The Arab World: From Humiliation, to Dignity, to Respect …

Written by Mr. Muin Khoury

Egypt, after Tunisia, has been rising from humiliation, is meanwhile reclaiming dignity and demanding respect.

In his book, the ‘Geopolitics of Emotion’ - How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation and Hope Are Reshaping the World - Dominique Moisi attempts to divide the world into emotional feelings. The foundation of this book was published originally in essay format in Foreign Affairs, and was called `The Clash of Emotions`, probably in response to `The clash of civilizations` by Samuel Huntington. While Huntington tried to divide the world in separate geographical and cultural entities, Moisi divided the world as undetermined spheres, based on the most dominant emotions of either hope, fear or humiliation. “Roughly speaking, East-Asia and the successful Gulf States represent the feeling of ‘hope’, the West, which includes both Europe and the United States represents the feeling of `fear’  while the Middle-East which still has not recovered from its colonial history and obstinate dictatorships represents the feeling of ‘humiliation’.”

The recent popular upheavals, the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and what I dubbed the ‘Hibiscus’ or [Karkadee in Arabic ] Revolution in Egypt [a popular tea drink] are not only an expression of liberation from colonial, post-colonial, post-independence state of humiliation, it is a cry for dignity or the ‘karama’ of not only the Tunisian and Egyptian peoples but the Arab peoples.

I started writing this opinion before President Mubarak stepped down, in response to a friend’s question "what do you think about the role the U.S. has played so far? What should it do in the coming days/weeks/months?...” and was prompted by a daily column by Taher Al Adwan, Editor-in-Chief of Jordan’s independent daily, Al Arab Al Yawm, as early as Tuesday, Feb 8, 2011 who wrote “Dignity is not only liberty, it is the change of foreign policy, too”.  Taher Al Adwan discusses in length the question of liberty and dignity and foreign policy [specifically the US and Israel]. He was appointed Minister of Information in the new Jordanian cabinet the day after, Feb 9. And I just wonder if such a statement will find its way into the new Government’s policy scripts.

While oppression by one’s own political system commonly leads to submission, fear and loss of confidence and national pride, and consequently loss of dignity, needless to mention poverty, unemployment and deteriorating living conditions, another aspect of grievance, relevant to our discussions here, lies in the area of foreign policy and specifically the relations with the United States (and Israel as a matter of fact).  It is true that this specific aspect of grievance did not surface during either the Jasmine or the Hibiscus revolutions, but once the dust settles down and the ‘local’ pain subsides, the new social forces are going to raise issues of foreign policy…mainly the relations with the United States, Egypt’s Peace Agreement with Israel, the occupation of Palestinian territories, the closure of Gaza crossings, the gas and iron sales to Israel, among other things.  Political parties in their campaigns for the next first free post Mubarak elections in Egypt will need popular platforms, and these will be of emotionally laden political nature.  And what better platforms than foreign policy do these political forces need? In the past, the Muslim Brotherhood thrived on these issues, and in the future, emerging nationalists, leftists, secular and social media forces and communities will bank on them. A colleague told me recently that Palestine as a political issue has been overtaken by issues of bread and butter and corruption. Not really, Palestine is re-emerging again in the rising national consciousness and narrative and a reflection of what people want. Palestine and the relations with the US and Israel are essential components of reclaiming national Arab dignity…This was the topic of discussions in various Arab and foreign media on Feb 13th:

The London Al Hayat, [Ragheda Durgham: “The Obama Administration has become a liability to its friends”]; the Beirut Al Safir [“The Arab revolution: End of an Era and the Beginning of Another”] and BBC Radio Arabic Service: The US- Egypt close military relationship.  Foreign Policy Magazine published also its ‘Revolution in the Arab World” and had many questions posed: ‘Embarrassing Allies – Strongmen the US is too close to; Where do we go from here?;  Everyone Loves/Loved Hosni - 30 years of photo ops the West would just as soon forget; The new Arab World order – And the future of US diplomacy. Time Magazine and the Economist had similar features.

The dependency on the US by many Arab states is regarded one aspect of that lost dignity and humiliation. The United States stood too often on the wrong side of the street, in terms of the regional company it keeps… on the wrong side of history where legitimate rights of Palestinian and Arabs are concerned, at least from an Arab perspective…and by ignoring issues of vital reform in ‘friendly’ societies as well as the use of foreign aid contributed to the deepening of that sense of political, military and otherwise dependency. Consequently it aggravated that feeling of humiliation by the Arab street.  In a picturesque Arabic, Taher Al Adwan wrote that the reasons and motives for popular ‘intifadas’ are the feeling of humiliation by the Arabs under regimes that ‘delivered the necks of its people’ to America and Israel.

And as long as this Facebook –Tweeting generation can remember, foreign aid, military in particular, has been used to perpetuate the status quo rather than aid real democratic evolvement.  Since the cold war era, security and stability trumped liberty. What Arabs perceived as freedom movements, the US, the West, and Arabs’ own regimes, shunned them as threats to that status quo whether leftist, nationalist, pan-Arabist or secular during the fifties, sixties and seventies or Islamist since the eighties.

