By Sara Obeidat
Last year, I attended my little brother’s high school graduation. As the ceremony commenced, the graduates sang the song “Nahnu El Shabab” (نحن الشباب) , a well-known old Pan Arabic anthem that translates to “We are the Youth”. “لنا العراق والشام ومصر والبيت الحرام “. “Iraq, Syria, Jerusalem, and the House of God (Mecca), all belong to us.” By “us” the writer meant “the people.”
The lyrics were recited in unison by the graduating class. The irony of those lines seemed almost comical. Iraq belongs neither to its people nor to its government, Jerusalem belongs to the so called only democracy in the Middle East , Syria in no way belongs to the people with most Syrians either dead or displaced either internally or internationally, and thanks to the champions of sectarian division-the House of Saud- the Holiest City in Islam is far from belonging to Muslims or Arabs.
Yet the lines were recited, the song was sung without a second thought as to whether or not it held any political relevance, and the celebration went on, because it has become common practice for us to look one another in the face and lie not only to one another but also to ourselves.
Abdel Fattah el Sisi is officially the President of Egypt in a landslide victory of almost 97%. With the participation rate of alleged voters as low as 47%, one is forced to think twice about whether or not the Sisi campaign had to go through the trouble of manipulating the vote in the first place.
Bashar al Assad won the Syrian farce of an election, there was absolutely no need to wait for the results, especially after running opponent Hassan Al-Nouri stated during a BBC phone interview that the Syrian people need his contender, Assad, to win the election. (Not sure whether to consider such a move as political suicide or political survival.)
Anyone who lived outside Syria in the past decade was excluded from running in the Syrian election, which effectively excluded most opposition figures from the so called race. Voting in Syria was restricted to areas under government control. Refugees who left Syria “illegally” were barred from voting in elections. A significant number of those who could vote from outside the country feared that they would never be able to return to their country if they cast the wrong vote in the election. So why are we still calling it an election? And why are we still singing a song written in the early 50s that holds absolutely no truth in depicting our political reality?
Psychologists have characterized the way we as human beings respond to tasks into two different categories:
Performance Orientation, which is when someone strives to complete a task for the sake of its performance, essentially attempting to prove his/her competence. Very often, if the task is too challenging or hard, the person will give up or lose interest, especially since the ability to perform or showcase his/her skills are jeopardized.
Mastery Orientation is when someone seeks to IMPROVE his/her competence rather than PROVE it. People with such an orientation value the importance of hard work and effort, and understand that skills are more often acquired than inherited.
In some families and households, the eldest child, or eldest grandchild, or the “only boy” or even the “only girl” grows up with a false sense of achievement that is very often undeserved. It is a natural error in child rearing that has been analyzed by psychologists for decades. We very often compliment children by using phrases such as “you’re so smart” or “you’re so bright” rather than “you’re such a hard worker” or “you really put in a lot of effort”. If we complimented them on their perseverance rather than their God given natural talent (which for the average person can only go so far) we instill the value of effort, determination, and consistency in these children. We foster “mastery” orientation, which allows resilience for harder tasks and leads to a real concrete sense of achievement, and an increase in self-esteem.
On Tuesday, Jordan marked the 83rd anniversary of the death of Sharif Hussein. The “leader” of “the great Arab revolt” that handed our chains from the Ottomans over to the Europeans who managed to carve up the entire Levant region into an incomprehensible set of fake identities that have proven through the decades to be unsatisfying. On Egyptian Television this week, various Egyptian presenters “celebrated” (with song and dance) election results that did not take into account half of the population. We continue to celebrate false achievements in hopes that they will relieve us from our obligation to realize the shameful reality of our identities.
Singing songs that emphasize false political achievements and teaching history books that twist historical facts in order to celebrate failures are an extension to performance orientation- they foster a false sense of achievement for an entire nation. Our outdated poems and literary texts emphasizing Arab unity are harming us more than influencing us at this stage, for they keep the hope or impression of an idea as being alive when in reality our leaders have killed those ideas off a long time ago with their foreign policies. We do not own Iraq, or Syria, or Egypt, or Saudi, or Jordan, or Palestine, or Bahrain. We also do not own “An Arab Dream” الحلم العربي , our policies are too individualistic and our countries prefer engaging in secret alliances based on irrational fears. “بلاد العرب أوطاني ” another anthem which translates to “The Arab Nation is my Home” should not be sung when a Jordanian needs a visa to enter Dubai while an American doesn’t, or when there is a list of occupations that Palestinians are prevented from working in if they are in Lebanon, or when Syrians are prevented from entering Jordan through the airport unless they are in transit.
These songs of unity and nationalism that once served great causes and motivated us are now as harmful as the propaganda our tyrants feed us- they serve not as reminders of the raw political truth but as a temporary pat on the back for our shortcomings.
Similarly, the Arab Spring today no longer serves as an emblem of political change, but rather a false sense of achievement. Celebrating the Arab Spring two years ago was legitimate as we strove towards reshaping our governments and reintroducing political participation. Celebrating the Arab Spring today, or taking pride in it, is as delusional as the overly praised only child with a false sense of undeserving achievement. The Arab Spring has been hijacked to legitimize elections that bring military tyrants and war criminals to power. Let us be careful with the term and not over use it, for it already does not hold the same weight it used to. Let us be careful with the term “election” as well and not overuse it, and instead come up with another term that describes the event currently taking place in Syria that recycles barrel bombs for ballot boxes.
I have very often heard elderly people who witnessed the day Egypt “reclaimed” the Sinai or witnessed Jordan “winning” the “Karama battle” recount those events. They all seem to be stuck, fixated, absorbed in that same year of their so called political victory, unable to move forward, unable to reassess, almost paralyzed. I wonder if our generation will be stuck in 2011 with a false sense of achievement as well. It may be too early to tell, but with the region hosting three elections in the past six weeks and achieving zero change, the hopes of moving forward seem as distant as a pan Arab song written in the fifties to our current disgrace of a political reality.