned with the
notion of freedom for the simple reason that the Arabs have enjoyed
only limited doses of political rights and civil liberties.
The twenty defects listed above are by no means exhaustive; I have no
doubt that any Middle East expert can come up with many more. However,
all these defects are acquired, which means they are amenable to
reform. Moreover, they can all be found, albeit to different degrees,
in other societies. As I mentioned, they stem from the prevailing
climate of political despotism and outdated educational and
information systems designed and operated to serve the interests of a
power structure intent on maintaining its iron grip.
These defects will continue to grow unless radical changes are
introduced to all three areas. The political system must be overhauled
with a view to providing a wider margin of freedom and allowing people
a greater say in determining the shape of their present and future.
The educational systems in force must be reorganized from the ground
up, their philosophy, curricula and methods brought into line with the
requirements of the age. Last but not least, the media must be removed
from under the thumb of government and allowed to function in complete
political and economic freedom as a credible forum for the
dissemination of culture, ideas and information.
At a recent round table conference that took place at the Center for
Middle Eastern Studies in one of the United State ’s most prestigious
universities, noted for bringing forth some of the world’s most
learned and respected names, a stimulating discussion took place
concerning the so-called clash of civilizations. There were ten of us
attending the meeting, and we were divided into two factions; those
supporting the proposition that a clash of civilizations is an
inexorable fact, as supported by the now-famous assumption put forth
by Mr. Samuel Huntington, and those who opposed this view. The latter
formed a minority of only two persons, one of which was myself. The
general trend of the discussion seemed to be turning in favor of the
former group with its insistence on the existence of this conflict,
until one of the opposition put forth the following question: “ Japan
was in a state of undeniable conflict with the free world until
August, 1945. However, since then and up to the present moment, there
has been no struggle or ‘clash of civilizations’ between Japan and the
West, only a vigorous economic, industrial, commercial and scientific
competition played out according to the rules of the game as laid down
by the free world. Is this not enough to prove two undeniable facts?”
I then proceeded to elucidate:
If indeed a clash of civilizations had existed between Japan and the
free world, the complete and impressive transformation that took place
in that country in such a relatively short period of time could never
The salient point in this argument relates to the fact that when Japan
was an autocracy, it was in constant conflict with the democratic
world. This conflict ceased to exist once Japan itself became a
democracy, and was replaced instead by competition played out
according to the rules of the game as practiced by the free world.
My friend and I - the minority camp - ended our argument by stating
that, “It is not civilizations that clash, but rather autocracies and
democracies that come into conflict.” The Second World War was a war
between autocratic and democratic factions, as was the Cold War. This
bears no relation to a clash of civilizations: no such thing exists.
I recall that during this meeting, I spoke of another issue related to
the main theme of our discussion; namely, the sheer panic that arises
in the hearts and minds of many members of the Arab communities
concerning the possibility of losing their cultural identity. I would
again cite the example of Japan , from which we could learn that such
fear has its roots not in a threat emanating from the outside world,
but rather from the own internal world of these fearful die-hards.
Quite frankly, the Arab mind needs to undertake an honest process of
self-examination and an unbiased contemplation of the following facts:
Our cultural specificities include both positive and negative aspects.
Our cultural specificities are not static but dynamic; the cultural
specificities of the Egyptian people in the year 2000 differ in many
respects (but not all) from those of the year 1900, which were again
different from those that had distinguished the Egyptians of the year
1800; which themselves had also changed considerably since the year
1700. Accordingly, the widespread use of the term “our fixed traits”
is unscientific, imprecise, and largely a figment of the imagination
and of wishful thinking.
Cultural specificities cannot be erased through widespread dealings
with others, as amply proved by the Japanese. I would venture to say
that the cultural specificities of isolationists and those who shut
themselves off from the outside world are more likely to diminish,
lacking as they do the stimulation and regeneration resulting from
contact with others.
When the Arab mind begins to contemplate the issue of widespread
dealings with the other (in particular, joining the march of human
progress together with the rest of the civilized world), it raises the
now-familiar cry of, “Our cultural specificities are in danger!” It
fails to take into account the difference between integration with the
outside world by playing the game according to the rules set by the
advanced world, and between a total assimilation that erases identity
and cultural specificity. Playing the new global game in accordance
with its rules (as prescribed by Western democracy) means that one
participates in the game and abides by these rules without losing
one’s identity or specificities. I would liken this to the way
Brazilians play football: they do indeed follow the rules of the game,
but in their own, very distinctive way, and in a manner that is theirs
alone! Again, the Japanese provide the best example of the validity of
Sheer ignorance and unjustified conceit have led most Arabs to believe
in the possibility of creating their own game played according to new
rules that differ from those developed by the democratic world. It is
the same ignorance that leads some to believe that abiding by the
global rules of the game constitutes humiliation or defeat; a sick
reasoning spewed forth by so-called “thinkers” who are more akin to
the poets of the pre-Islamic era where resonant words and grandiose
phrases were much admired and indeed constituted the only achievement
of this age. Once more, the Japanese did not bother themselves with
attempting to change the rules of the game, but channeled their
efforts into achieving progress, development and distinction within
the rules of the game prescribed by the victors at whose hands they
had suffered defeat in the summer of 1945.
The deplorable state of the Arab intelligentsia today can only evoke a
feeling of sorrow within the hearts of those who wish to see the
region receive its fair share of progress and development.
These “thinkers” are occupied with denouncing the rules of the game
developed by the western democracies, while propounding the theory
that it is feasible to invent new rules for the game. It is a stance
that is shared by no other countries, even those who might have been
expected to show animosity to Western civilization, such as Japan and
the stars of Asian progress, South Korea , Singapore , Taiwan and Hong
Kong , and to a lesser extent, Malaysia and Indonesia . It is my
belief that Malaysia will soon catch up with the Japanese example
after ridding itself of a leader who, while enjoying a high degree of
administrative skill, is nevertheless a dictator who thinks nothing of
imprisoning his opponents (after fabricating false accusations) and
who, a few weeks ago, joined the ranks of the defenders of Saddam
The pattern of behaviour displayed by the victims of poverty differs from one culture to another. In some cultures, it takes the form of a defiant refusal to succumb to the grip of poverty and an openly rebellious expression of that refusal; in others it engenders an attitude of resignation marked by a docile acceptance of what fate has decreed.
