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Why Do Arabs Not Revolt?

30 Jun 2009 03:2743 Comments
Photo/Stephan Geyer

By RAMI G. KHOURI in Beirut

The stark contrast between the street demonstrations in Iran in the past two weeks and the absence of any such popular revolts in the Arab world during the past half-century is more than just fascinating in terms of political anthropology. A major question that hangs over the Arab world like a ton of bricks is: Why do the top-heavy, non-democratic political control and governance systems of the Arab world persist without any significant popular opposition or public challenge?

The events in Iran -- the second major popular rebellion in the past 30 years -- accentuate the relative quiescence in the Arab world, but this is not for lack of grievances among Arabs. The same pressures and indignities that annoy many Iranians and push them to openly challenge their rulers are prevalent throughout much of the Arab world:

* abuse of power by a self-contained ruling elite,

* absence of meaningful political accountability,

* dominance of the power structure by security-military organs,

* prevalent corruption and financial abuse,

* mediocre economic management,

* enforced leadership hero-worshiping and personality cults,

* strict social controls -- especially on the young and women.

Only once has a popular revolt forced a change of government in the Arab world, which was the 1985 overthrow of Sudanese President Jaafar Numeiry. All other coups and regime changes in the Arab world have been the work of a small number of military officers or foreign governments. Mass Arab uprisings have occurred against foreign occupation or domination, such as the two Palestinian intifadas against Israeli occupation, the anti-Syrian uprising in Lebanon in 2005, and assorted anti-colonial rebellions. Small militant groups have also challenged Arab regimes -- such as violent Islamists in Syria, Egypt and Algeria in the 1980s and 90s -- but were always beaten down.

The sheer power of police and security organizations is not a sufficient explanation of Arab popular passivity, because angry populations around the world have confronted and toppled equally powerful security forces, such as the Shah's Iran or most of the East European Soviet states. Lack of courage also is not a satisfying explanation, either, because Arab men and women throughout the region have defied and confronted their governments in many ways over the past half century -- yet always falling short of taking to the streets in mass demonstrations aimed at toppling the regime.

One of the possible explanations is that angry or frustrated Arab men and women do not relate to their central government in the same way that Iranians do (or Turks, also). Indignant Iranians or Turks who are fed up with their government's abuse of power demand a change in government behavior, and use available means to bring about that change. Arabs in a similar situation seem to largely ignore their governments, and instead set up parallel structures in society that offer them the same practical and intangible services that central governments normally provide in more coherent countries.

Massive movements of discontented citizens throughout the Arab world have channeled their energy into several arenas that coexist in parallel with the state. These include Islamist and other religious movements, tribal structures, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to a lesser extent. Some of these movements, like Hizbullah and Hamas, grew briskly and have become parallel states in every respect, including military power, social services, economic clout, and international diplomatic engagement.

One possible explanation for why discontented Iranians or Turks try to capture and reconfigure their state governance machinery, while Arabs tend to avoid it and simply build their own parallel structures, may have to do with the most basic factors of nation and state legitimacy, efficacy and credibility. Iran and Turkey enjoy powerful, ancient legitimacy as nation-states, while most Arab countries do not, because most of them are modern creations of brazen, slightly eccentric, Euro-colonialists.

Rather than wanting to manage the very difficult socio-economic challenges that define countries like Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Algeria and Sudan, it is much more attractive for discontented political and social movements to carve out a space for themselves in society, mostly ignore the central government, and get on with the business of catering to the needs of their constituents. Consequently, central governments in most Arab countries beyond the oil states are finding that their impact and footprint in society are slowly narrowing, in line with their often-diminished legitimacy. Arab regimes to a large extent are not being challenged by their own people, they are being contained and shrunk.

It is possible that the lack of popular Arab revolts against the state is less a comment on the passive nature of Arab citizenship and political psyche, and more a comment on the declining allure of the prize of political incumbency in Arab state governance systems whose impact and legitimacy continue to fray at the edges, and that cater to a smaller and smaller constituency of true believers at their core.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.