There was also the denial that an ‘Arab street’ mattered or even existed. Western pundits never took the ‘Arab street’ for serious. In total insensitivity to the ‘Arab street’ - the actual addressees of George W. Bush’s ‘forward strategy for freedom’ - the US former president never made a secret that such a strategy was inspired by the book of an Israeli , Natan Sharansky, The Case For Democracy. The famous ‘forward strategy for freedom’ was a non-starter.  Arabs very soon discovered that the main objective was to fight terrorism rather than promote the noble declared objective of ‘freedom’. The US all along snubbed the Arab street as irrelevant, and the latest Jasmine and Hibiscus revolutions were proof to that.

Reluctantly, the US tried, too vague and too late alas, and with difficulty, to correct its posture and stand ‘by’ the Arab street…on the right side of the street. Eventually, the US had to drop yet another useful ally. The US seemed to be torn between a ‘meaningful and peaceful transition of power’ in Egypt and the demands of the Egyptian people.

The cry for reclaiming dignity of the Arab peoples can only mean the demand for respect. The West and the US in particular have to learn to deal with the Arab peoples with the same level of respect they deal with their own peoples. One can’t preach respect which is the very essence of ‘diversity, pluralism and universal values’ if one stands on the wrong side of the street.

President Obama got it eventually right when he backed people power, while making clear that the future is for Egyptians to decide. We don’t know if that represents a new start for American policy toward the Arab world. The initial signals don’t.



ليست الحرية فقط إنما الكرامة بتغيير السياسة الخارجية


Al Hayat Daily, the headline read: Obama’s Administration had become a liability to its friends. Feb 13

Khaled Al Muzaini wrote Feb 13 in the Lebanese Al Safir Daily: The Arab Revolution, The End of an Era and The beginning of a New One, exclusively  focused on foreign policy issues, relationship to Israel and the West.

The BBC Radio discussed this morning, Feb 13, the US- Egypt close military relationship, and how the US might have possibly influenced the military in Egypt to act as it did and warned of future ramifications.


Nicholas D. Kristoff asked in the NYT Feb 12: What Egypt can teach America.

“It’s a new day in the Arab world — and, let’s hope, in American relations to the Arab world.”

How the U.S. Can Back Mideast Reform?

Marwan Muasher

*Mr. Muin Khouri is pollster and analyst based in Amman, Jordan. He holds an M.A. in Political Science and Languages from University of Heidelberg, Germany. He wrote his thesis on "US Middle East Foreign Policy under John Foster Dulles: 1952-58." He worked in advertising, communications, public affairs and political and social marketing.   




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Secrurity analyst
written by Frederic Labarre, February 18, 2011 

Certainly valid points were made in this essay, especially on the power of "humiliation" as driver of reform and basis for demands on change. However, there is also the very real possibility that, as political reforms trigger the toppling of decades-long regimes, the political vacuum left may be exploited by religious radicals. After all, radicalism can be understood as the response to humiliation by groups or constituents deprived of a voice. This fits the quality of pro-democracy (and secular) reformers as much as religious radicals who were also quelled under authoritarian regimes such as Mubarak's. One way of interpreting the United States' silence is simply as whole-hearted consent. In truth, this is what they wanted all along, from a norms and values (not interest) standpoint. After all, this revolution may indeed end up changing Iran and Afghanistan. If it does, the United States may no longer need to base its policies in the Middle East on interest, and will be able to base it on values.



written by B. Peterson, February 21, 2011 

It is difficult to disagree on the humiliation that the lack of progress of the Palestinian plight is bringing to the Islamic world especially after the intransigence of the current Israeli government. What I have difficulty accepting however that this is the predominant reason which brought the people to the streets.

If the previous (and current) governments of these Arabic speaking countries mastered enough political muscle and brought about an acceptable solution for the future of the Palestinian people, would have they been safe from such a peoples revolution? Of course not!

In my opinion, the fire was mainly fuelled by the demographics. These countries have seen a large population explosion and according to some estimates, more than sixty per cent of the population is under the age of thirty. Although the governments of the region managed to give their youth access to education, this was done at the cost of quality and they now have a large poorly educated workforce with little prospects for creating a decent future for themselves.

The governments of the US and Europe have of course to take a share of the blame. Firstly for accommodating these oppressive regimes who used the bogey man of the Moslem Brothers their excuse for survival, and secondly, for restricting these countries from accessing the European markets. Ms Catherine Ashton went to the media promising on behalf of the European Union more aid. Is this how the new government will create the jobs or will it be done by improved access to the European markets?

These demonstrations may bring to the people more democratic governments. Perhaps, on one end of the spectrum countries like Tunisia with a decent civil service and a well-educated workforce will make the most out of these changes. And on the other end, Egypt, with a population of eighty seven million people will have a much longer and more difficult road towards economic recovery be a problem and will keep Europe busy for the next decades.