Many factors determine which of the two patterns will prevail. Societies which have been subjected for much of their history to tyranny and oppression and with a tradition of venerating their rulers will tend to exhibit the second pattern, accepting their lot philosophically and expressing their disillusionment by using the weapon of sarcasm against public officials, but only in private conversations conducted behind closed doors. In some countries, this mechanism gives rise to political jokes which reflect what people would have wanted to say openly but which, in the absence of available channels, they are forced to express in epigrammatic form. The ability of some of the political jokes thus spawned to encapsulate prevailing opinions and impressions in terse, witty aphorisms is sometimes nothing short of brilliant.
Despots realize only too well that their people’s economic independence and the existence of an economically self-sufficient middle class can have disastrous consequences for them. For it is this which allows a people to move from apathy to action, from a resigned acceptance of whatever the ruler decides at his absolute discretion to active participation in political life. To be answerable to his subjects is the last thing an absolute ruler wants, knowing that his grip on power cannot survive open questions on the source of his legitimacy or on the legitimacy of the privileges he and his cronies enjoy.
Apathy, education and teamwork:
Modern educational systems in advanced societies are not based on traditional teaching methods in which the teacher is relegated to the role of a transmitter, so to speak, and the student to that of a receiver. They are based, rather, on a feedback process involving student participation, dialogue and exchanges of view. One of the main features of this process is the division of classes into groups which are required to seek for themselves answers to given questions by accessing available literature on the subject, whether in libraries or on the Internet, comparing notes, consulting together and finally presenting the conclusions reached in the light of their research. This sort of group endeavour promotes a team spirit among its members, develops a sense of participation and the conviction that every individual is entitled to seek the truth for himself and to express the truth as he sees it openly and fearlessly. It also promotes tolerance and a respect for the right of any member of a group to differ from the majority opinion without this necessarily rupturing the overall cohesion of the group. At the same time, it develops the critical faculties of the students and ensures that they will not elevate anyone to the status of all-knowing oracle, neither teachers, authors nor, by extension, political leaderships.
Students raised under this system, which recognizes and consecrates the value of teamwork, grow into citizens equipped to participate effectively in the life of their community. By the same token, students raised under the system of learning by rote, where the relationship between student and teacher is a one-way street, never develop a team spirit and are content to remain passive recipients of information that will never be translated into active participation in public life. Nor is the material they are spoon-fed by their teachers processed by the students, who merely learn it off by heart and reproduce it word for word in their exam papers.
An educational system which is based on the quantity of material that can be stuffed into young minds rather than on the quality of the values that should go into their formation; which consecrates the cult of personality and fosters blind obedience to diktats from above rather than the spirit of pluralism that is the driving force of progress and civilization, and which does not teach students how to accept criticism and engage in self-criticism can only produce a breed of passive citizens incapable of rising up to the challenges life will throw at them, let alone of participating in the political life of their community. Not only is the inflexibility of the system by which they were governed throughout their formative years capable of killing any initiative, but the fact that it denied them the right to choose, which is the essence of political participation, instills in them a spirit of apathy and a sense that any attempt to change the status quo is an exercise in futility.
Apathy and the rule of law:
Most political systems in the Third World claim to uphold the rule of law, but this is usually an empty boast rather than an accurate reflection of reality. The majority of these systems operate according to the absolute will of an absolute ruler who is answerable to no one for the decisions he makes. More often than not, these decisions serve to encourage the spread of corruption and protect the vested interests of the ruling establishment, in the total absence of either democracy or the rule of law to which these political systems pay continuous lip service. It is not surprising that in such a climate apathy should spread. People are only motivated to participate in public life when it is governed by the rule of law. Conversely, when the decision-making process is clearly designed to serve the interests of a select few at the expense of society as a whole, people will retreat into their shells and resign themselves to accepting what they cannot change. There is thus a direct relationship between the absence of the rule of law and the apathy of the citizen.
Apathy of citizens in an autocracy:
The discourse of most undemocratic systems of government is rife with reverential references to “the People”. Following a time-honoured tradition which began with Hitler and Mussolini, they glorify the people as an abstract concept but do not display anywhere near as much respect and concern for its constituent elements, viz, the individual citizens. There is a glaring discrepancy between the glorification of the entity known as “the people” in the official discourse of the state and the abasement of the citizen on a daily basis at the hands of the system, whether in government offices, police stations or hospitals, where no attempt is made to translate the dignity accorded to the people collectively into common courtesy for the individual citizen. In short, undemocratic systems of government pay lip service to an abstract non-existent entity known as “the people” while treating citizens much as the Mamelukes treated their Egyptian subjects in one of the darkest chapters of our history. The tyranny and oppression to which the Egyptians were subjected by a caste of slaves they themselves had bought and to whom they then inexplicably handed the reins of power have left traces in our general cultural climate. The best description of the long shadow cast by nearly three centuries of Mameluke rule on our present reality can be found in a book entitled “The Serfdom Heritage” by an eminent Egyptian author.