Copyright (c) 2009 Rami G. Khouri - distributed by Agence Global

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Why? Because it's easier and safer to bitch about everyone else.

Andrew / June 29, 2009 11:44 PM

Because they seem not being able to use their brains in meaningful ways. Their standards are set lower by years of living in desert. I am not being racist but this is actually true. Every one knows it. LoL

winston / June 29, 2009 11:44 PM

According to Thomas Friedman, the Arab governments continually use the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a way to divert their populace's attention and unite them. Also, in the arab regime's allowing of radical Islam schools and mosques and clerics, the people divert less anger toward their governments and more toward the west

patrick / June 30, 2009 12:16 AM

"I am being racist" - fixed that for you.

Heidi / June 30, 2009 12:23 AM

It is not true that Europeans created the modern Arabic states. They are essentially the left over of Ottoman government areas. This 'Oh! the West created these states!' is a boring canard used by many Arabs to blame the West for problems which are endemic to Arab social structures, and yet another boring expression of Arab victimisation-crying.

Note that the states which are marginally successful in getting out from under the yoke of Arab colonialism, which has debilitated the East and South Mediterraean basin for 1400 years, are those which are either non-Arab (Turkey, Iran, which speaks an Indo-European language) or most closely tied to Northern Mediterraean culture (Lebanon, Israel) or both. I think it is clear that the nomadic values which were enshrined, and enforced by occupation, in the Arab conquests and colonialistion of the native peoples of the East and South Mediterraean basin, have by means of the language, and mores, been radicated into them. Perhaps in serval hundred years of renewed contact with the foreign world of civilized humanity, they will recover.

Roman / June 30, 2009 12:24 AM

Is it really true that Arabs don't revolt? Algerians revolted against French rule. Syrians have been brutalized after failed revolts there. There were also failed Arab revolts against Saddam (as well as Kurdish ones).

Alternatively it may be that Arabs don't revolt less than others under repressive regimes, but that Persians revolt more. That is, instead of asking what is special about Arabs, maybe the question is what is special about Persians. Let me also point out that just as Algerians were revolting against foreign control, this was true in Eastern Europe. Uprisings against a purely native power rarely succeed unless the regime is collapsing for other reasons.

All of my conjectures require actual looking at facts systematically (instead of just pulling examples out of the air which confirm my view).

There is always the temptation to look at long history. Turkey and Iran were once world powers. There was a sense of nationhood that existed prior to 1918. But personally, I find those sorts of "explanations" facile.

Jeffrey P Goldberg / June 30, 2009 12:46 AM

That is a very mind opening essay above, but Roman, you have a well thought out point. Very interesting. Both of you.

aftertheflesh / June 30, 2009 1:15 AM

they abuse the islam to (try) get what they want and think that if they can't have it then nobody will have it and they want to be the whole world of muslim and will continue there FOCKING BULLSHIT of jihads as long as islam will not dominate the world.

The only reason for all this and all what will come is extremisme, if you ... Meer lezentake away EXTREMISME then there would be 75% less violence and you would actualy be able to talk on a decent way about the real meaning an origin of the universe with an arab/moslim without being insulted or have to 'fear' for your life lol..

Islam is a way people can get strength in hard time, 'Mohamed' didn't wrote the koran so people could use it to go to war or get what they want, and as long as we going to tollerate the extremist abusing it there will never be peace!

(did allah blieved in himself or did he pray to god in hard times?)

akli / June 30, 2009 1:19 AM

One more explanation that is that what really proveked Iranians this time is that Ahmedinejad is an Ultra-conservitive extra hardline president, while in most Arab states the alternatives are even more conservitive or that what the governments convinced the people. This is true at least in Egypt

Could it be that Arabs still operate with a tribe mentality and only revolt against foriegners ? Also, consider for example that most earlier revolutions in the Arab world (or even attempts) was done by less priviliged lesseducated and more conservitive classes, while whats happening now in Iran is a full swing in comparison to the 1979 Islamic revolution which was carried out by conservitive less privilged class.

