ASMEA presentation 2014 The Burdens of the Arab world

This is my presentation to the 2014 ASMEA conference in Washington DC. I am putting it in wordpress primarily to be able to use as a reference for the 2018 presentation. The next few postings are for the same purpose.

In the nearly fifty years I have been involved with the Middle East in one capacity or another, I have observed the slow retrogression of the quality of life for its people. Despite some flashes of bright spots that seem to indicate progress is being made, society soon slips back into old patterns of life with only slightly new trappings of modernity. Modernity to the Arab society has come to mean some importation of Western products and the use of modern means of communication, sometimes with superior skills. But the use of these devices, and social media, for instance, has not altered the fundamental view of life or behavioral patterns. The global village that was supposed to transform the Middle East has simply become a conduit for accelerated reinforcement of old patterns of behavior. For example, media networks like al Jazeera have opened new sources of news, but at the same time their embedded prejudices and editorial orientation simply reach more of an audience and exacerbate existing sectarian and regional animosities.


In my association with Arab friends and their culture I have come to appreciate many aspects of that culture which tend to be pervasive and powerfully addictive to those who have long years of ties with it. I often admire the ability of so many Arabs who come to this country showing initiative and innovation rare in their home culture. However, it is those who strike out on their own to create businesses, in towns large and small across America, not those who flock to the Arab ghettos of Dearborn, Michigan. These are the Arabs who flee the oppression of their culture and society only to try and reinvent it in the United States.


So the question I have often asked myself is why do those Arabs who strike out on their own demonstrate remarkable initiative, create businesses, and produce goods and services while the same people in the Arab world remain inert and uncreative? For a number of years I have maintained a keen interest in this issue, and in this paper I will attempt to highlight the salient factors. These reasons and factors I term burdens. They are burdens in the social, political, economic, environmental, and educational fields that seem to shackle Arab society.


These burdens could each support many Ph.D. theses, but I want to bring out those which operate and interact with each other and provide a glimpse into the tangled social fabric of Arab society to surface those attributes that retard meaningful progress. In using the overworked word “progress” I mean enhancing the quality of life, not just how many use email or twitter. How could this once great empire, militarily triumphant, intellectually far ahead of a Europe entering the dark ages, the center for scientific and religious thought become so moribund and lag so far behind the rest of the world?


In a macro historical sense the obvious place to start would be with the works of Bernard Lewis. In his book What Went Wrong[1] Lewis identifies the idea of self- sufficiency which permeated Muslim attitudes, leading to isolation and an ossification of innovation and thinking. This was accompanied by trade route shifts, fragmentation of the unity of the Islamic empire, and the devastating Mongol invasion. There has never been a total recovery. In this paper I am attempting to isolate the reasons why the Arabs continue to lag behind and, in some cases, continue to fall further behind.

The Burden of an Austere Natural Environment

First of all it should be noted that certain regions start out at a disadvantage.[2] The Middle East is generally an inhospitable region for human life, short of water, mostly desert, and a region in which 90% of the people live on 5% of the land. Hot, with generally little rainfall, it is not made for a life of ease. Life for most people is hard and continues to be. Those who once made their home in the desert, the Bedouin, have dwindled to very few in recent decades, as more and more people leave the countryside to life in cities. These cities generally do not have the infrastructure to support them. In Cairo where I once lived, almost a million people live in the old cemetery of the Mamlukes, living in their mausoleums without adequate sanitation or water. In the building I lived in a formerly rural family moved into a shack built on the roof of the four-story building. This was not unusual. The important fact to keep in mind is that the Arab world is an urban people and the vast majority of the populations are crowded into concrete cities and outlying shantytowns.[3]


In all this the critical factor is water and the sufficiency of food. The overall index for the Arab world illuminates a major problem. It is largely dependent on outside imports of basic foodstuffs. The Middle East is the least food sufficient region in the world.[4] Moreover, the ambitions of some of the regimes, particularly in the Gulf, have created greater problems because they do not have the water to meet the rising expectations of their expanding populations. Nor do most have food security, meaning they do not have secure access to food supplies from outside their borders. Collectively, Arab


countries have to import at least 60% to 80% of their food supplies, a majority from the West.[5] Two countries that were self–sufficient or close to being so were Syria and Iraq. In view of the ongoing conflict that has depopulated farming areas and disrupted farm-to-market routes, even those countries can no longer be considered self-sufficient.


It has been an oft-quoted saying that the next war in the Middle East would be over water.[6] Apparently, however, the lust for political power, even over a declining society, is still the priority for the warlords of the Arab world. But that does not mitigate the fact that water will be a critical determinant of the Arab society’s future. Water in the Arab world originates primarily from two sources, aquifers and two great river systems (and to a much lesser extent the Jordan River). The aquifers of the Arabian Peninsula and Syria have been foolishly used and are drying up. For years Saudi Arabia lavished great sums of money to create farms in the desert growing cereal, pumping water from thousands of feet underground.[7] The aquifers have dried up, the water table dropped precipitously, and the southwestern flow of underground water has drastically affected Yemen where farmers, equally foolish, are growing Qat, a cash crop and a “thirsty” plant, further diminishing the water supply.[8]

Of the two great river systems, the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates, both originate outside the Arab world and both are increasingly being siphoned off by the countries in which they originate. The Egyptians who once enjoyed full access to the Nile, their life-line, are increasingly being challenged by the Nile Basin countries who are belatedly demanding more access and use of the water.


The Nile River basin countries are increasingly insisting that the accord previously reached on the water distribution, promulgated under British colonial rule, was fundamentally unfair. It basically stated that 100% of the water belonged to Egypt and Sudan, then a part of the British Empire. The African nations are demanding that they get greater access to the water.[9] Anyone who has flown into Egypt observes the fact that it is a country of hundreds of miles of simply huge desert with a narrow strip of green on either side of the Nile. The Nile is literally the life of Egypt.


The Tigris Euphrates river system is even more tenuous as a water supply, especially to Iraq. Almost all the water originates in Turkey and in the past decade Turkey has increasingly diminished the water flowing to Syria and Iraq. With the construction of a number of dams in connection with the Southeast Anatolia Project, since 1975 the water supply to Syria has been cut by 40% and to Iraq by 80%.[10]


In summary, God obviously has given the “short end of the stick” to the Arabs in terms of natural environment, including a forbidding climate, an inadequate water supply, and meager suitable conditions for agriculture. However as one who appreciates their many unique qualities, these should not be insurmountable obstacles. Other peoples have overcome their geographic problems. Why not the Arabs?