Apathy and the herd mentality:
I tend to believe that undemocratic systems of government engender a cultural climate which can only be described as a “herd culture”. Under these systems, the government treats people like cattle with the result that citizens gradually come to display many of the characteristics of a herd mentality, including a retreat of individualism which, along with democracy, is one of the greatest achievements of human civilization and a prerequisite for the consecration of human rights –in the real sense of the term, not in the sense it is bandied about by some of the most despotic systems of government today. Once a herd mentality takes hold in any society, the members of that society will develop a passive attitude incommensurate with the requirements of good citizenship. A positive attitude that leads citizens to involve themselves in the workings of their society requires a perception of self as an individual human being, not as an anonymous member of an abstract and dehumanized group known as “the people”. A useful device for despots, the term “the people”, which is not necessarily the same thing as “the citizens”, allows them to benefit from the apathy and indifference of their subjects. This indifference, one of the main symptoms of a herd culture, is most graphically illustrated in the low turnout at the polls by educated voters who simply could not be bothered to participate in the electoral process.
Sir Thomas More was a great thinker born in England in 1477. After glorious years as high official in England and due to his opposition to Henry VIII intention to divorce the Queen, Thomas More was beheaded in 1535. In 1935 the Roman Catholic Church declared him as “Saint”. Thomas More studied Law at Oxford. Though he authored several books, “Utopia” which he wrote in Latin in 1516 is his most famous work. I read “Utopia” (in a superb Arabic translation) in August 1973. During the past thirty years I went back to this fascinating book and read several times .. but I never thought that one day I will receive from a dieing friend a manuscript of a book that was written on a country which has a name that never (such as “Utopia”) existed. But while “Utopia” was an ideal society, “Farceland” was (according to Dante Alighieri terminology) a true “INFERNO”! …
The entire book “Farceland” was written by my friend “M.A.T“, translated into English by myself and apart from the book introduction (which is enclosed herewith), the complete book will not be published before 2011 as per its author’s “will” – yet you might find reading the preface (which I wrote) and the book Introduction (which the author wrote) both “interesting”!
Finally, I wish that you will never be attracted to think that “I am the author of this book” or “that Farceland is Egypt” – as both would be “wrong speculations” – the author is (M.A.T) and the country is a famous one in Asia (and not Egypt).
Farceland (or Mahazelstan).
A Preface by Tarek Heggy
Mahazelstan (or Farceland) is a remarkable literary work which I neither wrote nor contributed to in any way. There is an interesting story behind the book, which was written by a friend of mine who passed away a year ago. I first met him in the early nineties in the Asian country about which he wrote the book. He had been living there since the beginning of the eighties, while my job entailed frequent visits to the country in question. A petroleum geophysicist by profession, he was nevertheless a deeply cultured man, fond of quoting Taha Hussein’s dictum that a person could not claim to be cultured unless he had read the great world classics in the humanities and social science (the works of Homer, Plato, Diogenes, Euripides, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Aristotle and other luminaries of the Greek and Roman periods whose influence on human thought endures to this day). He knew his words were music to my ears, and that I agreed with him wholeheartedly (though I dared not express my views publicly for fear of offending the vast majority of Arab intellectuals who lack any classical formation).
My friend believed the Asian country in which he had been living for over ten years epitomized the many ills and problems from which most Third World countries were suffering, all of which he attributed to the non-democratic systems of government to which they were subjected. One evening, we were deep into a discussion about the deplorable state of affairs in the Third World when he decided to share with me a secret he had until then kept to himself.
Apparently, the country which British and French expatriates derisively called Mahazelstan (or Farceland) had inspired him to write a book of about four hundred pages, not for publication but as a personal chronicle, like the diary Saad Zaghloul wrote and never published. He showed me the hand-written text, the only copy that existed, and I immediately realized that I was holding an extraordinary literary work. I asked him to let me keep it for one day, and he reluctantly agreed. The following evening, I returned the book and told him how much I had enjoyed reading it. Thanking me, he reiterated that he had written it only to record his personal impressions, not for publication, and asked me to keep it a secret between us.
There matters stood until, in 2001, he came to visit me in Cairo with the sad news that he was terminally ill and had been given no longer than a year to live by his doctors in the States. I was still reeling from the shock when he suddenly brought out the manuscript I had first read so many years ago, with the word “Mahazelstan (or Farceland)” emblazoned in large characters on the cover. Reminding me that it was the only copy of the only book he had ever written, he wryly compared himself to American author Margaret Mitchell, whose literary output was limited to the famous novel, “Gone With the Wind”. He handed over the manuscript and told me he had decided to bequeath it to me, asking only that I hold off publishing it for ten years after his death. However, he added, I could, if I wished, publish the Introduction to the book without citing his name in full, but only his initials, M.A.T. I promised to respect his wishes to the letter, and today find myself under a strong compulsion to publish the Introduction to that extraordinary opus. As to the book in its entirety, I will, circumstances permitting, present it for publication after August 29, 2011.
Every word in the Introduction was written by this brilliant man who managed to put his finger on the underlying causes of the huge problems besetting most Third World countries in his remarkable book, “Mahazelstan (or Farceland)”. Its publication today commemorates the first anniversary of his death, and the entire book will be published, in accordance with his instructions, on the tenth anniversary of the passing of a man I was proud to call a friend.
Farceland (or Mahazelstan).
Introduction by the Author.
Mahazelstan, the symbolic name of a country in Asia, is a composite of two words: “mahazel”, which is the plural form of the Arabic word for “farce”, and “stan” an Urdu word meaning “land”. It is a literal translation of “Farceland”, the name bestowed on the country by British and French expatriates. Mahazelstan (or Farceland) is not an imaginary place like the island described in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia nearly five hundred years ago. The latter was a figment of the English philosopher’s imagination, a place he envisaged as the personification of ideal perfection in all matters. The former is the exact opposite: it is a very real place in which all aspects of life
societal customs and norms, the system of government, work ethics and business practices justify the derisory name by which it is commonly referred to by resident foreigners. Corruption is a way of life in Mahazelstan (or Farceland), where venality and graft are rampant and sycophancy, obsequiousness and fawning over superiors have been developed into a virtual art form unparalleled in any other country throughout history.
