Freedom Needs Dignity, and Cannot Exist with Humiliation
By Mohammad Tamaldou*
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In the Name of Allah The Most Merciful and The Most Compassionate
The topic we are meeting today to examine, and concerning which I cordially communicate to you the point of view of the Network of Arab Liberals – whose leadership I honorably undertake – is the topic of cooperation for freedom.
It is true that this presentation itself is an introductory paper of one of the foundational sides of the basis of our network, however, I believe that out of the courtesy of communication, I shall digress to present a preliminary outline of this network. NAL is a branch of Liberal International and one of its continental networking assemblies working worldwide to disseminate the values of freedom, democracy, dignity, defense of human rights, encouragement of free initiatives, market economy within the framework of an institutional state, and the rule of law, and equality amongst people irrespective of their race, religion, or nationality. This network, officially inaugurated in Egypt in the summer of 2008, came to existence after having spent two years of discussions and dialogues with several liberal parties and activists within the Arab world and outside it.
The Network of Arab Liberals (NAL) works, supported by its friends, to assist liberal parties and activists to build an Arab societal project based on the faith in the ability of the Arab individual to confront challenges, defy injustice and authoritarianism, and spread the principles of freedom, justice, and equity. This work is achieved through the Network members distributed amongst Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Palestine.
Therefore, it is only normal that we meet today to discuss the means of enriching the concept of freedom in our Arab community, as well as cooperating with our friends worldwide. Freedom is the main approach to dignifying the human being; the first key to guaranteeing the development and flourishing of the individual, and to motivating him/her for improving the capacities and competencies to be able to sustain himself/herself, and to strive continually for a better life in the framework of an institutional state and the rule of law – all of which act as a warrant for individual freedoms, true democracy, equal opportunity, and fortunes…
You must have realized that I deliberately repeated these heavy-weighted words with profound connotations, which are taken and said lightly by the Arab officials.
Therefore, it would not be surprising should anyone, from among this audience or even the Arab people, say upon hearing such archaic, repeated, and hollow talk that these are but words!
I say, amongst our pursuits is making a rupture with this era when political discourse was only but empty talk.
Therefore, I start at the very beginning, and I propose in full responsibility and freedom the question or problem of freedom in our Arab countries.
Why, despite this intellectual, cultural, and historical heritage that the Arab world has been amassing as of old; despite the varied diverse experience of the Arab peoples in dealing with political regimes, authoritarian orientations, nationalistic and tribal conflicts, sectarian sensitivities; and despite all of the lessons learned, was this region unable to find the path towards the true involvement in the system of freedom, with all its political, ethical, human, economic, and cultural dimensions?
Why had the Arab countries remained recalcitrant to true democracy, sufficing at best with a façade democracy?
The end of the Cold War was supposed to provide good opportunity for opening the gates of freedom and the paths of democracy in the face of all peoples of the world, especially the Arab world, which, unfortunately and for undeclared reasons, remained resistant to this global orientation.
I personally believe that every country is unique in a way that distinguishes its path. However, a collective outlook at the causes would reveal two major fallacies and a grand scam.
The first fallacy springs from a misconception that conservative societies are a safer assurance of remaining power. These societies by nature tend towards stagnation, mistaken by some Arab officials for stability – which is wrong as will be shown later.
In this regard we find that conservatives in the Arab societies are rather inclined towards liberalism.
Moreover, another question poses itself: Is it possible that all societies, along their historical paths, are ready to accept the liberal values and constants, be they on the level of the society, the state, the culture, or the politics. The followers of this trend maintain that liberalism is a product unique to modern western cultures and societies imposed on traditional societies, which are not the original home of such liberalism, in itself having a special history and culture.
However, this type of intellectual “protectionism” and geographic perspective of human tendencies is but a fragile pretext, and a flagrant rejection of every reform and modernity. This indeed only clears the way before immoderation, extremism, and darkness, only making this coveted stability pursued via conservatism a candidate for a complete reversal into a subversive process that would devour everything in its way.
The second fallacy, however, springs also from the misconception that individual freedom, especially of expression, is a threat to security; and that Arab societies might not be ready for the freedom of expression; and should this freedom exist in one way or another, red lines need to be marked. Out of this belief, we see many of the security apparatuses in our Arab countries put freedom on the opposite end of security and stability most of the time.
On the contrary, freedom is indeed the protector of security and the guarantee of stability – provided, nonetheless, that this is a “constructed” freedom. Freedom is not taken, given, nor seized. It is not a certificate to be hung up, nor a state of being that exists and disappears. Freedom is rather “built”, on the foundation of clear fixed rights, on the pillars of education and training. Freedom cannot exist with ignorance, otherwise ignorance would not have been the counterpart of poverty; freedom does not coexist with poverty. Human beings must own the fruits of their work; and freedom needs dignity, and as such it cannot exist with humiliation.