Karim Elmansi / June 30, 2009 2:39 AM

Also,the Iran government closes its borders and doesn't deliver visas, while Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian...... migrate by million to Europe, specially France, where they find freedom, social welfare,and sometimes employment. Many get bi-nationality ( mostly through inter-ethnic weddings ), quietly going on voting for Bouteflika, who embodies their ambivalent relationship to the West. Some cover their wives with a niqab, some marry their daughters by force....

marie / June 30, 2009 2:56 AM

The European Renaissance ocuured due to the Arab-ruled civilization of Andalusia, which had the most advanced science, hundreds of libraries and educated the best minds of Europe, while it was lost in the Dark Ages. It was also an extremely tolerant civilization giving refuge to Jewish minorities, dissidents and gay people, which the Catholic church was persecuting and burning at the stake as heretics. (Dr. Maria Menocal, Yale Univ Press: 'Convivencia')

Al-gebra is an Arabic word and so is Al-gorithm.

Both, w/out which the 'civilized' West and the latest technology would cease to be.

Please read your history books before making such ignorant comments, like Brits aka Winston Churchill.


Here is a link:


Global Soul / June 30, 2009 3:13 AM

You should change the title to "why arabs, do not revolt?"

Amri / June 30, 2009 6:05 AM

This basically says it all:

"Massive movements of discontented citizens throughout the Arab world have channeled their energy into several arenas that coexist in parallel with the state. These include Islamist and other religious movements, tribal structures, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to a lesser extent. Some of these movements, like Hizbullah and Hamas, grew briskly and have become parallel states in every respect, including military power, social services, economic clout, and international diplomatic engagement."

Janet / June 30, 2009 7:59 AM

I disagree with your premise that most Arabs don't revolt because "declining allure of the prize of political incumbency."

Arab governments are monarchies (except Lebanon and Iran. Oh, and now Iraq.) Royal families do whatever they can to keep their wealth especially teaming up with mullahs because Islam is ingrained in the culture. People listen to the mullahs. Together they control by fear (ie beheadings) and out-dated practices like treating women like chattel. KSA as an example. Its culturally pervasive. The UAE is an exception in that the royal family government takes care of their people giving them education, health care, housing, jobs, so they don't have a need to revolt. But, Islam prevails there too.

Arab people do not revolt out of fear. What do you think would happen in KSA? They would not hesitate to have mass beheadings I am sure.

I agree, the Arab people *should* revolt but don't because, well, "inshallah." And, they are oppressed by their religion and by their governments.

But, what's happening in Iran is really important and the world supports you morally, IMHO.

bettina / June 30, 2009 8:47 AM

Arab don't revolt because their leadership is under control of US and US is silent over these kingdoms. What hinders US to speak for democracy in these countries?

Rahim / June 30, 2009 9:27 AM


one of the best articles written on the subject. It amazes me how little some know about history and geography and yet they would comment as if they have command of the subject. I still read that Iran is part of the Arab world. That Iranians speak Persian. That all Arabs are Muslims. That the Middle East is the same as the Arab world.

Education, research and travelling to other countries may help.

Regards at all!

Imad / June 30, 2009 10:14 AM

The reasons that Arabs don't revolt are two:

a) Arabs are not intellectually mature, 60% of the arab women are illiterate, those who go to university, they do so to delay arranged marriages, the truth is that they should never be compared to the Persians, they need at least 300-400 years to develop and reach where Persians and the West are now.

b) Part of the arab's culture is to be two-faced, they encourage hypocrisy and call it survival, indeed it's not bed in the arabic culture to lie. How many times you have heard that those north African girls who get to Europe, get European partners and then disappear, and get married "virgin" to their tribesmen, and become nice mulsim wives. The fact is that they have never reached the intellectual maturity to understand and respect truth, freedom and democracy, as long as they can have their cake and eat it (like the north African girls), they never revolt. Only proper education, not merely learning skills but learning critical thinking might save them, it takes years.