History as an Obstacle

 During the “golden era” of the Arab/Islamic empire, artists, doctors, scholars, poets, philosophers, geographers and traders in the Islamic world contributed to literature, philosophy and history, architecture and art, music, the exact sciences, life sciences, technology, trade and commerce, and navigation. As Bernard Lewis described it, during the dark ages of Europe “…Islam was the leading civilization in the world, marked as such by its great and powerful kingdoms, its rich and varied industry and commerce, its original and creative science and letters. The glories of the golden era have been well documented, and to this Western civilization owes a debt that must be recognized.[11]

Unfortunately this impressive history, or rather its glorification, can be enumerated as one of the most serious obstacles to Arab progress. Hilal Khashan, a professor at the American University of Beirut, notes that despite vigorous efforts during the Sixties to catch up to the West and modernize, particularly under pan-Arabist regimes, “Arabs not only failed to catch up with the West but did not even modernize.”[12] Much of this he attributes to the “weight of history” in failing to disengage their culture from the elements of the past incompatible with modernity. The highly respected American foreign service officer, the late Hume Horan, called it the “historical baggage” of the Arabs, the remembrance of a once great civilization which has largely evolved into mythology.[13] Khashan identifies components of this baggage as weak institutions of governance, thousands of years of rule by foreigners, the survival of feudalism (local landlords allied with the ruling elites), and a cultural thinness. He disputes some aspects of the conventional image of the golden era of Arab civilization, describing the great flowering of Islamic knowledge pursuits as being only among a very thin level of intellectuals. He also describes other “historical weights” on the Arabs as the lack of innovation, pointing out that the Arabs never produced a Martin Luther or Niccolo Machiavelli to break through the binds of metaphysics on politics or emancipate natural science from religion.

As he wrote, the Arabs have been unable to absorb Western concepts. It has sometimes been described by others as learning dance steps without hearing the music. The ethos and spirit of Western humanism or values have never been absorbed. Operating a cell phone or laptop or visiting McDonalds does not westernize an individual.


Lastly, Khashan identifies traditional values as too strong to absorb new values. In fact the innate conservatism of Arab societies has increased in the past two decades. [14] To some degree the slowness of the Arab world has been attributed to the dearth of innovation, some attributing it to the Islamic concept of bida, deviating from sacred concepts, thus stifling innovation.[15]


Mythology has become entrenched with the narrative of history. Glorification of and excessive pride in a history that that has been manipulated all out of reality has become the norm. As Hume Horan wrote, “Modern Arab societies lack a tradition of self-criticism, of rational analysis. Without the ability to analyze successfully the doings of the world around them, or even their own societies, the Arab public ego has experienced many reverses. It has become defensive and insecure.”[16]


It is not just that the Arabs are weighted down by history, an often mythologized history, but are prone to an attribute which the Egyptian intellectual, Tareq Heggy, calls “singing our own praises.”[17] He wrote of it this way, “It is virtually impossible to read a magazine or newspaper today without coming across one or more articles lauding our achievements, superiority and virtues. Often these paeans of praise are attributed to a foreign source, as though this imbues them with greater value.” It should be mentioned here that this sentence by Heggy surfaces an important reason the Arab world fails to realize its own problems. The Western and American Middle East scholarly community often views itself as some sort of truth repository standing against the perceived Islamophobia and ignorance of the hoi poloi outside the pristine walls of their campus. In this way they tend to act as facilitators for a dysfunctional society by providing excuses for the Arab intelligentsia.[18]


Heggy goes on to write that the propensity for self-praise is linked to the Arab inclination for empty rhetoric. “Of all the nations of the world, we sing more loudly and frequently of our history, our past glories and our superiority to others.”[19] Ali al Wardi, the famous Iraqi historian and sociologist, described this attribute as a symptom of dualism, saying one thing and doing another. As he wrote, “Iraqis love to show their loyalty to the nation when talking but run away from military service.”[20] Of course all this has been analyzed and recorded by Raphael Patai in his much-maligned The Arab Mind, [21] maligned by the same apologists who reinforce the Arab intellectual mindset that all their problems are the result of imperialism, colonialism, Zionism or some other outside force.[22]

Cultural Stagnation

 In my travels over the Arab world since 1967 a most noticeable trend is the erosion of cultural knowledge and a lack of curiosity in acquiring a deeper understanding of the world around them. Even in 1968, Cairo had some thriving old bookstores. Many sold old volumes dating from the British era. No doubt some were pilfered from old British libraries. Beirut was a Mecca for old traditional volumes. There I purchased many reprints of out-of-print orientalist books on the Middle East at Khayat’s Bookstore such as Alfred Guillaume and Duncan MacDonald. I found them invaluable in understanding the Arab world and Islam. The readability and clarity of expression is far superior to the majority of writings on the Middle East today.   In academia today the tendency is to relegate these books to some “orientalist” trash bin, perhaps one reason why Middle East scholarship in the West is so often mediocre.


An excursion into the older more literate Arab world is provided by reading Lawrence Durrell and his life in Alexandria, which brings out more clearly than any political science book the depth of the descent of the Arab world into cultural darkness. In comparison to the vibrancy of Alexandria described by Lawrence Durrell I found a very sterile, lifeless and decaying city. The bookstores through out the Arab world were filled with trashy novels written for near illiterates, and piles of religious books, many with anti-Christian or anti-Jewish polemics. Perhaps the most telling anecdote was finding the Protocols of Zion in the Amman Jordan Hilton Hotel bookstore.

As the Islamic scholar Dr. Akbar S. Ahmad wrote,

“Unfortunately the reality in the Muslim world is that scholars are silenced, humiliated, or chased out of their homes. The implications for society are enormous. In place of scholars advising, guiding, or criticizing the rulers of the day, we have the sycophants, and secret service. The wisdom, compassion and learning of the former are replaced by the paranoia and neurosis of the latter. And to where do the scholars escape?…to America or Europe. Yet it is popular to blame the West and others, for conspiracies.”[23]


“Where have all the Arab writers gone, particularly those who write in Arabic? What happened to the Arab culture that is so proudly related by the Arab historians? Do you in the contemporary world have literary giants like Naguib Mahfouz or Yusif Idris, or Mustafa Manfalooti?”

 These questions were asked of the editor of Arab News, Khaled Maeena.“I searched my mind and tried to come up with a giant of similar stature. Not a single name came to mind. Not a single present-day writer whose work could command international attention.” The editor went on to blame growing intolerance by “certain groups,” not the regimes necessarily but by the “self-appointed guardians of society.”[24]

Dr. Feisal Sanai, a Saudi military physician, wrote the following in the English language daily Arab News,

“Our scientific community is in deep hibernation. Not since the pre-Renaissance era has there been such a dearth of medical research. There is a malaise that seems to afflict Arab academic output and it has reached epidemic proportions. And the situation is only getting worse.” [25] He goes on to charge that Arabs are only too happy to rest on ancient laurels, and intellectuals happy to pursue only personal gain. He, of course, avoids placing any blame on Islam but rather on the selfishness of the Arabs in philanthropic work, citing the fact that the Weizmann Institute of Israel receives a large amount of its funding from individual contributions.