The qualities and skills required to achieve success in Mahazelstan (or Farceland) have nothing to do with those required in any normal society. Only yes-men ready to toe the line laid down by their superiors without question, even if they do not agree with it and even if it is the exact opposite of a line they previously endorsed, can make it in Mahazelstan (or Farceland); only mediocrities without a mind of their own and without any talents, flunkies adept at flattery, can hope to succeed in this strange land. These qualities are all too evident in the official media of Mahazelstan (or Farceland), which operate unlike any in the world. For example, when the country is suffering its worst economic recession in years, the media enthuses about its fantastic economic growth; when unemployment figures are at their highest, a spate of articles will appear to laud the government for providing millions of job opportunities; when the stench of corruption is at its worst, the media will praise the government’s successful attempts to stamp out corruption. Then there is the symbiotic relationship between the executive branch of government in Mahazelstan (or Farceland) and the class of so-called business tycoons. Entire volumes can be written about their unholy alliance and the aberrations to which it has given rise. Another fact of life in Mahazelstan (or Farceland) is that only the poor and weak are subject to law, from traffic laws all the way up to the laws imposing the most severe penalties. And yet the official media are tireless in their praise of the government for applying the rule of law!
Yet another fact of life in Mahazelstan (or Farceland) is the sorry state of the country’s religious minority, whose members are subjected to myriad forms of oppression and persecution. This is in no way reflected by the official media, however, which flagrantly disregard the realities of the situation to paint a rosy picture of inter-communal harmony. Whenever possible, they use photo opportunities to show religious leaders of different persuasions embracing in a show of brotherly love, and angrily denounce any accounts of problems faced by the religious minority as fabrications by the outside world. Over the years, the people of Mahazelstan (or Farceland) have been told by their media that the outside world has it in for them, that it envies their country’s history, treasures and people and is constantly conspiring against them because it fears a Mahazelstani renaissance will make Mahazelstan (or Farceland) the foremost scientific and economic power in the world! In a country where public officials earning three hundred dollars a month manage to amass fortunes which in some cases exceed one hundred million dollars, the media never tire of extolling the integrity and independence of the judiciary, although every citizen knows the opposite to be true. When corruption attained farcical proportions in Mahazelstan (or Farceland), I would find myself quoting a passage from a poem by the great poet Khalil Mutran, which seemed to sum up the situation perfectly:
“What distinguishes one thief from another
Is where he stands on the power ladder.
On a low rung he faces a shameful death
On a high, he reaps honour with every breath.”
The relationship between the ordinary Mahazelstanis and the authorities is both sad and funny, as the following incident illustrates. One day, a British colleague and I went to visit a senior Mahazelstani official. Because much of the discussion was between the official and his aides, the meeting was conducted in the local language, which my British companion did not understand. He was thus free to study the body language of our Mahazelstani interlocutors for close on an hour. After the meeting, he told me he had a hard time not laughing as he watched what he called a hilarious pantomime unfold before his eyes. The body language of the official when he addressed his aides, as well as their body language when they responded to him, spoke volumes, he said, and a filmmaker could have made millions by capturing the scene and marketing it as the funniest silent movie of all time! I still remember his description of the body language of the aides as they spoke to the big man, which he compared to the squirming of lowly creatures trapped under the weight of some kind of natural disaster.
A feature that is unique to Mahazelstan (or Farceland) is how society treats people who are not longer in a position of authority. Once an official leaves his post, he is treated as a has-been, a nonentity who is at best totally ignored and sometimes ridiculed and insulted. I have devoted a whole chapter of the book to this feature, which gives new meaning to the phrase, “How the mighty are fallen.” Nowhere else in the world is a man’s history obliterated when he leaves office, nowhere else does a once mighty individual come to be regarded as an insect living out the remainder of his days on a dry branch of the tree of life. A man’s record counts for nothing. No matter how prominent he once was, no matter how much power he wielded in the past, the minute he is stripped of the trappings of power the adulation that once surrounded him is replaced by complete indifference. The chapter entitled “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” in which this phenomenon is addressed in more detail tells the true story of what happened to a former commander-in-chief of Mahazelstan’s armed forces when he tried to enter an officers’ club. Stopped by the guard at the gate, he identified himself as Marshall so-an-so, former head of the army, only to be told by the guard that Marshall so-and-so was dead. “You are right,” replied the one-time military supremo, “in Mahazelstan (or Farceland), to be a former anything is tantamount to being dead!”
Another chapter in the book addresses a phenomenon I call “The Duality of Stupidity and Honesty.” The holders of public office in Mahazelstan (or Farceland) are divided into two distinct categories: they are either honest and stupid or dishonest and clever. The chapter gives many examples of each category. One of the most interesting examples of the latter category is the spectacular rise of a certain “K.A.” from the base of society to the summit of power. Completely amoral, Mr. K.A. embodies the all-too-common mix in the Third World between opportunism, corruption and rapacity. Unabashedly venal, he charges a few thousand to admit the sons of the poor to military academies and millions to admit the rich to parliament. One chapter of the book deals with the one redeeming feature of the Mahazelstani national character, which is their sense of humour and ability to produce an endless stream of jokes about their rulers and, indeed, about themselves.
Although in most societies jealousy is more common among women, Mahazalstan is an exception. Here jealousy between men is the norm, especially between public officials. While among women it is usually related to looks, among the men of Mahazelstan (or Farceland) it is more complex. A man can be jealous of another man’s post, fame, culture, wealth, even his physical attributes. Most Mahazelstani men are short, many are bald and, generally speaking, are not noted for their good looks. All these factors make for a malignant climate dominated by envy, strife and personal feuds conducted in a spirit of rancour, malice and spite.