The author wants to, as usual blame it on the West, but I am sorry no one buys that anymore, arabs are lazy, intellectually retarded and very uneducated no one can be blamed for their short-comings. They need to move fast.

Maha / June 30, 2009 10:30 AM

Global Soul, you forget that the late Roman Empire, the so called Eastern and due to some 17th century historians Byzantine, kept a great part of the Greek scientific Legacy, and Arabs get that part after the conquest of lands of the eastern Roman Empire, it's universally known that many monasteries kept ancient scripts.

You underestimate the byzantine civilization, they hadn't a dark age as the rest of europe, actually parts of the empire face dark ages in the eastern and northern mediterranean after the arab conquest...and at last after the fall of the empire by the Ottomans.

Also you forget that renaissance in Europe started in Italy, not in Spain...Italy was the country that had a traditional relation with the "eastern" empire, specially some city states like Venice and Genoa, and after the 4th crusade and the Latin empire for few decades, the new empire although had lost it's political and military power, had a cultural renaissance with a turn to the greek heritage of the empire, and many humanist philosophers, a swan song two centuries before it's fall to the turks..many phlisophers and scientists from the eastern empire due to the fear of the conquest left the empire for italy, and they put the sparks for the renaissance....

What i like about arabs/muslims "Global Soul" is that use as emblem of their religion the Crescent moon with Star, more funny the fact that in many western movies about crusades we see the crescent moon as an emblem of the muslim army, as known the sultan of the Turks adopted the crescent moon after the fall of Costantinople in 1453, Crescent Moon with Star was one of the symbols of the Roman(Byzantine) Empire, and as Islam doesn't permit the use of a depiction like the biheaded eagle he chose the Crescent Moon mainly used by the Byzantine Navy,emblem of the city of Costantinople.The true origin of this emblem is pagan, when Philip II of Macedon attacked the city of Byzantium(a colony of the city of Megara) the population of the city of Byzantium believed that moon-godess Artemis(Diana) helped them to defy the army of Philip, and they adopted the emblem of the godess, the crescent moon in order to honour her, later after christianization this emblem of Hekate turn to an emblem of Virgin Mary and they added the naissance star that is an emblem of virgin mary.

Theobald / June 30, 2009 10:42 AM

To Global Soul,

You have got it wrong, badly wrong, brother! Most of the mulish scientists of the era you boasting about are Persians, Turkish, and Spanish, name ONE arab scientist for me, please? You cannot, just because the language of science at the time was arabic doesn't make those who contributed to that science arabs, does it? Incidentally Persians wrote the arabic Grammar for them, for your information. This is a grave misunderstanding that a lot of western scholars are waking up to. Have a look at the Book: "The Golden age of Persia" by Richard. N. Frye, (from Harvard University). He, well tell you all. Please don't believe the Global soul, his not educate enough to understand that just because Al-gebra word is an arabic word, doesn't make those who invented and used it Arabs! The term was coined by the great Iranian Mathematician Khwarazimi. Arabs have been cashing out on Persian achievements a lot, that should not be allowed any more. Thank you.

Maha / June 30, 2009 10:58 AM


You have a point. Most decorated Muslim scientists were from Persia but not necessarily Iran. The demographics and the geopolitics of that era were inclusive of all believers in Islam as one nation. The mistake we make today is that we Arabs feel inferior to the west and we would like to be proud of something, something like having enlightened the darkness in western societies with our sciences and inventions. However, this claim would be CORRECT had it been bestowed on Muslims rather than Arabs.

Nevertheless, there are some Arab scientists who have contributed to humanity. The likes of Ibno roshd (Averros), Ibn Khaldoun, Ibn Batouta, to cite few have made some ground breaking works in philosophy, sociology, etc.