The renowned intellectual Mohammed Arkoun, who examined Islam from a historical standpoint, laments the fact that although the princes of an earlier Islam were just as capricious and unjust as those of today, the intellectuals were freer to criticize. As he wrote, “Todays intellectuals remain silent or commit themselves openly to the support of those princes who exercise power.”[26]

Arkoun roundly criticizes “orientalism,” but also bitterly attacks what he sees as ideological control imposed by latter day religious dogma and the regimes, writing,

“The Muslim societies import the most complex technological materiel, buy the most sophisticated armaments, and install high performance laboratories, but at the same time governments exercise such rigorous ideological control that all these instruments of scientific modernity have little perceptible effect on mentalities or even on reflective thought.”[27]

A key point that Arkoun does not elaborate on is that these are imported materials not produced locally. This is a point I shall discuss further in the section on economics.

In summation, obviously it is not that some Arab intellectuals do not recognize the problem, but rather they are powerless to influence the deeply pervasive cultural barriers to overcome them. As Maurice Gaudefroy-Demombynes observed, “… the scientific spirit itself, which was observed to be so firmly implanted in a physician of the 10th century, is now so weakened by long inertia that it can only be revived by an infinitely small number of Muslims.”[28] Although this was written over a half-century ago, no major change has occurred.



One of the great barriers to an intellectual environment is the Arab education system. Having attended American University in Beirut I noticed the difference between most Arab professors and American professors. Arab professors tended to teach in a very authoritarian style, with little or no feedback expected from the students.[29] My Arab history class was one example of this. The professor   expounded on dates and results of battles, but nothing on the analysis or implications of these events. On quizzes the students were expected to regurgitate the lectures of the professor. Over the years in dealing with Arabs, both civilian and military, I have found little change in the way education is conducted to the present time.


There is no doubt that education in Arab society is a valued concept and academic achievement is highly respected,[30] probably more so by Arabs than Americans. I found this to be invariably true throughout the Arab world. It is somewhat puzzling then that so little overall progress has been made in terms of almost every indicator of educational status. Working with various Arab militaries, the effects of a rote- type teaching experience were always marked among soldiers and officers. Even among senior officers who were well read and could quote from various Western military tracts, could not really put them into on-the-ground usefulness.


The ills of the Arab educational system have been well documented, initially by the Arab Human Development Report of 2002.[31] It surfaced three main problems with Arab socio-political system. They were the lack of political rights, the education of women, and acquisition of knowledge. Subsequent reports noted some progress, but not much. Noted in particular was the method of child-raising which inhibits learning by engraining a sense of dependence on parents fostering passive attitudes and hesitation in decision-making.[32] Most of the report posits that child-raising in the Arab world inhibits exploration and initiative. This attribute could be termed a lack of curiosity as evidenced by the fact that the “translation movement,” one of the most important means of dissemination information, remained static. As an example, in Spain 920 books per million people were translated, while in the Arab world the figure was 4.4.[33] As mentioned earlier, the bookstores of the Arab world have little of quality to offer, no classics and virtually nothing in any foreign language. This is true particularly in scientific research.


The report surfaces regime censorship as a major impediment to a more active literary movement in the Arab world but does not fully bring out the much more serious impediment to a more active literary scene by the strong religious constraints imposed by a politicized and radicalized clerical establishment.

The report goes on to mention the difficulties of using Arabic in scientific or technical fields and the overall difficulty of its proper translation. This is a major road block to cultural and educational progress in the Arab world. In fact the concept of the Arabic language itself as cultural glue, hanging together disparate segments of a people called Arabs because they speak some form of Arabic.


The fact of the matter is that many young Arabs have problems finding employment not because they do not speak French or English, but rather cannot write modern standard Arabic very well. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is not a spoken language (except for some news anchors on TV). MSA is depicted “…as largely learned, cultic, ceremonial and literary language which is never acquired natively, never spoken natively…”36 Taha Hussein, the contemporary literary giant, wrote that MSA is “…difficult and grim, and the pupil who goes to school in order to learn to study Arabic acquires only revulsion for his teacher and for the language…”[34]

Sati al Husri, a Syrian nationalist writer, wrote,

MSA is the preserve of a small, select number of educated people, few of whom bother using it as a speech form. Conversely what we refer to as “dialectical Arabic” is in truth a bevy of different languages differing markedly from one country to another, with vast differences often within the same country…”[35]

There can be no doubt that Arabic is a creative and powerful language that has a pervasive hold on its speakers as well as an unbreakable link to Islam It is to many the language of creation. As Sayyid Abul A’la Maudidi wrote, “If you study the language and fathom deep into its literature, you will be convinced that there is no other language than Arabic which is more suited to give expression to high ideals, to explain the most delicate and subtle problem of Divine knowledge…”

“It is such a rich and powerful language that was needed for the Qur’an, the Great Word of God.”[36] In his masterful depiction of Arab personality traits, The Arab Mind, Raphael Patai eloquently describes the psychological effects of the language with its “…inclination to rhetoricism, exaggeration, over-assertion and repetition, and of his tendency to substitute words for action.” [37] The power of Arabic to galvanize and evoke strong emotion is, at the same time, a drawback to a more reasoned logic. [38] The overly exalted and religious status of Arabic as a language and the “language of creation” is a self–imposed limitation to learning.

Philosopher Roger Scruton reminds us that there are a number of positives to an Islamic education.   As he writes, “The advantage of Islamic education is not diminished by the fact that the Islamic tradition of learning has all but disappeared from the modern world.”[39] He avers that an Islamic education provides certainty and guides to live by, wherein Western education does not impart a common culture or guidance for life, and frequently teaches resistance to any sort of authority. In fact Scruton avers that the decline of Western education is only compensated for by the political freedom we have. The student, who learns little in school, has the freedom to learn outside the school. This is not possible in the Islamic society in which he posits that human choices are alien to Islam.[40] The certainty of values and life’s destiny are so engrained that it acts as an anchor on more inquisitive thought.


Whatever the advantages of an Islamic education, education in the Arab world has not markedly improved. More students are going to universities, especially from the Gulf,[41] and in places there are glimmers of progress but overall a dismal picture remains. Opportunity for women, the quality of teaching, the lack of emphasis on teamwork, discouragement of analytical thinking, and a void in teaching leadership skills are all still embedded in the Arab teaching system.[42]



 From about the year 750 until the mid-13th century, generally recognized as the “golden era of Islam,” trade, commerce, business and banking tied into a robust economy that made the most of the long era of relative stability and control by Arab caliphs. In trade and commerce the Arab world was the center of the known world. Baghdad became the center of learning. Despite a jump in the wealth of Arab countries today, collectively they still have less wealth than (when one subtracts the oil wealth) their overall GDP is less than Spain’s.[43] So the question again arises – what went wrong? As previously written and enumerated by Bernard Lewis, the causes were self-imposed isolation of the Arab world, the shift of trade routes, the fragmentation of the Islamic world, and the Mongol invasion.

