My job as a diplomat and an international civil servant necessitated spending many years away from home. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel the world and become acquainted with many cultures and people.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons I have learned that has shaped my vision and my thinking is that, unlike conventional wisdom, we are one human family. Our hope and fear are the same. Our joy and sorrow are also the same. Our basic values of justice, equality and solidarity do not differ, regardless of religion, ethnicity, language or color.
Ask people everywhere about their fears and aspirations, and their answer will be identical, except for a few minor differences. If this simple yet profound truth were sincerely accepted, we would not have witnessed such violence, persecution, misery, and endless tragedy. In other words, if we understood that equality, justice and solidarity are the way to our salvation, the world would be a different place, whether it be in the relations between states or between people everywhere or within each state.
Arabic causes lost in translation
When I look at the impact of the absence of equality, justice and solidarity on our Arab affairs, including the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people and the threat posed by the Israeli nuclear weapons program, I often wonder if the world’s attitude towards us regional issues would have been different if our concept of national security had been informed by the public interest and not subject to personal whims.
I also wonder if the international community would have responded differently to our legitimate concerns if our relations with each other had been constant and not subject to seasonal changes – if what we had said in public was the same as what we were behind closed doors did, if our peoples were seen as a source of power, not a liability we should contain, and if we realized that most differences of opinion end in reconciliation, which means that no matter how bitter the enmity, we do not our bridges should not burn.
I also wonder if things would have changed if our decisions had been based on an accurate assessment of our common interest and a national security policy that takes into account our soft and hard power capabilities and the importance of timing in our strategic decision making.
If we want the world to care about us, we must care for the world. On many of the global issues, including the nuclear arms race, climate change, the technology revolution and women’s rights, we are not active participants in the ongoing debate unless we believe it directly affects us. And even when we do participate, it is often from a narrow regional perspective and in a language that the rest of the world does not understand.
The meaning of equality and justice
If we examine all the Arab uprisings over the past decade, we will find that the pursuit of equality and justice has been the driving force behind all those uprisings where the system has no other means of bringing about change. Despite relentless efforts in the region to portray the Arab Spring as a conspiracy and a harbinger of chaos, I have no doubt that it will make a return in one form or another, as long as its root causes are not addressed. not. Tunisia and Sudan are currently examples
The significance of equality expressed by the Arab uprisings in different ways can be summarized as follows: We are all equal in our “belonging to the homeland” which entitles us to be partners in its management; the principle of justice must be upheld and the rights of every human being respected without discrimination.
Participation in government means a system of good governance that guarantees equality, pluralism, transparency, accountability, rotation of power, an independent judiciary, robust civil society and free media. Democracy is not a perfect system, but it is the best that our modern world has come up with to achieve human dignity.
A democratic system is by no means limited to the ballot box; it is a comprehensive paradigm based on institutions, not individuals. It requires a civil society to raise awareness of the culture of democracy and consolidate its practices. However, it mainly requires a sincere consensus on a social contract, which guarantees freedom, equality and dignity for all.
Democracy will always be a work in progress that needs to be adapted for experience on the ground. There are different models for its application, but there are nevertheless minimum criteria for what can be called a “democratic system”, in particular freedom of expression and conviction, guarantees to exercise civil and political rights, including the establishment of parties and independent unions and associations.
When we try to mimic democracy in our region, we often jump to elections before building the necessary framework and institutions that guarantee their freedom, justice and true representation. We usually put the stamp of our “unique” culture on our brand of democracy, which leads to the crushing of any and all opposition.
In doing so, we are ultimately fooling ourselves, but not the world. To regard differences of opinion as a “threat” and those who disagree as “enemies” who must be eliminated with revenge is a zero-sum game where everyone loses. The “struggle” of ideas is the way to encourage creativity and progress. Different visions are essential and healthy.
Understand the rule of law
And what about justice? These should be understood as abstract rules enacted by a freely elected legislature and without exception applicable to all. Laws must be anchored in justice and not tools in the service of power. The experience of most Arab countries shows that we still have a long way to go before we reach the “rule of law” as universally accepted and defined.
As far as respect for human rights is concerned, we still do not see the symbiotic relationship between freedom and human dignity. In addition, we need to understand that empowering people is the basis of security, stability and progress.
We must accept that the political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in international human rights conventions are universal, indivisible and non-negotiable. We must also recognize that no region is “unique” and that human rights should not be used as a bargaining chip in geopolitics. Human rights are rights for every human being.
These are some of the basic concepts that are deteriorating in large parts of our Arab world, even if they are the key to our “renaissance”. The link between good governance and progress is unmistakable.
There are some core truths we should embrace if we want to improve our lives: no one possesses the ultimate truth; the holiness of life is absolute; all people have equal rights; human rights are inalienable; science is the key to progress; poverty is a form of violence; compassion and tolerance are the essence of mankind; and in the end, there is no alternative to living together.
International cooperation is a must
These values and core truths should be our compass at home as well as in our interactions with the rest of the world. It means coming together to address the global challenges we face, including climate change, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, pandemics, organized crime and cyber security. Cooperation in a globalized world is a practical necessity as well as an ethical imperative as no country, however powerful, can deal with these dangers on its own.
It is a pity that our words often do not match our actions. For example, everyone is aware of the climate crisis, but very few are willing to do what is necessary to confront it. Everyone warns about the danger of the pandemic, but at the same time we see toxic nationalism and blatant discrimination in the manufacture and distribution of the vaccine.
Unless we restore our collective mindset and make radical adjustments in the international system to be more just and equitable, I fear we will continue on a path that could lead to our self-destruction.
A version of this article was first published in Arabic on Al Jazeera Mubasher’s website.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.