Arab Spring and the Hidden Apartheid

February 21, 2012

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim | Arab News

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

South Africa was the most famous country which was recognized as an apartheid state in modern history. It ended in February 1990 when President F.W. de Klerk announced Nelson Mandela’s release and began the dismantling of the apartheid system. In 1992, a whites-only referendum approved the reform process. On 27 April, 1994, the first democratic elections were held in South Africa, and the former prisoner of apartheid, Nelson Mandela, became the first President of South Africa in a multi-racial election.

The second most famous country that was accused to a lesser degree of apartheid is Israel. The Israelis are accused of mistreatment of the Palestinians and considering the Israeli Arabs as second-class citizens. The biggest critics of these two states’ apartheid were the Arab countries. The Arabs used it against the Israelis in the media wars to get more world sympathy for the Palestinians. However, we used it to cover up the underlying prejudices that exist in the Arab world. But, we in the Arab world don’t make it systematic or draft an obvious law endorsing racial discrimination. The Arab world practices it but not in writing, because then it is easier for us to deny the presence of prejudice.

When I speak about the Arab world, I am referring to 22 countries that have religion and language in common, but are also very different. The Arab unity idea came from within the Arab world and from abroad. In the beginning of the 20th century, it came from the British agents fighting the Ottoman Empire who promised some Arab leaders a united Arab nation in return for their support against the Ottoman Empire.

The Arab League was in fact a British concept. And in later years, the quest for Arab unity came from Arab nationalists who wanted to unite the Arab world as one nation, not by unity through an administrative system, such as the Arab League. They wanted a unity like the European Union of today. Jamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt was the man behind this Arab nationalism. And instead of uniting the Arabs, he simply divided them into two camps that were named Altaqadumiah wa Alrajeiyah (Advancement and Backwardness). But all efforts failed to unite the Arabs this way. So what was the reason for failing to unite the Arabs? And why do we see a constant unrest and mistrust amongst us? And why did the Arab Spring spread from one Arab country to another?

Arab countries are the furthest from being homogenized. There are so much differences even within each country, and there is an invisible apartheid in each Arab country. In the past, the Arab countries accepted the presence of different faiths among them. Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco and Tunisia were the most tolerant Arab nations. In the past, it was common to see Christians, Jews and other faiths living side by side their Arab-Muslim neighbors.

Now, the Arab world has the worst cases of prejudice against anyone who thinks differently from them. In Libya, Ben Ghazi in the east was not on good terms with Tripoli in the west. Iraq has the Sunnis in the middle, Shiites in the south, Kurds in the north and other ethnic minorities. Lebanon, which was once called the Switzerland of the Middle East fell victim to sectarian divides — Druze, Christians, Sunnis and Shiites. Even the rich Gulf states have people called Bidoon or (stateless). And those stateless were born and raised in these rich Gulf states.

Each Arab country had a lot of opportunities to melt its own people in the same social pot. However, it was the mistrust and social divide that made every governing body trust only its own people or tribe. And each ruling faction would use the security issue to mistreat other segments of the society. Later on, when something goes wrong, they accuse the foreign hands of stirring unrest and never blame the injustice of the system. During these periods of oppression, the finest brains usually head West and the ones who stay behind don’t participate in the development of the country. They isolate themselves and keep their anger to themselves. And when the situation becomes unbearable and justice is lost, then, you see Arab masses taking the matters to the streets. And at that stage, the invisible Arab apartheid becomes visible. Let us be frank, what do you call air raids by some Arab countries’ air force against the civilian citizens of their country? If this is not apartheid, then, what is apartheid? When you see Syrian tanks shelling entire neighborhoods of Syrian towns, then, this is apartheid at its worst form. The Arab Spring was not a surprise.

It was only a matter of time. When you have poverty, prejudice, no social equality, no justice, a bad education system and a hidden form of apartheid, then, why are we surprised to see the people take matters into their own hands?

— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is a Commodore (Retired), Royal Saudi Navy. He is a frequent contributor to the SUSRISblog.  He can be contacted at: almulhimnavy@hotmail.com

Reprinted with permission of the author. Originally published in Arab News.

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