Charles Issawi[44] isolates three commonly advanced reasons for the decline of the Arab world, one being that the growth of democracy is by nature slow developing, and given the unsuitable soil of the Arab world’s political environment, little can be expected. Another reason very popular within the elite of the Middle East is that the importation of Western values has contaminated the Islamic world. And finally one holds that the Arabs, so individualistic as first depicted by Ibn Khaldun,[45] are incapable of collective cooperation as needed for a democracy.

But there are many other reasons why in the modern era Arabs have been unable to overcome these obstacles. Immediately the issue of Islam and its impact on the social, political and economic life of the people comes to mind. Generally this issue arouses the immediate ire of some of the Muslim commentators and has proponents on both sides of the issue, although no one disputes the sorry state of the Arab world’s economic situation today. The writings of Timur Kuran are the most dispassionate and informative in this regard. Kuran rejects the notion that Islam as a religion has stymied economic development, but he offers a number of reasons why the so called impact of Islam as a “civilization” or a way of life[46] as it is often been called has indeed had a deleterious effect.

Kuran depicts three main reasons for the economic stagnation: the impact of Islam’s political institutions hindered political development by keeping civil society weak, Islam’s original tax system which failed to protect property rights, and the growth of the religious trusts (Waqfs) which failed to produce enduring commercial enterprises capable of challenging state control. Kuran writes, “These institutions contributed to extensive corruption, low trust, nepotism, and high tolerance for law-breaking. Such features helped sustain modern Middle Eastern autocracies. They also keep the region’s democracies flawed and unstable.”[47]

Another pernicious effect of “Islamic economics” is the contrived and mostly fabricated concept that there is indeed an institution called Islamic economics. It was mostly an effort, particularly on the part of Sayyed ala Mawdudi (Indian Muslim and philosopher) to establish an economic order to conform to Islamic traditions. It consisted of an attempt to re-establish Indian Muslim identity as the British colonialism period ended and culminated in a world-wide acceptance that such an institution unknown in medieval times existed. In effect Muslim thinkers like ala Mawdudi, in their efforts to create a world separate and distinct from the West, promoted “the clash of civilizations”[48] which, ironically, so many Western academics deny exists at all. In fact as Kuran wrote, “The notion of a clash of civilizations is consistent then, with a rapid diffusion of new technologies and goods. In fact, such diffusion may be among its basic causes.”[49]

In today’s Arab world, economies remain mostly stagnate with embedded nepotism, bribery (bakshish), influence peddling (wasta), and the residue of a western import of socialism which only strengthened the power of the state over private economic enterprise, crippling it.[50]

In fact the oft quoted adage that communism and Islam were incompatible has not proven to be true and in fact many of the ill-effects of a communist system were seen as compatible with the egalitarian aspects of “Islamic economics,” such as the forbidding of Riba (usury) which has resulted in a mélange of contrived Islamic banking rules that have failed. As Ali A. Allawi wrote, “The failure of Islamic economies and finance, in spite of the billions that have been poured into them, is symptomatic of the unwillingness to face the issue of the nature of legitimate transactions in the context of Islamic rulings and the yawning chasm between them and what passes for ‘Islamic’ these days.[51] The impact of Arab socialism in a number of what were once considered “progressive” Arab countries has intensified the cultural attribute of “waiting for Godot” syndrome.[52] My observations in Iraq were that people had become so dependent on the state (by Saddam’s design) for fuel and electrical power that for the first few years they constantly bemoaned the loss of services without displaying much initiative to remedy the situation as a community.

The bloated bureaucracies of modern Arab countries[53] have added to the economic stagnation immensely. In this the need for the regimes to self-perpetuate themselves is the main reason for these massive state apparatus in security and every aspect of life. Putting an individual on a government payroll generally ensures his loyalty to the state and all the Arab states use this system to obtain compliance to their rule.[54] Among the many unfortunate aspects of these stagnated, inefficient bureaucracies, is a need to bribe officials to get anything done, but an even more pernicious effect is to force people into an informal economy, which by some accounts constitutes 20-40% of the economies of the Arab world.[55]

Finally in terms of economic power there is the utter failure of the Arab world to industrialize or produce their necessities. What the Arabs once produced locally has been overtaken by cheap imports from abroad. Even when I first arrived in the Arab world in 1967, one could find a number of household items made locally. It is somewhat ironic in that as the Arab nations emerged from colonialism, the emphasis was establishing an industrial policy, which was depicted by the media as “….the savior of the Arab peoples from the clutches of ignorance, backwardness, and modest living standards.”[56]

In many cases the emphasis was on prestige building rather than efficient useful industries compatible with the environment and the people. Building automobiles that were of poor quality or simply assembly plants to turn out aircraft were examples. In addition there were two particular problems with Arab industrialization. The first was the drive to create an armament industry since all Arab countries feared a cut-off of arms supplies from the West or the Russians. This was done at the expense of the civilian sector, although Egyptian arms factories turn out washing machines as well as artillery pieces. This only suffocates any attempts on the part of entrepreneurs to create a private enterprise sector.[57]

Secondly, all the Arab countries neglected the agricultural sector in the era of the rise of “modernizing” Army colonels ruling, industry was a symptom of backwardness, and little was done to assist this sector.[58]

I recall emerging from one of the tombs at Luxor after admiring the ancient wall drawings, one of which was a painting of an Egyptian farmer planting, using a water buffalo to draw water, and then seeing, only a short distance away, the same Egyptianfarmer, 2000+ years later, planting with the same water buffalo.

The Burden of Politicized Clergy

It is indicative of the dearth of secular Arab leadership that Abdul Nasser and, even to some, Saddam Hussein, are held up as later day Saladins. Nasser, despite his many admiral personal qualities, led his nation into disastrous wars and tried to implement “Arab socialism,” basically emasculating attempts to modernize the economy.

Into this gaping void of leadership[59] we have seen the rise of religious political warrior leader figures that have only accelerated the decline of the Arab world. They have capitalized on the rise of the most recent “Islamic revival,” a movement, like so many others of the Arab world, based on historical mythology and the belief that Western political imports have failed. Of course, in terms of fascism, communism and socialism, this belief has justification, but there is also a belief that democracy has not worked or is unworkable in the Arab world. Civil society, that most believe is a necessary prerequisite, is simply not there.[60] Tribalism, sectarianism, and familiar comfortable traditions all constitute a nearly impenetrable barrier to democracy taking root in the foreseeable future.[61] In this recent era of Islamic fundamentalism, the proclivity of the people to turn to a more fundamental form of their religion is understandable. Years of unfulfilled promises, vainglorious adventures, and less opportunity for families to live decent lives have undermined the few feeble Arab attempts at democracy. More importantly, the enthusiastic reception of fascistic and socialist concepts by the leaders of previous post-colonial regimes and the resulting diminishment of limited freedoms the people once had created a rich political environment for the simplistic “Islam is the answer,” and increasing power of the clerics.