I will end this Introduction with the concluding paragraph of the book, which attributes all the negative features of Mahazelstan (or Farceland) to two aberrant processes underway simultaneously. On the one hand, the people of Mahazelstan (or Farceland) are subjected to a brainwashing campaign conducted by their official media with a greater degree of professionalism than the Nazi propaganda machine under Goebbels. On the other, they are ruled by a regime that is adamantly opposed to the democratization of the country’s political life, on the grounds that the status quo must be maintained to guarantee three things:
- That all the ills of the country can continue to be explained away in terms of plots hatched against the country by external forces (led by American imperialism and its allies). In a true democracy based on transparency and accountability, he finger of suspicion would inevitably be pointed by the people of Mahazelstan (or Farceland) at their corrupt and despotic rulers.
- That the main objective of the regime can be achieved, which is to guarantee that the current rulers remain in power for decades to come, if not themselves then their designated heirs.
- That in the absence of a rotation of power, there will be no elected successors of the current rulers to open the files of the current regime and disclose the degree of corruption and despotism that characterized their rule.
It is not surprising, then, that those running the official media in Mahazelstan (or Farceland) should enjoy as much power as they do. In fact, the information machine is no less important than the army and the police when it comes to keeping the rulers in place for decades.
This book is made up of four hundred pages divided into ten chapters covering details of the tragedy (or comedy) of life in Mahazelstan (or Farceland), and aims at making every Egyptian grateful to be living in Egypt and not in Mahazelstan (or Farceland).
When I contemplate how the Palestinian-Zionist conflict has unfolded over the years, from the time of the Basle Conference in 1897 to the present day, I am filled with a deep sense of depression. For rarely have I seen more mistakes and missed opportunities than those in the actions, decisions and choices of some Palestinians since the beginning of the conflict up to the present. A major contribution to the long list of mistakes and missed opportunities, and possibly the most self-defeating of all, is the way some of the Palestinian factions have been acting in the recent period.
Resistance is not an end in itself; it can only be seen as such by those suffering from infantile disorder or by hooligans with no sense of responsibility and an anarchistic turn of mind. As far as any sane, sensible and responsible person with a conscience is concerned, resistance is only a means to an end.
Rather than place themselves under the umbrella of the Palestinian Authority, some Palestinian factions are trying to retain their autonomous character and set themselves up as parallel leaderships side by side with the legitimate leadership as personified by Mahmoud Abbas. In this they are displaying symptoms of the same aberrations we have mentioned: infantile disorder, irresponsibility, hooliganism and anarchism.
No rational person who sees himself as part of humanity and civilization and who believes in the rule of law and in legitimacy can fail to recognize the validity of two irrefutable truths: one, that resistance is a means to an end, and, two, that any attempt by organizations with no legitimacy to place themselves on an equal footing with the legitimate leadership will inevitably lead to chaos.
And yet that is exactly what some Palestinian factions, notably Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have been doing over the last few weeks. Their stance is wholly without merit. They have arranged their priorities in such a way as to run counter not only to logic and common sense, but also to Palestinian interests and welfare.
The idea that Palestinian decision-making should be shared out between the legitimate leadership and factions with no claim to legitimacy, or that Palestinian weapons should not be handed over to the legitimate leadership is unacceptable to all but persons who are either of bad faith or who, at best, suffer from emotional and intellectual immaturity that renders them incapable of understanding the very concept of legitimacy.
Just as logic, wisdom and national interest made it incumbent on Palestinians to accept the late President Sadat's invitation to attend the Mena House Conference over a quarter of a century ago, the same considerations make it incumbent on every Palestinian today to realize that the recent actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are detrimental to the Palestinian cause and contrary to all aspects of the Palestinian equation. These actions, which come on the eve of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, are designed to obstruct the withdrawal and depict it as a victory for the guns of the resistance, not as a political achievement. In trying to claim credit for Israel's decision to pull out of Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad clearly believe that glory for the Palestinian armed resistance is more important than a political victory for the Palestinians.
This is a typical case of ranking priorities in the wrong order. The latest in a long list of blunders on the part of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are a clear indication that the main concern of their leaderships is that they, and not the Palestinian Authority, should wield control over Gaza after the Israeli pullout.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas has stated in no uncertain terms that he would stop any rockets fired at Israeli settlements by the Palestinian factions, whatever it took and no matter how high the cost. In making this statement, he showed statesmanship and courage and established his credentials as a great nationalist in the mould of Sadat, unlike the political dilettantes who have no political vision or formation but are driven only by primal urges.
As to those Palestinians who believe they can successfully and effectively pursue a policy whose ultimate objective is the elimination of Israel, in defiance of the initiative unanimously adopted at the Arab League Conference held in Beirut two years ago as well as of the line now followed by the legitimate Palestinian leadership, they are living in a fool’s paradise. In setting their sights on what is an unrealistic and unattainable goal, they are not only deluding themselves but doing irreparable harm to the interests of the Palestinian people. To spurn the possible for the sake of what is clearly impossible is ill-advised and self-defeating.
The broad strata of the Palestinian middle class, whether in the West Bank, Gaza or in the Diaspora, as well as the Israeli Arabs, are on the side of the legitimate Palestinian leadership, not of the forces of chaos. I call on them to raise their voices in unison against these forces, to tell those deluding themselves that they are acting in the best interests of the Palestinian people that their actions are in fact highly detrimental to those interests. They must also tell these renegade forces that no one has done more to serve the forces of extremism on the other side of the confrontation line than they themselves. The leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad surely know that they are playing into the hands of Israeli extremists, who can only marvel at the opportunities handed to them these days, whether by the rockets of the Al-Qassam brigade or by the sporadic attacks launched by other rejectionist forces.
I say to the symbol of legitimate Palestinian leadership, Mahmoud Abbas, that he must not be deflected from his determination to guarantee stability for his people, which is contingent on making good on his recent pledge not to tolerate lawlessness in whatever form and at whatever cost. But that is easier said than done. The seeds of chaos were planted by his predecessor to ensure that subsequent leaderships would never enjoy stability. To Abbas I also say that politics is the art of the possible, and that those who demand the impossible are not heroes but nihilists.