But why aren't Arabs going to the street to protest? Hmmm, we live by the motto that says: if we don't talk about it, it does not exist. In other words, we don't have a problem. :)


Ahmed / June 30, 2009 12:01 PM

Janet's quote above captured the point I was going to make. It seems to me (and I admit that I am not nearly as well versed about the Middle East as some commenters here) that while the Iranian people are protesting at once against both the religious AND legislative authorities, this is not the case in the rest of the Arab/muslim world. Also, in Iran, there is a distinct element of a social revolution mixed in with a political one - namely the womens movement. In this final regard, I believe that Iran, socially speaking, is decades ahead of the rest of the Arab/Muslim world.

One thing that I already knew, and that has been made abundantly clear in recent weeks, is that to think of the Arab/Muslim world (indeed to even make the equations Arab=Muslim or Muslim=Arab) is to be grossly ignorant of the true heterogeneous nature of the Middle East, Arabs, Muslims and, most especially, Iran.

secularcanadian / June 30, 2009 12:17 PM

Wonderful article! Thanks Kelly!

Christina / June 30, 2009 1:29 PM

The United States last Fall revolted by voting for change when we elected President Barack Obama. The Iranians voted, but their present government did not honor the people's vote, so they either revolt or stay controlled under a dictator. The Hardest thing for human beings is to agree totally on something, such as Uniting to challenge the Iranian Government. Even during the Revolution, here in the United States in 1776, people complained and some became traitors to their own governments cause. Having people to totally agree on something, as a group is very, very difficult.

My prayers are with the women, men and children, who dare to challenge the Iranian Government, and with their conviction will drive them on to true victory to over turn the dictator's government that was NOT the elected winner by the people of Iran's VOTE.

Unite as one determined group to take back your Vote and Freedom.

Pam Walsh / June 30, 2009 2:13 PM

Interesting starting point for cultural/anthropological research.

There must be plenty of literature on that.

T. Friedman has a good point

Edna / June 30, 2009 2:25 PM

The flowering of knowledge during the caliphate of al-Ma'mum (ruled 813-833) points to the need for heterodoxy. The scholars he gathered at Baghdad were highly diverse in their beliefs. Many Greek texts were translated into Syriac by Hunayn ibn-Ishaq, a Nestorian Christian who was superintendant of al-Ma'mun's library and school. Abu Ja'far Muhammid ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, who promoted the use of Hindu numerals, made astronomical observations and compiled astronomical tables, was Persian. Thabit ibn Qurra translated the works of Archimedes, wrote on equilibria and astronomy. He was a Pseudo-Sabian from Harran in Mesopotamia. The Pseudo-Sabians worshipped the moon. The astronomer Abu 'Abdallah al-Battani (c858-929) was also a Pseudo-Sabian.

al-Ma'mum was himself an adherent to a minority sect called the Mu'tazilites. In contrast to orthodox Muslims, they believe in free will. At that time, people in the Caliphate were much freer to explore unorthodox ideas than were those in Byzantium. By 1300 this advantage had disappeared.

Tom Sharpless / June 30, 2009 3:30 PM

I think one reason may many arabs do not revolt is from a feeling of powerlessness. The old saying "You can't fight City Hall" is in many cases very true in some arab countries. For example Egypt, where the same person has been Head of State for over twenty years and people who want a democracy are usually jailed and/or tortured makes many people think twice before taking to the street to protest. Another example is Saudi Arabia. The same people here have been in power for generations. The power elite provide just enougfh freedoms to keep the people from demonstrating in the streets. Also the public beheadings are a very grqaphic tool designed to keep the populace in line.

There are several reasons the people in Iran demonstrated against the establishment. First they had their hopes raised by the prospect of change by a democratic method. Second those hopes were dashed by the fact that the existing power structure had no intention of surrendering power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I hope this helps to explain at least some of the reasons why Arabs Do Not Revolt.