Today we can observe the power of Islamic “televangelists” such as Yusif Qaradawi. Initially most were apolitical, [62]but as their power became more evident their turn to politics was all but inevitable. Yusif Qaradawi has, in the words of one Arab columnist, “…dedicated most of his public appearances to making political and religious statements that threaten to entrench radicalism within Muslim societies in the region and beyond.”[63] Preachers such as Qaradawi often have rather moderate religious views, which cloak their radical political ideas. As Hasan wrote in his article, the religious views espoused and spread by these radicalized politicized religious leaders give religious cover to atrocious acts of violence such as suicide bombers or the killing of civilians, including children. Even the “quietist” Shi’a highest religious authority, Ayatolah Ali al Sistani has tried to fill the void of Iraqi government leadership by calling on the Shi’a to resist ISIS attacks, and strongly advocating the end of the Al-Maliki regime.[64]

In a number of instances the clerics have promoted the violence, as in in Iraq.   In Fallujah, “These clerics made the place a hotbed for radicalized Islam that became a magnet for foreign Muslim extremists after Saddam fell.”[65]

The use of Islam to spread a totalitarian repressive ideology has become a staple in the Arab world. A most recent example is the image of the leader of the ISIS pretentiously decreeing himself as the new “caliph” of Islam. As caliph he has ruled that Christians leave Mosul under pain of death, and that women should undergo female genital mutilation.[66]

The writer has no intention to go into the complexities of Islam and if it somehow lends itself to these abnormalities, but a few observations on the state of Islam can shed some light of the reason why these quasi-religious personalities are able to command such a large following. One is the scant religious education required, within Sunnism in particular, to certify oneself as a scholar of Islam.[67] Shi’ism is much more strict about educational credentials but when someone such as Muqtada al-Sadr, known as a rather uneducated, uncouth type is depicted as a potential leader of Shi’a Islam one knows the political and family connections (or name) are more important than religious piety or knowledge.[68]

In fact throughout the Middle East much of the violence has been promoted and led by Islamist clerics. In Iraq the Association of Islamic Scholars was simply a coalition of radicalized Sunni clerics funneling money and intelligence to the insurgents. Their thunderous calls for violence against presumed or sectarian enemies are a feature of many of the neighborhood mosques of the Arab world. In my neighborhood of New Maadi, an upscale neighborhood of middle class Egyptians, the mosque next door to my apartment featured a cleric who repeatedly invoked passages from obscure or non- existent Islamic texts to denounce Jewish and American interference in Egyptian affairs.

A second reason for the ability of religious clerics to fill a power vacuum left by inadequate secular leaders is the ignorance of most Muslims of their own religion. Only a few can read and understand the Qu’ran and even fewer have a solid knowledge of the supporting doctrine as contained in the Hadiths. 72 They are contradictory and confusing. Local clerics invoke all sorts of scripture, allegedly from the Qu’ran or Hadiths, to give their political polemics validity. In other words many Muslims, particularly those of the inner cities and villages, know only the Islam being preached in the local mosque. Unfortunately they are frequently incitement to violence and sectarian hatred.


One of the most glaring burdens the Arab world must carry is a politicized and dangerous military. On one hand it is the primary support for the regime, but on the other feared by the regime for its capability to destroy the regime. Because it is creature of the regime it can be the oppressor of the people and at the same time an institution engendering pride among the people.[69]


I have written extensively over the years on the militaries of the Arab world in both conventional[70] and unconventional war.[71] I have also analyzed the inability of Western training and education methods to take root in the Arab militaries.[72] In my article “Why Arabs Lose Wars,” I depicted the basic problems that did and continue to infect Arab military establishments. Among the many problems, I cited the education system, the lack of cohesion between officers and enlisted men, the over-centralization of decision making, paranoia about security, all problems directly related to the politization of the officer corps.

Since I wrote that article, which has had a remarkable shelf life, many articles and new sources have validated my conclusions. Two in particular are the memoirs of the Egyptian War Minister Mohamed Fawzi[73] and the accounts of the Iraqi Army performance in the debacle in Mosul against the ISIS. In this book the editor and translator, Commander Youssef H. Aboul-Enein (USN)[74] contains excerpts not only of Field Marshall Fawzi, but also General Saad el-Din El-Shazli and General Abel-Monein Riad.

The memoirs of these generals illustrate the corruption and political intrigue which permeated the higher leadership of the Egyptian Army, creation of personal circles of power, political aspirations to topple both Nasser and Sadat. The overwhelming over-centralization and top-heavy structure of the Egyptian Army was depicted by the fact that the Office of the Chief of Staff, Shazly, consisted of 5,000 officers and 20,000 enlisted, including 40 generals.[75] In his excellent chronicle of the Egyptian top army leadership, Hazem Kandil told of the intrigue and maneuvering against Nasser[76] and Sadat.[77]

The second recent event, which attests to the continuing validity of “Why Arabs Lose Wars,” is the total collapse of the Iraqi Army facing the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). The collapse of Iraqi forces was analyzed in the on-line periodical War on the Rocks.[78] It was Saddam’s army redux, with one exception. The Shi’a instead of the Sunni, and Al Maliki’s family, instead of Saddam’s, were the primary culprits in the “new Iraqi Army.” Corrupt officers, fragmented by sectarian divisions, with soldiers untrained and poorly treated, led the Iraqi Army. In many cases, as with the Egyptian Army in 1967, the officers simply abandoned their men when the ISIS appeared. As the article goes on to describe, “coup proofing” was the primary objective of the Al Maliki regime as it has been with every Arab post-colonial regime. The problems with the Iraqi army were surfaced very well by an American of Arab descent, serving with the Iraqi security forces. He noted the lack of cohesion between officers and enlisted men, the lack of a professional non-commissioned officer corps, the inability to delegate responsibility, with the training of officers so meager that many are unable to read a map, etc.[79]

It was difficult to understand why some analysts faulted American Army training for the failures of the Iraqi Army.[80] Throughout the history of the Arab world, Western attempts to train Arab armies have not succeeded. Some might point out the Jordanian Army as the exception, but in reality as time has passed (particularly after the death of King Hussein) the Arab military virus of nepotism, sectarianism (Palestinian vs. east bank Jordanian), and the predilection for façade over reality has gradually crept back in.[81]

It seems the concept that Western advisors (or Russian) continue to make the same mistake of having a rather arrogant attitude that they can/could remake the Arab Army they are working with and remake it into their own image.[82] In this regard it should be recalled that even Winston Churchill made the same mistake over a hundred years ago in pronouncing the “new” Egyptian Army as evolving from an Oriental one to a European one.[83]