The position in which the Palestinian president finds himself today is similar to that of President Sadat in 1981 when his main concern was to ensure that nothing derailed the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. Abbas knows that chaos at this stage would only serve the interests of other parties, certainly not of the Palestinians. I say to the renegade factions that the best thing they can do for the Palestinians at this critical juncture is to swear allegiance to the Palestinian Authority and to recognize its right to govern as the sole legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people. They should do so unilaterally, rather than after a showdown with either Israel or Fatah from which they – and the Palestinian people as a whole – will emerge as the biggest losers.
Finally, while knowing that my words will enrage the radical militants and with little hope that my proposal will be heeded, I call on the leaderships of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to announce a radical change of direction, to achieve what is known in management science as a breakthrough. They should issue a statement proclaiming that while they insist on the right of the Palestinian people to continue their resistance until an independent state is established, they will be bound by the following principles:
One: Armed resistance is not an end in itself, but a means by which to achieve Palestinian national aspirations.
Two: Armed resistance could be effective in some cases but not in others.
Three: Armed resistance is not aimed at usurping the authority of the legitimate Palestinian leadership.
Four: The Palestinians are striving to reach a mature and civilized stage of development in which political and military decisions are the exclusive prerogative of the legitimate Palestinian leadership.
Five: The Palestinian resistance movement considers attacks against non-military targets, whenever and wherever they occur, to be acts of a criminal and terrorist nature. That includes the random killing of civilians who happen to be in the vicinity of a military target.
Would Hamas and Islamic Jihad be ready to make such a shrewd and civilized move? This would make the late Abba Eban turn in his grave, for it was he who said one day that: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity!”. Or will they vindicate his skepticism and make the late Ismail Sidky turn in his grave? Egypt’s Prime Minister from 1930 to 1933 and again during 1946, Sidky famously said in his address to the Egyptian Chamber of Deputies which was meeting to discuss Egypt’s participation in the war of 1948, that what he feared most was that the Arab side would lose the possible while it was chasing after the impossible.
JK: Winds of Change.NET's Cairo correspondent Tarek Heggy (see his Winds article archive) reminds us that intelligence failures have happened before. This segment follows Part 1: "Dreams of the Arabs," Part 2: "A Word in the Palestinian Ear," Part 3: "Rejecting Progress," and Part 4: "MI-6's Intelligence Failure."
Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend
by Tarek Heggy in Cairo, Egypt
When we were young Leftists in the second half of the Sixties, a peculiar friend of us became, amongst our group, known as "our eccentric friend" – was an exceptionally well-read Marxist. His world changed on June 5th, 1967, however, and he migrated to an adamant denial of all ideologies and a belief in "science and progress." During the past year, I began to put in writing his enthusiastic outpourings during our discussions, and the resulting article contains some of his observations taken down in the course of four meetings that took place within last month (August, 2004).
Part 5: What's In A Name?
This evening, our eccentric friend arrived a bit later... but was not equally late in firing a peculiar remark:
"I was reading an Arab newspaper yesterday when I came across the following names, all on the same page: Dary [derived from the word for ferocious beast], Harb [war], Sa'ab [harsh], Mot'eb [troublesome], Mos'eb [ruthless], 'Adey [aggressive], Mohned [sword-bearer] and Juhaiman [implacable]. In addition, there was a woman's name, Anoud [stubborn]. A sociological study that takes into account the factors of geography and politics can easily trace the cultural background of the geopolitical environment that bestows such names on its children. The common denominator linking all these names together is xenophobia, an inflexibly hostile and combative attitude towards the other."
"Do you mean," I asked, "that the Islamic background is the common denominator between these names?"
Forcefully denying that this had been his intention, he reminded me that according to the prophet's biographer Ibn Hashem, when Mohamed's first grandson was born he refused to name him Harb (war) and called him Al-Hassan instead.
The explanation for the belligerency of the names, said my eccentric friend, is that they are a product of the culture and mentality of Bedouin tribes struggling for survival in the inhospitable deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. In this harsh environment, the Other is seen as an enemy that must be destroyed [hence the name Fatek or Destroyer], ferociously fought off [hence the name Dary or Ferocity], engaged in battle [hence the name Harb or war], and shown no mercy [hence the names Sa'ab, Mos'eb and Mote'eb, all from the same etymological root of the Arabic word for harsh, ruthless or uncompromising]. Communication with the Other is through the language of the sword [hence the name Mohannad or sword-bearer], no quarter given [hence the name Juhaiman or implacable]. Even women in that society are given names like 'Anoud or stubborn.
There is nothing Islamic about those names, he went on, they are exclusive to the Bedouin culture that developed in the harsh deserts of the Arabian Peninsula.
This is confirmed by the fact that they are totally absent from other Islamic societies like Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Lebanon. No Egyptian peasant would dream of bestowing any of those names on his son. He will call his first-born Saber or patient, and his long-awaited second son Shehata or Shehta, which means charity, in gratitude for the munificence of God in answering his prayers for another son. Even if he opts for a name that includes a reference to God, he will normally steer clear of names that conjure up the awesome and fear-inspiring aspects of the Almighty, like Abdul Gabbar, and go instead for names that reflect His benign nature, like Abdullah, Abdul Latif, Abdul Hafith or Abdul Ghani. The reason Egyptians prefer to focus on the benevolence of their Creator is deeply embedded in the Egyptian character.
Having spent many years in North Africa and made frequent visits to Syrian and Lebanon, I can safely say that what is true of Egypt applies equally to all these societies, where the bloody phalanx of names deriving from the austere and belligerent culture of desert tribes is virtually unknown. I am writing these lines in a region lying along the Egyptian-Libyan border where the cultural influences of the two countries blend and interact to form a unique composite culture. Nowhere did I come across any of the names that reflect a paranoid sense of conflict ascribed to the supposed hostility of the Other, who is automatically cast in the role of the enemy. In this northwestern corner of Egypt, the name Salem or peaceful is one of the most common names, despite the harsh environment imposed by the geography of the place, while in Sudan to the south the name Bashir, or harbinger of glad tidings, is frequently heard.
