The year 2021 ended, with all its upheaval, as a new year began with hopes that it would not be like its predecessor, and that it would provide people in all four parts of the world and in its five (or six) continents an opportunity to return to a normal life.
The “new normal” is an expression with such a political wit, as it confirms that the return to a normal life, when it takes place, will be similar to the way we have always lived, even if with a repaired outfit and fresh new colors, while the content remains the same.
In order not to get lost in analyzing the global meaning of the expression, let me focus on what it means for the Middle East and the Arab world.
First: I don’t think that moving from one year to another constitutes in itself a qualitative leap for us, with the exception of celebrating the New Year and hoping for some good in it. The logic of things we have and the negative weight of what we bear in all aspects of our lives makes it illogical to be much optimistic.
Second: The external forces that are manipulating the region’s fate, including the emerging (non-Arab) regional powers, do not see the Arab world as a partner in leading the region, but rather as an arena for competition and achieving interests that mostly come at the expense of the people of this area. What’s strange, rather dangerous, is that many of us are still waiting for the best from these forces…
Third: The conditions of the Arabs themselves have changed, and in my opinion, for the worse. They have new strategic enemies. In fact, every Arab country or group has a different opponent, which has given rise to different priorities. Hence, the expression “Arab national security” has become without content, structure, or meaning. At the same time, Arab economic integration projects were halted or largely disrupted. In other words, neither Arab security nor the Arab economy, which were considered the “cement” that binds Arab states and societies together, remained as they were. They have eroded.
Fourth: The Arabic language itself, the main link that connects people in the Arab world, has receded and withered… Arab elites are no longer interested in the language or in teaching it to their sons and daughters, who are the future generations of the Arab world.
The hands of Sheba are scattered… Alas!
Fifth: We must also note two other negative points. The first is that most of the reconstruction initiatives or attempts are carried out in a local (national) tone and management, without paying much attention to the importance of Arab (or regional) integration that can support the national development process. The second is that with regard to the new challenges that will preoccupy us in the following years and decades, such as epidemics and climate change, we, Arab citizens have not seen any efficient work and coordination between the concerned Arab states and institutions. Neither we have faced Covid-19 together, nor are we the holders of a significant regional plan to deal with climate change that may – and will – directly affect our countries.
Sixth: I wonder – with or despite all of the above – whether there’s an opportunity for Arab officials to discuss specific issues, such as launching an Arab enlightenment campaign that includes the means to link educational curricula in Arab schools, including history, technology and artificial intelligence, to Arabic vocabulary?
If some of the above points are achieved, we would be close to engaging with the world in shaping the “new normal,” because we too would be offering something new for nations to be proud of.
Finally, I would like to add a positive note. A Libyan official I have recently met reminded me that in his country, they sensed a positive atmosphere infiltrating their political arena, following the Arab reconciliation that took place in AlUla and the ongoing calm between Turkey and Egypt.
There are some other positives, no doubt, but they are not enough to form a “trend”, as they say… Happy New Year.
By Dr. Amr Moussa