The Intellectual Elite

One of the greatest and most disturbing burdens that has limited Arab world progress is the betrayal by those with the education and scholarly credentials to inform and influence the Arab public. Even exhortations by these intellectuals to reform their societies are not predicated on an Arab renaissance to better the quality of life for the individual Arab, but rather to match the power of the Israeli state.[84] In fact probably there is no other factor that has had a greater adverse effect on the Arab world than the intellectual dishonesty and moral cowardice of the intelligentsia. As A. I. Tannous wrote, “All too often it was assumed that the elite who spoke English or European languages spoke for the masses.” Moreover the intellectuals themselves assumed the same.[85] But as Raphael Patai pointed out, the gap between the intellectuals and the masses is huge.[86] Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the elites` role in the Arab world is their lack of moral courage. As Ishaq Musa Al-Husayni wrote, one of the major crises in the Arab world is “…the absence of courage, ideological freedom and self-criticism.”[87] Ira Lapidus notes the predilection of elites to flow with the trends. The elite “…adopted first Islamic modernist, then secular nationalism, sometimes socialist conceptions, of national transformations, and became committed to secular or even Western concepts of state and society.” Until very recently, when macabre videos of Islamist terrorist brutality were widely circulated, many Western[88] and Arab intellectuals continued to make apologies for Islamist terrorism as merely a response to the old nemesis of Zionism and imperialism on another Western “construct.”[89]

The reality is that, with few exceptions, many of the elite became compliant, or tolerant of Islamist terrorism. Those who dared swim against the current had to do so from outside the Arab world.[90] Probably the most damning picture of the Arab world intelligentsia was Kanan Makiya’s Cruelty and Silence: War Tyranny Uprising the Arab World. [91] In this book Makiya described the indifference to the people’s suffering, and willingness of the Arab elite to make common cause with tyrants, flattering and supplicating their favor. “The political culture based on fear, spitefulness and the self- serving interests, a gift of the Arab intelligentsia’s cultural heritage, and remains part of the collective consciousness.”[92]

Since that time there has been no appreciable change. In fact today one Lebanese writer, predictably living in the U. S., posits that, “The Egyptian media and the intellectual community are among the primary causes of the alarming proliferation of gnats, mosquitoes, and the viruses of terrorism, which places the Arabs at the lowest level and on the lowest rung of progress…” [93]


As Lee Smith sagely observed, “Arab media is a conversation between Arab elites, used to influence opinion, promote interests, and tinker with the internal design of rival regimes.”[94] Al Jazeera, once touted by Western observers as the flagship of a new era of Arab media, has primarily been a mouthpiece to promote the outsized ambitions of the Qatar royal family.[95] Secondarily it has promoted Sunni Arab interests at the expense of the Shi’a[96] and thirdly it has directly or indirectly supported the Muslim Brotherhood and radicalism, for example, by featuring Yusif al Qaradawi, a cleric with a moderate social message but a radical political viewpoint.[97]

With the advent of al Jazeera and a few other Arab news outlets there was a rush of enthusiasm among Western academics for a new era in the Arab world.[98]This was accompanied by the rise in the use of cyberspace to do an end run around the various regimes` control of the media. But overall in the last few years the increased amount of news sources have been accompanied by increasing polarization and violence within the Arab world. The Shi’a/Sunni divide has been exploited and violence promoted by news media. There is no doubt that the Iraqi media help fuel the current violence. Every event is viewed in a sectarian context.[99]


In my long experience with the Arab world and their people, it can only be depicted as a tragedy that their countries ranks so far behind the rest of the world in almost every indicator of human endeavor. Knowing the people, it is difficult to reconcile this with the innate characteristics of the Arabs themselves. They are hospitable, warm-hearted, animated, quick on their feet, amazing in their linguistic abilities to learn Western languages, and individually very talented in many respects, but collectively their world not only is stagnant, but in a number of aspects is retrogressing. It would seem that a basic problem is occidentosis, “…a disease akin to tuberculosis, whereby the West infects the East.”[100] It seems that many Arab intellectuals and the elite want to distance themselves from the West and in their quest to do so shun learning anything from it. They believe they must Arabize media, education, thinking, every aspect of human life and in so doing shut themselves off from the world. In a strange way it seems the Arab world has come full circle; the violent shattering of their complacency induced by the era of self-sufficiency, by the French invasion of Egypt in 1798, and reentering it in this era.

There is always a fear of Western cultural imperialism, evidenced in constant exhortations to Arabize their intellectual and scientific efforts. In a seminar probing the problems of the Arab media, for instance, Arab media journalists were being urged to form their journalistic schools, and abjure using Western journalistic methods, as if this was the core of the Arab media problem. Learning in the Western schools of journalism was somehow depicted as “media imperialism.”[101]

Viewing it in the context of a religion and belief system, Islam is not one of the retardants of social or political progress in the Arab world. The religion of Islam has played a very big part in the cultural definition of the Arab people, as has history, the natural environment, tribal traditions, etc., but the over-emphasis on Islam as a way of life has created a misconception, not only in the West but among Arab intellectuals. The concept of Islam as an engrained way of life has created postulations on the Islamic way of war, the commodification of Islam, Islamic economics, all contrived, and factors in the continuing gulf between the Arab world and the influence of world’s mainsprings of civilization. The efforts of the Arab elite to separate their world from the West using outworn phraseology of imperialism and the futile search for “Arab roots” have been detrimental to what the elite all proclaim as their objective, i.e., parity with the West and specifically, Israel. One, Amin Galal,[102] insists that even the measures of quality of life in political and economic freedom are a Western construct. Therefore even the measures of human endeavor are apparently different in the Arab world. In contesting the supposed view of the “orientalists,” Galal is in effect, supporting their “essentialism.”[103] In his own angry illogical way he is depicting the Arabs as an alien race with a culture that is impervious to democracy, reason, and other human attributes applicable to the rest of the world. But always the optimist, having spent many years living with, studying, or working with Arabs, I reject the belief that they are predetermined to descending levels of darkness.



[1] Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (London, Oxford University Press, 2002). 3-17

[2] Enrico Spolaore and Roamin Wacziarg, excerpted from the Journal of Economic Literature, June 2013 in the Wilson Quarterly, Fall 2014.

[3] Mustafa Kharoufi, “Urbanization and Research in the Arab World.” \

[4] Alan Richards and John Waterbury., 2nd ed (Westview Press, Boulder Co. 2008). 145

[5] “Arab World Looming Food Crisis: Rapidly Rising Cost of Food,” Al Hayat, republished in the Monitor           , 25 Sep 2012.

  1. Ariel l. Ahram, WashingtonPost , July 3, 2014.


7.Elie Elhadj, “Camels Don’t Fly, Deserts Don’t Bloom: An Assessment of Saudi Arabia’s Experiment in the Desert Agriculture,” Occasional Paper 48, ( SOAS) University of London. May 2004.

[8] Adam Heffez, “How Yemen Chewed Itself Dry,” July 2013.


[9] Hussein A. Amery and Aaron T. Wolf, Water in the Middle East: A Geography of Peace, (Austin Tx. University of Texas press, 2000). 220

[10] Jennifer Hattan, “Turkey Vows to Build Controversial Dam Despite Iraqi Complaints, Loss of European Support,” Joshua Hammer, Is Water to Blame for the Conflict in Syria?

[11] A full description of the advanced culture of the civilization is contained in John Badeau, eds.The Genius of Arab Civilization, MIT press, 2nd edition. 1983

[12] Hilal Khashan, “Arab World’s Travails, History’s Burden,” Middle East Quarterly,   March 1998.