My eccentric friend ended with the words:
"Imagine yourself talking to a man from those societies who introduces himself as Fatek ibn Dary el Juhaimy... What could you say except: God spare me from your ferocity, destructiveness and implacability!"
What's in a name? What shall our name be before the human community?
As I noted in an earlier article here on Winds of Change.NET:
"I write in order to instill in the Egyptian mind the fact that although the outside world will harbour animosities towards us at times, and will work to further its own interests most of the time, our problems, in their entirety, originate inside our country and can only be solved internally. We alone are responsible for those problems and for the fact that they remain unsolved. The excessive belief in the conspiracy theory is a confession of our impotence and an admission of the supremacy of others in the face of our ineffectiveness.
...I write in order to instill in the Egyptian mind that Anwar Sadat's historic choice to move the Arab/Israeli conflict from the battlefield to the negotiation table was the only way to reach a reasonable settlement of a conflict that has been used for too long as an excuse to delay democracy and development.
...I write in order to instill in the Egyptian mind that there are shortcomings in Western culture, but it is an essential rung on the ladder of human civilization. To oppose Western culture is to oppose science, development and civilization.
...I write in order to instill in the Egyptian mind that the tolerant and peaceful brand of Egyptian Islam has been subjected to attacks on many fronts. The attacks came from a trinity made up of the Wahabi faith, a doctrinaire approach to religion, and the omnipotence of the petrodollar that has funded an Islam fundamentally different from the gentle Islam practiced in Egypt and which has enabled us to coexist with others over the years.
...I write in order to instill in the Egyptian mind (especially in the minds of the young) that where there is a will there is a way and that, armed with a solid formation and determination, they can achieve anything. The future does not exist as such; it is the product of what we create today.
These are the messages I have tried to convey in the hundreds of articles and the thirteen books I published over the past quarter of a century. Skeptics may consider that my voice, like that of John the Baptist, is a cry in the wilderness. They would do well to remember that the words of John the Baptist were far more than a cry in the wilderness, that they were, in fact, stepping stones towards a noble and glorious path.
What will be our name? What will be, in our name?
For more of Tarek Heggy's writtings in English, please visit www.t-heggy-site-contents.org and for Tarek Heggy's writings in French please visit www.metransparent.com/authors/french/tarek_heggy.htm.
JK: Winds of Change.NET's Cairo correspondent Tarek Heggy (see his Winds article archive) reminds us that intelligence failures have happened before. This segment follows Part 1: "Dreams of the Arabs", Part 2: "A Word in the Palestinian Ear", and Part 3: "Rejecting Progress".
Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend
by Tarek Heggy in Cairo, Egypt
When we were young Leftists in the second half of the Sixties, a peculiar friend of us became, amongst our group, known as "our eccentric friend" – was an exceptionally well-read Marxist. His world changed on June 5th, 1967, however, and he migrated to an adamant denial of all ideologies and a belief in "science and progress." During the past year, I began to put in writing his enthusiastic outpourings during our discussions, and the resulting article contains some of his observations taken down in the course of four meetings that took place within last month (August, 2004).
Part 4: MI-6's Intelligence Failure
Tonight, my eccentric friend was fond of asking awkward questions and speculating on what would have happened if history had taken a different course.
He started by asking us to envisage the following alternative scenario of events.
Nearly ninety years ago, he began, British intelligence was divided on itself between two schools of thought. The first, propounded by the India desk of MI-6, was that Britain should support Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, who was extending his dominion westwards across the Arabian Peninsula after capturing Riyadh in 1901. The most prominent advocate of this line was John (later Abdullah) Philby, father of the famous British mole Kim Philby. A senior MI-6 operative, the younger Philby defected to the Soviet Union in 1963 when publicly revealed to have been a double agent for the KGB.
The second, propounded by the Egypt desk of MI-6, argued in favour of supporting Al-Sharif Hussein, who ruled Hijaz from Mecca, to ensure that he and not Ibn Saud would win the power struggle in the kingdom of the Arabs. The most prominent advocate of this line was T.E. Lawrence, immortalized in books and on film as Lawrence of Arabia.
If the second line had prevailed, my eccentric friend continued, Al-Sharif's descendant, the reigning Jordanian monarch Abdullah, would have today ruled over the Kingdom of Arabia, an area comprising what is now known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Had things worked out that way, Wahhabism would have been nipped in the bud and things would have been very different in the Arabian Peninsula.
However, Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud's victory over his Hashemite rival and his successful takeover of most of the Arabian Peninsula, including the key cities of Najd and Hijaz, opened the door wide to the spread of Wahhabism. This extremist doctrine, based on the teachings of Ibn Taymeya, gained converts not only in the Arabian Peninsula but, thanks to petrodollars, throughout the world. Most of the Islamic centres and schools established in the last forty years in various parts of the world were built with a combination of Wahhabi zeal and an unlimited supply of oil money. Small wonder then that a serious student of Islamic jurisprudence will not find a trace of the Hanafi, Shafei or Malki doctrines or of the Shiite creed in these centres and schools.
After this lengthy expose, my eccentric friend proposed calling on British Intelligence to declare a period of mourning for its intelligence, which deserted it at such a crucial moment with consequences for the world at large.
Next - Part 5: What's In A Name?
For more of Tarek Heggy's writtings in English, please visit www.t-heggy-site-contents.org and for Tarek Heggy's writings in French please visit www.metransparent.com/authors/french/tarek_heggy.htm.
JK: Winds of Change.NET's Cairo correspondent Tarek Heggy (see his Winds article archive) says "This essay shows how an overwhelming number of contemporary Arabs are isolated from reality. This isolation is a function of outdated political, educational & media systems." This segment follows Part 1: "Dreams of the Arabs" and Part 2: "A Word in the Palestinian Ear".
