Tag Archives: muslim brotherhood

Deepak Chopra: Can We Create Peace in Egypt?

If you’ve been following the news in the past few weeks then you’re undoubtedly aware of the troubling political violence erupting in Egypt. In one week, alone, more than 900 people died, prompting EU-affiliated countries to suspend arms sales to the country.

In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak is joined by two young Arab women leaders to discuss the current situation in Egypt and the steps to creating peace and resolving conflict.

Does taking sides, as Deepak says, perpetuate conflict? Or is there ever a line at which we should take one side to help overcome another? Do you believe we can change the world by shifting our own consciousness? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Thumbnail credit: Mosa’ab Elshamy / Flickr: mosaaberising

The Winter of Their Discontent: What Will the Arabs Do?

 Is the Arab world headed for chaos or democracy? The U.S. has been wrong so many times, it’s hard to know who to trust in these matters. But some trends are clear, at least. Usually societies that enjoy economic growth also show increased happiness. In the U.S. we’ve seen that equation hold true, especially in reverse. Economic woes reflect personal discontent. But by this measure, the uprising in Egypt is something of a paradox. In Egypt the GDP has been rising in recent years, yet the population has become discontented, and the rate of their discontent has been sharp. Only the top 20% of Egyptians think that their lives are increasing in well-being.

This is according to the Gallup organization, one of the few sources of reliable, objective information in the Arab region. Gallup classifies respondents worldwide as "thriving," "suffering," or "struggling" based on how they rate their current and future lives. Since 2005, the number of Egyptians who describe themselves as "thriving" has declined by 18%; in Tunisia a similar sharp decline occurred, down 10% in the last three years. The picture is of a society where the top elites grab most of the prosperity — along with the sense of well-being that goes with it — while the vast bulk of the population feels shut out and deprived.

What happens when such a drastic imbalance occurs? Few are willing to offer even an educated guess. Arab societies are unusually closed-off in a world rapidly trending toward globalization. Gallup cannot offer reliable statistics on such a basic thing as mosque attendance, for example. There are ominous facts, however, that the region’s despots must live with. In Egypt 75% of the population is under 30 and 50% under twenty. This reflects a staggering birth rate throughout the Arab world. Every country has a surplus of young males who have nowhere to go economically but who are connected via Facebook and Twitter to the world at large. They cannot help but see themselves as dispossessed, and they direct their anger at those in power.

In India and China we’ve seen the rise of the dispossessed, and it has occurred without widespread violence, much less revolution. The secret is that an older generation took responsibility for freeing up the access to opportunity; central government subsidized education and technology; and the middle class was already large enough and prosperous enough to aspire higher. In the Arab world none of these beneficial conditions seem to pertain. In Egypt the Mubarak regime was deaf to cries for change, and in particular it shut out religious conservatives, who for better or worse represent the common people. Half of Egypt’s population lives on less than two dollars a day, which the central government ignored.

To an outsider, the tensions in the Arab world, when looked at in terms of demography, are a race between the mullahs and the iPod. Islam is an all-embracing religion, and its devotees are raised to believe that God has a say in every aspect of life. Such a viewpoint is inimical to secular modernism. Therefore, the West has backed reactionary regimes in the name of stability, but also because it is impossible to communicate with religious fundamentalists who debate whether God has condemned electricity or the motor car. The two worldviews are too disparate. Yet if you are a young Arab male, you must reconcile the two.

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PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Al Jazeera English

 

 

For Once, A Chance to Root for the Arab Street

The history of popular revolutions has been horrifying if we look over our shoulders at Russia, China, and Germany, but you can’t help but hope that Tunisia starts a domino effect in the Muslim world. Fear has kept the West, and the U.S. especially, on the side of brutal reactionary rule in countries where the alternative — fanatical fundamentalism — was even more fearful. No image frightened the average American more than the Arab street portrayed on TV, an angry mob ready to hate us without provocation. But behind those outraged young men lie real grievances that run very deep.

The fact is that repression fuels terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, was ignited by the Mubarak regime’s opposition, following a pattern all too familiar from Iran: a ruler who seems "just like us" placates the West while at home his secret police quash opponents without restraint. The total absence of freedom can’t be called the American way by any stretch of the imagination, yet when the U.S. is the supplier of money and arms to these reactionary governments, what conclusion can the ordinary citizen reach? The U.S. is seen as the enemy of freedom. Our policy has paid for stability at all costs. Blinded for decades by anti-communism, along with an addiction to cheap oil, we tolerated oppressive rulers whose stink rose to high heaven.

Now there’s a chance for change — if we stop being so afraid. It is very likely that the mullahs in every country will rise in power, as they have in Iran and Iraq. Religious fundamentalism, as much as one dislikes it, has been the last hope for people living in degraded conditions while a tiny elite scrapes off the country’s wealth. The real answer to Islamic fundamentalism is an open, free, modern society, where education is given outside the religious schools that are currently the only option for poor Arab children. What feeds our fear? Substitute al-Qaeda for communism and we have a new version of Reagan’s great Satan. There’s no substitute in place for our country’s oil addiction. Our oil consumption and dependency is going stronger than the days in the ’70ies when OPEC tripled the price of oil. With both the economic and religious influences in place, the powers that be are shaking at the prospects of widespread revolution in the Arab World.

So it’s heartening that President Obama came out in support of the uprising in Tunisia. This is in keeping with his attempts, since the day he was elected, to reverse the shameful fear-mongering of the Bush Administration. Whatever hard knocks he is taking, Obama is right to claim that the bulk of the deficit, not to mention two wars and an outrageous favoritism shown to the rich, as well as to the religious right, all occurred on Bush’s watch. I am as nervous about the Arab street as anyone. But where else can we turn if these oppressed societies are to breathe fresh air and enjoy the freedoms that all people deserve?

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