[13] Hume Horan, “The Young Arabs and Us,” Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2002.

[14] Khashan.

[15] Bernard Lewis and Buntsie Ellis Churchill, Islam: The Religion and the People. Upper Saddle River, NJ, Wharton School Publishing 2009). 52, 104.

[16] Horan.

[17] Tareq Heggy, Culture, Civilization and Humanity, (New York, Taylor and Francis, 2003) at 1

[18] Norvell B. DeAtkine, “The Middle East Scholars Strike Out in Washington,” Middle East Quarterly, December 1994 at

[19] Heggy.

[20] Ali Al-Wardi, The Character of the Iraqi Individual, Baghdad 1975, excerpts translated by Samah al Momen.

[21] Raphael Patai, The Arab Mind, Rev Ed, (Tucson AZ, Recovery Resources Press, 2007). 43-69.

[22] Lewis. What Went Wrong, p.159. Barry Rubin carefully chronicles the particular Arab intellectual vituperation against the United States in his book Hating America, Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin, Oxford U press, London 2004.

David Pryce Jones, The Closed Circle, Paladin Books, London 1990, p213. Even a harsh critic of the Bernard Lewis school of thought, Brian Whitaker, has written that the Arabs are participants in their own oppression. What’s Really Wrong With the Middle East, (London, Saqi, 2009). 10

[23] Akbar S. Ahmad. “Ibn Khaldun’s, Understanding of Civilization and the Dilemmas of Islam and the West Today,” Washington DC, Middle East Institute, offprint of article published in Middle East Journal, Winter 2002. 13


[24] Khaled Al-Maeena, “What is Stifling Creative Writing in the Arab World.” Gulf Wire News, 29 June 2001.

[25] Faisal Sanai, “A Nation’s Greatness will be Remembered Not for the Wealth it Possessed but for its Contribution to Civilization,” in Arab News 20 Dec 2005, published by MEMRI at

[26] Mohammed Arkoun, Rethinking Islam: Common Questions, Uncommon Answers, Translated by Robert D. Lee (Boulder CO. Westview Press, 1994). 116

[27] Arkoun. 119

[28] Maurive Gaudefroy-Demombynes, Muslim Institutions, (London: George Allen and Unwin. 1961. Translated by John P. Macgregor. 206

[29] See Bassam Tibi, Islam and Cultural Accommodation of Social Change. Translated by Clare Krojel. (Boulder CO. Westview Press, 1991.) 111

[30] In instructing members of the Arab military I noticed the great value put on certificates of completion or academic achievements. An army colonel with a PhD. would always insist that his title be Dr. Colonel Bassam Tibi, Islam also commented that the diploma and university are most important, not the education itself.

[31] Arab Human Development Report. 2002.



[32] Arab Human Development Report, 2003. 53

[33] Arab Human Development Report, 2003. 67

[34] Salamah, 53

[35] Salamah, 59

[36] Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi, Towards Understanding Islam, Islamic Federation of Student Organizations, 1992. p 37

[37] Rapheal Patai, The Arab Mind, revised edition. (Tucson AZ. Recovery Resources Press, 2007). 327

[38] Ali Al-Wardi, The Character of the Iraqis (in Arabic) translated by Samah al Momen.

[39] Roger Scruton, The West and the Rest; Globalization and the Terrorist Threat, (Wilmington, Delaware, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2002.) 106

[40] ibid

[41] “International Students and Study by Americans Abroad are at all Time High,” Institute of International Education, Open Doors.


[42] “Experts See Grim Picture in State of Arab World Education,” by Fred Dews, Brookings Now, Feb. 12, 2014;

[43] How Much is the Arab World Worth, Ali Ibrahim, Al Bawaba, 28 March 2014;

[44] Charles Issawi, “Economic and Social Foundations of Democracy in the Middle East.” In Readings in Arab Middle Eastern Societies and Culture, A ed Abdulla M. Lutfiyya and Charles W. Churchill, Mouton Press, The Hague, 1970. 260-261

[45] Ibn Khaldun: An Introduction to History, translated by Franz Rosenthal, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1967. 119

[46] Philip Hitti, Islam a Way of Life, Henry Regnery Company, Chicago, 1970.

[47] Kuran

[48] Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking the World Order. (New York, Touchstone Press, 1996.

[49] Kuran, ‘The Genesis of Islamic Economics: A Chapter in the Politics of Muslim Identity.’ (Social Research, Vol. 64, no.2 (Summer 1997).

[50] James A. Bill and Robert Springborg, Politics in the Middle East, 5th edition. (New York: Longman 2000). 174

[51] Ali A. Allawi. The Crisis of Islamic Civilization, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2009. 214.

[52] The well-known phrase descriptive of people waiting for a solution or leader who never arrives.

[53] Lida Bieddini and Guenter Heidenhof, “Governance and Public Sector Employment in the Middle East and North Africa.” Voices and Views Middle East and North Africa, 09/05/2012 ( http://blogs.

[54] James A. Bill and Robert Springborg, Politics in the Middle East, 5th Edition, Longman, New York, 2000. 202

[55] Ibrahim Saif, The Bloated Informal Economies in Arab Countries, Al Hayat Feb. 12, 2013.


[56] “The Rise and Fall of Arab Industry,” in the Al Monitor.

[57] Sarah A. Topol, “In Egypt the Military Means Big Business,” Bloomberg Businessweek.

[58] Amer Thiab al Tamimi, April 10, 2014, “Rise and Fall of Arab Industry.”


[59] “Reviving the Arab World’s Anemic Political Systems,” by Mohammed Fahad al Harthi.

[60] Timo Behr and Aaretti Siiltonen, “Building Bridges or Digging Trenches,” The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, FIFA working paper, January 2013.

[61] Elie Kedourie, Democracy and Arab Political Culture, (Washington, DC, Washington Institute Monograph, 1992. Preface

[62] “Holy Smoke,” The Economist,

[63]   Hasan Hasan, “Hatred , Violence, and the Sad Demise of Yusuf al Qaradawi,” The National, January 28 , 2014.

[64] Martin Chulov,   Iraq’s Highest Shia Cleric Adds to Pressure on Maliki over Isis insurgency” ,The Guardian June 20, 2014,

[65] Adeed Dawisha, Iraq: A Political History from Independence to Occupation, (Princeton: Princeton U press, 2009). 247

[66] Iraqi News.

[67] Musrerq Abbas ,“ISIS Leader al Baghdadi Proves Formidable Enemy,” , in the al Monitor, Feb. 5, 2014. There seems to be total confusion on the origins of al Baghdadi. It would seem if he were a scholar of Islamic studies and had earned a PhD. from an Islamic University in Baghdad more would be known about him. As far as is known he did not preach from any mosque. It is typical of instant Islamic clerics to claim descent from the Prophet and as a Sunni to clothe himself in the Hashemite fashion.