Thus Spoke My Eccentric Friend
by Tarek Heggy in Cairo, Egypt
When we were young Leftists in the second half of the Sixties, a peculiar friend of us became, amongst our group, known as "our eccentric friend" – was an exceptionally well-read Marxist. His world changed on June 5th, 1967, however, and he migrated to an adamant denial of all ideologies and a belief in "science and progress." During the past year, I began to put in writing his enthusiastic outpourings during our discussions, and the resulting article contains some of his observations taken down in the course of four meetings that took place within last month (August, 2004).
Part 3: Rejecting Progress
My eccentric friend joined our circle almost beside himself with anger. Even before he was seated he announced that he would not be holding forth or volunteering his views on the miserable truths that were only too obvious in our region. "All I shall do today," he said, "is raise a few questions that I suggest you go home and think about." He gave us no time to comment on this new method of his, but plunged straight into a volley of queries:
"It has become almost mandatory amongst our intellectuals to begin any discourse by attacking the United States. It is almost as if they wish to appease their audiences by denouncing the US and its policies, and even expressing the hope that the US should fail in whatever it sets out to do. This "playing it safe" or policy of appeasement is a typical attribute of the Arab and Muslim character, where people make a point of saying what they think will mollify others (whether rulers or ordinary people) and thus guarantee their own safety.
"This conciliatory attitude is the natural outcome of a long history of tyranny and repression, evidenced at its worst in the brutal slaughter by the Caliphs of anyone who dared refuse their sovereignty (Yazid Ibn Muawya's murder of Al Hussein is a classic example) or sheer psychopathic bloodthirstiness (take Haroun Al Raschid's murder of his brother-in-law and all his relatives, or Al Maamoun's brutal violence towards anyone who opposed him even in philosophical issues). I tell you, my friends, hatred of the west is nothing more than hatred of progress in any form.
Progress is a phenomenon that belongs to humanity as a whole; it cannot be classified as eastern or western; as Muslim or Jewish or Christian; it is neither European nor Arab nor Chinese: it is the outcome of accumulated human endeavor. However, the driving force or catalyst that sets the process in motion is, at present, the West. Accordingly, a total rejection of the West is tantamount to a rejection of progress in all its forms.
I can understand that an over-imaginative Islamist might treasure the unfounded belief that he and his like could provide an alternative (while in actual fact he lives in a state of complete dependency on the fruits of western civilization), but for others to do so is beyond belief. My only explanation is rooted in psychological factors that I do not wish to enter into, to avoid causing further distress. I would simply like to remind you of our conversation a few days ago concerning our colleague H.T., whose only crime was that he was that he far excelled his peers, as you unanimously agreed."
Before we could say a word, my eccentric friend threw another question our way:
"What led the majority of rulers in our region to react the way they did towards the proposed reforms suggested by the Americans and the Europeans? Why on earth did they incite public opinion in their respective countries (needless to say, via their civil servants in the media) against these reforms? Only the Leftist writer Mohamed Salmawy was brave enough to say that he had read them and found no cause for concern. How could some rulers be so misguided?
Syria, for example, will eventually have to carry out the four things it was asked to do: close its borders with Iraq to would-be terrorists who enter Iraq via Syria; withdraw its army from Lebanon; expel Khaled Mashal and all leaders of Palestinian organizations similar to his; and refrain from using Hezbullah instead of the Syrian army, which we all know is happening. Syria will ultimately have to comply. So why do it in the future at a horrendous cost, when it can do so now within an agreement that is to its benefit? Later on, Syria will stand to lose rather than gain, and will be giving, not taking.
And why can't Yasser Arafat understand that he has no choice but to become an honorary leader of the Palestinians and let someone like Mahmoud Abou Mazen or Mohamed Rahlan take over the leadership of the Palestinian Administration, or else undoubtedly perish? He has two, and only two, options, yet he still cannot understand the provisions of today's world."
My eccentric friend paused for breath, took a sip of tea, and resumed his never-ending questions:
"Pray tell me, what exactly are the objectives of the satellite channel that I call Al Mareera ("the bitter" – my eccentric friend was, of course, referring to Al Jazeera)?
It is a weird mix of high technology coupled with a deliberate mental, intellectual and psychological assault on the minds of the Arab masses, whom I need hardly add are only too receptive to this insidious form of destructive ideology. This channel adds fuel to the fire on a daily basis, while implementing a deliberate, studied transformation of Osama Ben Laden and his accomplices, and of the Iraqi terrorists (who kill their fellow Iraqis along with Turks, Egyptians, and Pakistanis and who demand ransoms in return for setting their hostages free) into heroic figures! Yes, this Al Mareera channel actually portrays these villains as heroes!
A few days ago, one of their presenters, Jomana Namur, could not contain her gleeful joy as the screen showed a number of Palestinians dancing and passing round sweets on September 11, 2001, after they had heard of the destruction of the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York! How could the minds of the masses be left to the mercy of a presenter whose behavior may be likened to that of a savage wild cat driven by animal instincts and devoid of reason, logic or common sense?! This Jomana Namur is a typical personification of the savage, barbaric, tribal mindset that celebrated gleefully the day Anwar Sadat – indisputably the most sensible Arab ruler of the twentieth century – was brutally assassinated."
Before he left us, he flung one last question at us:
"Whom do you think will win the presidential elections in the United States in two months' time? Let me tell you now that George Bush will wipe out John Kerry with an overwhelming victory of at least 7% (a high percentage for the US), and all those who think and function under the same logic as Jomana Namur might as well know that they have another four years of frustration ahead of them! [JK: Well, he was half right - it was 3%, but their frustration certainly came to pass.]"
For more of Tarek Heggy's writtings in English, please visit www.t-heggy-site-contents.org and for Tarek Heggy's writings in French please visit www.metransparent.com/authors/french/tarek_heggy.htm.