Friday, October 26, 2012

Mordechai Kedar: The Enemy in the Tent

by Mordechai Kedar

Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)

On the sixth of October, the anniversary of the Yom Kipur War,  the Saudi Arabian Internet site "Arab News" published an article by the Saudi publicist Abdulateef al-Mulhim in which he claims that Israel is not the Arabs' enemy number one; rather, it is dictators, ignorance, neglect and corruption. The article caused a wave of protest in the Arab world, but also a wave of support, and the BBC in Arabic subsequently broadcast a live discussion regarding the article.

In the article, the writer admits that the Arab-Israeli conflict has cost the Arabs dearly, and in recent years people have begun to ask difficult questions, such as: how much have the wars against Israel cost the Arabs? How much has the refusal to recognize Israel since 1948 cost? Why doesn't the Arab world utilize these huge sums to promote education, improve health services and develop the infrastructure? But the most important and difficult question that the Arabs don't even want to hear is : Is Israel the real enemy of the Arabs or perhaps there is a different enemy?

The answers that Abdulateef al-Mulhim gives to these questions are surprising, because he claims that there are worse things than Israel in the Arab world , and that Israel is not responsible for them. These penetrating questions began to disturb him when he saw the photographs of the civil war in Syria, children starving in Yemen, terror incubators in Sinai Peninsula, where development has been neglected, car bombs in Iraq and the destruction of buildings in Libya. The common thread that connects all of these disasters is that they are all the work of those very people who are supposed to be the protectors of the Arab world, who are supposed to build it and develop it, and so the obvious question is: Who is the true enemy of the Arab world.

The cost of the wars with Israel to date is hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of fatalities, and the Arab nation has paid this price because they feel that Israel is their  sworn enemy, and it is impossible to recognize it or to live in peace with it. al-Mulhim claims that the truth is that Israel is last on the list of the Arabs' enemies, because the real enemies are corruption, lack of good education, lack of respect for human life and health, lack of freedom, and dictators that have been using the Israeli-Arab conflict in order to oppress their peoples.

The disasters that the dictators have brought upon their peoples are far worse than the wars in the Israeli arena, and the cruelty of those who are supposed to protect the Arabs is far greater than the cruelty of the Israelis. The disaster that has befallen Syria, caused by its ruler, is far beyond our ability to imagine, and in Iraq, those responsible for the destruction  is the Iraqis themselves, who are fleeing in droves from a land that is capable of producing 110 billion dollars per year with the export of oil. The president of Tunisia, in broad daylight, stole 13 billion dollars that belonged to its citizens, and the children of Yemen are starving despite their country being one of the most fertile in the world. Lebanon, despite its small size, can't manage is citizenry,  and chaos engulfs most parts of the Arab world. None of these problems is the result of the existence of Israel or of the struggle against it.

Al-Mulhim reminds his readers that just one day after the declaration of the state of Israel, on the 15th of May, 1948, Arab armies invaded the nascent Israel and began a war that continued until the 10th of March, 1949. They failed in their effort to annihilate the "Zionist entity". The failure distressed them psychologically and that is why this war is called the "Nakba", "disaster". The Arabs gained nothing, and many Palestinians became refugees. In  June, 1967, the Arabs,  under the rule of the president of Egypt, Gamal Abd al-Nassar,  initiated a the war with Israel and in this war they lost much more territory than the area of Palestine. The nickname for this war is "Naksa", "loss", but the Arabs never admitted their terrible defeat, because it  is beyond their capability to admit failure.

And now,  the endless "Arab Spring" is in full swing, and the Arab world has no more patience or time to deal with the problems of Palestine and Palestinian refugees, since many Arabs have become refugees themselves and they are now sitting ducks - permanent, stationery targets of their own armies. From Syria alone, four hundred thousand men, women and children, were forced to flee from the inferno of the past twenty months, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have fled from the Land of the Two Rivers and they have been refugees in Arab lands ever since 2003. These refugees fled from their homes and their land not because Israeli jets dropped bombs on them. In Yemen, its residents are experiencing the most severe human tragedy, and the the train of human progress has left the residents of the Sinai Peninsula behind, standing on the platform.

