The Middle Eastern and Russian Cultural Bond.

There has been some reporting and analysis by Western  pontificators, on the apparent reluctance of Middle Eastern ruling elites to part company with the Russian  Goliath, but not very much. Almost all of it centers on some economic, military program, or historical bond. And to be sure there is much truth there. The support of Middle Eastern dictators by the Russian depots are warmly welcomed. This has been true in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Iran, Palestine, and Yemen, and from time to time, by Egypt as well.  The anti-colonialism stand by Russia was very popular in the sixties  and seventies. As the Western colonial powers  tried to hold on to their influence and surrogates in the Middle East, the Russians were able to claim ( erroneously) that the Soviet Union had no colonial aspirations.In fact their history in central Asia and the Islamic world is one of unceasing quest of domination. The ordinary folks, Arabs, Turks and Iranians were usually kept ignorant of that aspect of history because the elite, whether secular or the mullahs, controlled the media and the Mosques. The elites loved the authoritarian despotism of the communist world.  The messy decentralized aspects of democracy were an anathema to the elites. As political elites do everywhere in the world, they believed that only they were smart enough to manage  a modern state.The heady smell of power was of course the ultimate prize.


Moreover the elites of the Middle East, ironically mostly educated in the West, were enamored  of the  the heavy industry, socialist model of the communist world. As Abdul Nasser would say ( often) he instituted “socialism with as Arab face.” The Middle Eastern  socialist minions or sympathizers worked feverishly to build a proletariat class from peasants and small shop owners.  Proletarians, especially the urban type, are much easier to control. They are totally dependent on the services of the State. The elite  created  what Jean Francois Revel termed “pidgin marxism” ( The Totalitarian Temptation) a disastrous cocktail of quasi socialism, warlordism, and bombastic militarism. The militarism was particularly fatal. It created armies of leaders  plotting coups, or clueless ciphers of the party in power, basically just corrupt inept politicians in uniform. The militarism actually inhibited the Middle Easterners from  creating military forces with a martial spirit  and effective  fighting units. The best of the units were just praetorian guards. Militarism is basically another tool of the despots to control the flow of information and legitimize disastrous programs and ambitions of the ruling Elite. It has very little to do with creating an effective fighting force.

Syrian students wave the Syrian, Russian and Palestinian flags under a billboard bearing the portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a demonstration in support of Russia, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the Aleppo University campus in the Syrian city on March 10, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

But there is one  other factor of considerable importance  but almost never surfaced. That is the culture affinity of the Russian and Middle Eastern cultures. There are a couple of books that take that up indirectly but do surface it. The affinity can be found in the realm of a high context and low contact  culture. Americans, and British, at least the original  predominate native born, are low context people. They  emphasize  direct, precise language and meaning, emphasize action over planning, are monochromic, tending to do one thing at a time, while high context people get involved in many projects all at the same time, are vague and imprecise in  speech patterns . Often the high context people invest in highly imaginative and ambitious projects and never finish them. The Russians and Arabs are both low context people. There are unfinished massive construction projects rusting away all over the former Soviet Union attesting to the massive communist bid to “catch up to the West,” While in Egypt I  saw the same thing in German technology- built industrial projects paid for by Arab money,  but never finished…….  or the Sadat City, Built with the ostensible purpose of getting  the large government worker population out of overpopulated  Cairo. It is a dismal place of half built and falling down apartments now…at least when I was last there in the early nineties. This facet of Russian culture has manifested itself in the many military reforms, ostensibly to create a new professional army, to replace the massive conscript army that beat the Germans. Both military cultures have little regard for the lives of their soldiers. Recently the Russian Mom movement has modified that a bit but the culture of hiding ineptness with soldiers lives has not.

The Russians have a culture of survival. Historically the lives of the poor, the 90%, have been brutal and short, under brutal regimes, made livable by toughness, faith ( either in their authorities, ironically,  or their religion) and often generous amounts of vodka. They are a people of contradictions, as are the Arabs. Humane, gentle, humorous then suddenly brutal and capricious. The story of Bucha in Ukraine is one example. Russian soldiers at first were polite and undemanding but as the war turned ugly the same soldiers killed civilians randomly  and without a shred of sympathy.  Similarly for the Middle East, Arabs, Turks, and Persians….As Sania  Hamady, in her book, The Temperament  and Character of the Arabs, wrote,” Arab society is ruthless, stern and pitiless. It worships strength and has no compassion for weakness.”Again this  facet of character has been shaped by a hard natural environment, and  an unending history of brutal Sultans, Caliphs, totalitarian dictators, and ruthless tyrants wearing  religious garb. Both peoples(  I write of the elites, because the fellahin of the Arab world and peasants and workers of Russia have little time to devote to metaphysical theories of worldly trends), believe they have a special mission. Te Russians like Fedor Dostoevsky, the Russians had a mission as the leader of  Christianity to dominate the world. The Islamist elite  believe the Arabs had a special mission to create the house of peace( Islam)  that encompasses  the whole world. This evangelistic impulse propels the elite of both cultures. There are many there factors that can be glean ed from the books below.

Putin I need you and I am beginning to think he may need me.

The above is why the Russian and Arabs have empathetic factors that enhance their mutual empathy.

I used  information from the following:

National Identity in Russian Culture  by Simon Franklin ed

The books by Edward T Hall, The Silent Language, Beyond Culture, and  the Hidden Dimension

Isaiah Berlin, the Soviet Mind

Dima Adamsky The Culture of Military Innovation

and many years of reading the wisdom of Bernard Lewis, Albert Hourani,  Gibbs, Raphael  Patai, and the other  classics on Arabdom by the great writers of Arab history.









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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