The question posed here is how could this misconception concerning the principle establishing the community of freedoms, democracy, and human rights be tackled? How could the official bodies in the Arab countries be capable to carry forward a modern social project hand in hand with a gradual democratic project? These are essential questions addressing deep-rooted problems in the Arab world. As long as they are not addressed seriously enough, they will remain to be an aspect for further hampering of processes of democratic transition. Indeed, not addressing these questions could make such a transition a painful process, or rather a useless and farfetched project.
Somebody could even say, and may be somebody wiser than me had already said it: what is the value and use of talking about freedom, and individual and group freedoms, in an Arab world where some areas, specifically in the Middle East, are still living under occupation, land confiscation, starvation, and mass killing as in the case of Palestine, or in the case of implanting “democracy” at gunpoint, just as the surgeon transplants a kidney using a knife and a needle, as is the case of Iraq.
I believe that freedom is an indivisible whole; a right that is either enjoyed by everybody, or not. The awareness of the liberals worldwide of the gravity of the situation in the Middle East would soon lead to crystallizing a more daring work that we could pursue as a network and may be help contribute to achievement.
I would like to end with the grand complex that contributes to hampering the path of democracy in the Arab world. This is related to the complex of the Left. Most of the Arab countries that are still resistant to liberalism are rather held back by the entrenched leftist beliefs in the souls of the people.
It is not a secret that many countries that have put stakes for a very long time on socialism and have unreservedly been biased to the Eastern Camp are still living under residues of an intellectual and psychological pressure. This pressure is the aftermath of absolutist ideology, anti-democracy, and anti-freedom, and is doing the very same thing that this ideology promoted, namely that freedom is a looming threat to the state and its central bodies, that democracy is unjust, that the market economy is a failure, and that liberalism is libertinism and a promoter of the rich over the poor. As such, the leftists continued to practice an intellectual pressure, and an ideological hegemony, in a manner that shows them to be the only ones on the side of the right, and the more capable of supporting the weak, freeing the enslaved, and saving the oppressed.
The leftists also believed that they have exclusive authority over the people’s hearts and minds, which generated amongst many of the literati of the Arab societies the “complex of the left”, as indicated in Terry Walton’s book The Means to Treatment from the Complex of the Left.
Someone also could say that it is strange that the upholders of freedom and the rest of the world liberals did not take the initiative of creating a strategy of reaction or resistance to this pressure.
However, I would say that what is even more extraordinary is that the liberals have won despite all of this, because freedom is like water, neither needs guidance to their path. Thus, we see in our Arab east that the attribute “socialist”, which not so long ago had connotations of distinctions, is not today as positive. Moreover, liberalism became a more current term circulating strongly within the western society.
Still, nonetheless, the source of all paradoxes remains: the complex of the Left persists, and even surfaces once more with the economic crunch, and with the election of the new US President Barak Obama.
Indeed we find an American journalist dubbing Obama as a socialist, which provoked the latter to defend himself. This is the uprising of the supporters of “protectionism”, the restoration of the hegemony of the state, and suspicion in the market economy.
Yesterday in Amman NAL has concluded a seminar, held in cooperation with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the Free Thought Forum of Jordan, concerning the aftermath of the world economic crisis on the Arab world economies as well as proposed liberal solutions. We were so glad with the global level of the presentations made by the specialists, as well as the analytical national reports that carried local solutions, which is evidence that liberal thought is a giving though and that crises only strengthens and spurs the challenge-confrontation desire distinguishing it.
We believe that we could stand up to this challenge, and contribute to unleashing the energies and creative capacities of the Arab citizen. Indeed Arab culture and thought are based on humanity, tolerance, openness, and participation. It is incumbent upon us to resurrect the free intellectual heritage produced by Arab thought in general, and Egyptian thought in particular, across the epochs of history. We need to enrich free human thought with the current questions and the unique answers provided for such questions.
Hence, NAL, being one of the regional organizations affiliated to Liberal International, calls for coalescing the efforts of liberal forces and activists believing in freedom, convinced with the democratic option in achieving political reforms ensuring the citizen’s dignity and freedom; and as an option for guaranteeing dignified living conditions to all citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity, nationality, or religion; and as an option for building a society of tolerance, coexistence, peace, and stability.
NAL with its relations with liberal networks worldwide believes that free exchange is not a term limited to trade and economics, but also touches the exchange in the field of thoughts and expertise amongst free-thinking individuals, wherever they are, and amongst members of regional networks in particular. This is why NAL is calling for cooperation with other liberal networks, and recommends in this regard that the role of these networks be taken into consideration concerning the development of liberal thought and experience. This is an indication that liberalism needs to have a position in the heart of the organizational structure of international liberal organizations. This could happen through the creation of a council for the leaders of regional networks, which would play an advisory role in determining political positions.
I am hoping that Egypt, upon its anticipated hosting of the upcoming international convention of Liberal International, plays a role in furthering the Arab presence on the level of developing political and economic thought, and contributing to international decision making amongst the international liberal family.
* President of the Network of Arab Liberals (NAL). This speech was delivered in Arabic at the Forum entitled “Cooperating for Freedom” and co-sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty (FNF) in cooperation with NAL in Cairo on April 2, 2009.