And while the Arabs sink into the quagmire of blood and tears of their own creation, Israel has raced forward into the future with the most advanced institutions of research in the world, leading universities and highly developed infrastructure. Many Arabs aren't aware that the life expectancy of Palestinians in Israel is much more than the life expectancy of Arabs living in Arab countries, and the Arabs in Israel enjoy much more political and social freedom  than those living in the Arab world.  Even the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation [sic]  in the West Bank and Gaza Strip enjoy more political and social rights than citizens of Arab countries. In fact, one of the Israeli judges who sentenced the former president of Israel to prison was an Israeli Palestinian.

The Arab Spring proved to the world that the Palestinians are better off than their brothers who have fought to free them from Israeli rule, and so the time has come to stop the hatred and the wars, and to begin to create a higher standard of living for the future generations of the Arab world.

This concludes the summary of the main points in the article by Abdulateef Mulhim, the Saudi writer.

This article caused a tsunami of response, some in agreeinment and some dissenting. The BBC held a public discussion on the matter where the positions presented were polar opposites. Syrians who support Asad blamed Saudi Arabia, the country where the author lives, for the miserable conditiion that Syria finds itself in, since it is Saudi money that enables the rebels against Asad to acquire weapons and ammunition, and if it weren't for the Saudi funds, Asad would be able to stabilize the government in Syria, and many of those who have been killed in battles would still be alive. But other Syrians publicly thanked the Saudis for supporting the rebels agasint the bloodthirsty dictator who belongs in the trash heap of history.

Other participants agreed with the writer that indeed the Arabs of today have a severe problem of dictatorship and neglect, but nevertheless, Israel is still the greatest enemy just by dint of its existence, because Israel reminds the Arabs every day of what they are not willing to admit: that they have been badly defeated in all of the wars against Israel and that Israel has succeeded to survive and flourish in the Middle East against all odds. The Arabs see Israel's success and envy it, and that's why they hate it, too. When they compare their miserable situation, especially in the past two years, with the highly developed conditions in Israel, they feel that Israel is rubbing salt in their emotional wounds.

Other speakers, who agreed with al-Mulhim, expressed disappointment in the Arab Spring which, when it began at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, gave the Arabs high hopes for democracy, human rights, political freedom and the elimination of corruption. Today, after almost two years since the Arab Spring burst forth, the situation is worse than before it began. In Egypt the failing economy may wipe out the political achievements of the Muslim Brotherhood, and cause Egypt to become even more dependent on the charity of the "infidels" of Europe and the United States. The Syrian "Spring" has cost, until now, the lives of more than fifty thousand Syrians, butchered by the bloody rule of the 'Alawite sect, which has always presented itself as a model of Arabness and the realization of the lofty ideals of Arab nationalism.

Some of the speakers noted that the struggle in Syria and Iraq have let the sectarian genie out of the bottle, and the Islamist slogans of those who tread the same ideological path of Usama bin Laden are now written more and more on the walls of the ruined buildings in Damascus, in Aleppo, in Adlib, in Homs and in Hama. Iraq has become a boxing ring  between Sunnis and Shi'ites, a problem that was swept under the rug in the days of Saddam Hussein.

Al-Mulhim's article places a mirror in front of the Arab world, so that it can see its true face, and this is why the article is important. It is not the same old song of praise that the Arab media so loves to sing with its worn-out slogans and rosy dreams, rather it reflects the bitter reality that the Arabs have created by their own doing, and they are its primary victims.

According to al-Mulhim, Israel is not the Arabs' enemy; rather the Arabs are their own worst enemies. They are the ones who have brought upon themselves the misfortunes, the dictators, the cruelty, the ignorance, the disdain and the neglect , and as long as they accuse Israel of causing their misfortunes they will continue to suffer the bitter consequences of  the sad  reality that they have caused for themselves. Denial is no solution but only exacerbates the problem, and the Arabs - according to al-Mulhim's claim - cause their own misfortunes and it is not Israel or anyone else that has done it to them.

People such as Abdulateef al-Mulhim are the hope of the Arab world.


Dr. Kedar is available for lectures in the U.S. and Canada 

Dr. Mordechai Kedar ( is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with the permission of the author.

Links to Dr. Kedar's recent articles on this blog:

Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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