[68] Nir Rosen in his book The Triumph of the Martyrs (Washington DC, Potomac Books, 2008) makes clear Moqtada al Sadr is simply a thug who came to the fore based on his father’s name and the infrastructure his father had set up. 26-33, 105-107 Passim. The eminent Arabist Hume Horan describes him as lashing out because of his personal inadequacies. George Packer, The Assassins Gate; Americans in Iraq. (New York. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005). 314

[69] I found this to be true among the Iraqis. Despite the role of the army in domestic oppression, and despite the army’s less than admirable performance against internal and external enemies, even among the Shi’a there was a sense of pride in the army.

[70] Norvell B. DeAtkine, “Why Arabs Lose Wars,” in Barry Rubin and Thomas A. Kearney, eds. Armed Forces in the Middle East Can be accessed at

[71] Norvell B. DeAtkine, “The Arab as Insurgent and Counterinsurgent,” in Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East, Ed. Barry Rubin, (London, Routledge, 2009). 24-45

[72] Norvell B. DeAtkine, “Western Influence on Arab Militaries: Pounding Square Pegs into Round Holes,” at

[73] Youssef H. Aboul-Enein, ed. Reconstructing a Shattered Egyptian Army: Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2014.

[74] Aboul-Enein has written a number of very useful articles in the Infantry Magazine and other publications on the Egyptian Army, particularly one I found useful in the Military Review. January, February 2003, “The Yom Kippur War: Memoirs of Egyptian Generals.”

[75] Aboul-Enein, Reconstructing A Shattered Egyptian Army. p 179

[76] Hazem Kandil, Soldiers, States, and Statesmen; Egypt’s Road to Revolt, London, Verso, 2014. 53-69

[77] Kandil, 99-174. Kandil reveals that the assassination plot against Sadat was not the work of just a few Islamists, but involved a number of military officers. Certainly it was not regretted by the military leadership. When a delegation from the U.S. Office of Military Cooperation visited the Ministry of Defense the next day to offer condolences, the Egyptian liaison officer commented, “How else could we get rid of Sadat?”

[78] Yasir Abbas and Dan Trombly, “Inside the Collapse of the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Division” in War on the Rocks.

[79] Report by Jamil Mansour, to author, (unpublished) who served three years with the Iraqi security forces. Feb 2012.


[81] Based on my conversations with Jordanian officer friends from the Seventies and my own observations from more recent times. Although the charges of corruption have not reached the army, there is no doubt that slots in the army are reserved for selected tribal members. See Hugh Taylor, Jordan’s rural poor among the loudest critics of “corrupt” politics. The Nation, 12 July 2013.

[82] Certainly my observations over the years serving with the Egyptian and Jordanians. Many U.S. officers suffered from the same unrealistic expectation. For example, see Wesley Gray, Embedded: A Marine Corps Adviser Inside the Iraqi Army, (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD 2009), 187

[83]   Sir Winston S. Churchill, The River War, Wildside Press, Doylestown, PA reprint, 77


[85] A. I. Tannous, “Dilemma of the Elite in Arab Society,” in Readings in Arab Middle Eastern Societies and Culture, ed Abdullah M. Lutifiyya and Charles W. Churchill, (New York, Praeger Press, 1988). 453-464   See also Tibi, 128. The gap has not closed. Despite some progress in public education, the frequent political and violent episodes in the Arab world tend to set back whatever progress is made.

[86] Patai. 205-205

[87] Ishaq Musa Al-Husayni, “The Causes of the Crisis in Arab Thought,” in Political and Social Thought in the Contemporary Middle East, Ed. Kemal H. Karpat (New York: Praegar,1982, revised edition). 210

[88] A typical method is to conflate Islamist political ideology with Islam itself, something they accuse the “neo-orientalists” of doing. In this manner they demean an attempt to explore any connection between Islam and Islamist terrorism. An example of this is John Esposito in his book Islamic Threat; or Myth or Reality, (N.Y. Oxford University Press), 1992.

[89] Arab reformers must face not only the ire of the regimes but more dangerously the radical religious establishments and the Salafists. Quite often they work together to intimidate liberal intellectuals. One example was Dr Sa’ad al Din Ibrahim, formerly the head of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo. He was sent to jail for suggesting a revision of Islamic scholarship. The more dangerous example is that of famous writer, Naguib Mahfuz who was knifed by a religious fanatic for being termed “unIslamic.” See Dan Murphy in “Writers Work, a Vanishing Arab World,” The Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 2006.

[90] Muhmmad al-Sayyad, “The Cowering Intellectuals of the Arab Spring,” 8 Feb 2013.


[91] Kanan Makiya. Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny. Uprising and the Arab World. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993. Since the publishing of this book he has predictably come under attack from a number of the intelligentsia of the Arab world and Left wing Western academics. His unapologetic support of the American destruction of the Saddam regime seems to be the main cause of their ire. When his previous book, Republic of Fear, exposing the totalitarian nature of the Saddam regime, was published under a pseudonym, a well-known American writer on Iraq told me “…. the author has to be a Jew. No Iraqi Arab could write that.”

[92] Al Khaleej, “The Cowering Intellectuals of the Arab Spring,” Posted Feb *, 2013. At

See also Philip Resnick, “The Treason of the Intellectuals Again,” Inroads ; A Journal of Opinion, Summer-Fall 2011.

[93]   Dr Ihsan al-Tarabulsi, originally in the Arabic website www., excerpted in MEMRI, Oct 20, 2004, no. 803 .

[94] Lee Smith, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations. (Doubleday, New York, 2010.) 132.

[95] Review of Mamoun Fandy’s book, (Un)Civil War of Words in MEMRI, Mar. 19, 2008, No. 428.

[96] In my extensive experience with the Shi’a community of Iraq, their common belief was (and is) that al Jazeera’s slanted the news with obvious favoritism toward the Sunni insurgency and vituperation against the Shi’a community.

[97] Ray Hanania, “The Failure of Al Jazeera to Confront Extremism Undermines its Effectiveness,” The Arab Daily News 29 July, 2014.

[98]   A typical reaction was on the al-Bab web site

[99] Daoud el Ali, “Iraqi Media Fail: Encouraging Sectarian Division, Spreading Rumours, Causing War,” Niqash Media, 25 June 2014.

[100] David Pryce-Jones, The Closed Circle. An Interpretation of the Arabs, ( London, Paladin, 1990). 385

[101] Phip Seib, “Media Education and the Arab Identity.” Huffington Post, June 27, 2014.

[102] Amin Galal, “Music to Western Ears,” Masress Press, January, 08, 2001.

[103] The concept of assigning homogeneity to a racial or linguistic group of people. The on-going and bitter confrontation between the orientalists and the post-modernists of the presently predominate school of thought, best expressed by Edward Said, are well described in Robert Erwin’s, Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and Their Enemies, (New York, Penguin Books, 2006), Passim. As Erwin wrote of Said’s book Orientalism, “…the book seems to be a work of malignant charlatanry in which it is hard to distinguish honest mistakes from willful misrepresentations.” 4

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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