Robert / June 30, 2009 7:18 PM

Theodoros and others have answered in part the partial truths (which is a euphemism for half-falsehoods) which the Global Soul (such arrogance of pseudonym!) proffered.

The Arabs are a nomadic people from what is now called Saudi Arabia, an area of desert, which the Greeks, Romans and Persian found so uninteresting, except for the coastal areas which could for their climate foster civilization, that they ignored it. The warring tribes of this area are described in ancient historians as blood thirsty. These are the only people who are worthy of being called Arabs. Syrians are quite different, as are Egyptians, as are some of the peoples of the Northern African Mediterranean coastal lands (Carthage, Numidia, etc.).

Egypt is an interesting case in point. Ten percent of the population are (Coptic) Christian, one of whom was the UN Secretary General (Boutos Boutos Ghali).

The myth of Southern Spain being a haven of civilisation has been more than debuked (see the research by : it was in fact a haven of blood letting, living as is the tradition amongst all Arab colonial empire on plunder and pillage. The early history of the Arab 'conquests' (jihad) is one of ever expanding raids and plunder. The Spanish and Italians expelled these savage invaders, and hence were able to develop vital centres for the advancement of culture and humanity. Would this liberation not have happened, and it was a battle fought also at Potiers in France, Europe today would be a desert of soi-dissant Arabic kulture (with a K for irony).

The great sadness is that the peoples of the East Mediterranean (mawali) were subjected to cultural genocide-cum-colonialism by their Arab occupiers and overlords, their languages were extinguished and a political cult was imposed-- through heavy taxation upon them, as well as confiscations.

For the Arab invaders brought with them a Meccan cult of political dominance, of absolutist theocracy. In a small part this was started by a local war-lord Mohamet, later perpetrated by a centuries-long compilation of his so-called sayings in a book called the Coran. This anthology is a borrowing and plagiarism of the Jewish scriptures and some Gnostic Christian texts, all of which are utilised in a fashion which can only be described as gross misunderstanding. Added to this fervent formaldehyde are a number of folk hagiographies called the hadita, which reflect much about the process of colonial cultural-cleansing and are clearly borrowed from Persian and Christian sources when hagiographic and not treating of social regimentation.

It is this fault-riddled book, combined with the nomadic tribal customs and all-too-human thirst for power and plunder, a cult of death, a misunderstanding of monotheism. It became the Little Red Book of the Arab colonialists, imposed with a rigidity and consistency any totalitarian regime cannot but adore.

When speaking of the Dark Ages, a term coined by Gibbon, we should remember that these refer to the chaos in Western Europe caused by the barbarian invasions of the roman Empire, and lasted only 300 years. But we can apply the term to the societies under the Arab yoke. Once the indigenous populations conquered and oppressed by the Arabs had become sufficiently 'Islamized' about the year 1100, the culture petrified. We have endless repetition, intellectual suffocation, legalistic rigidity, to such an extent that in some areas the use of wheeled vehicles disappeared.

The Dark Age of Islam thus runs from A.D. 1100 to the present. The question is how long it will be perpetuated.

The so-called Islamic resurgence, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism has its roots in the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1978-79. The results of that are most sobering: totalitarian oppression. To the wise, who are few, this should be a good lesson in the futility of theocractic polities. In other words, sharia does not work and is dangerous.

This is the great Arab legacy: sand and bloodshed. Europe learned this lesson 500 years ago.

One final note. I am often disturbed by the use of the phrases 'Islamic civilization', 'Islamic art', etc. This is in part due to intellectual laziness and in part to demagoguery.

They are oxymorons. Islamic civilization is merely the continuation of Greco-Roman civilization, of Persian civilization, under the suffocating blanket of Islam, which extinguished it while plundering it. Islamic art is more correctly called Byzanto=Persian Baroque, it is all borrowed. And that is all the Arabs could do, borrow and plunder. The Dome of the Rock, the Damascus Mosque, Qusayr Amra are products of Constantinopolitan artists, not Arab.

Roman / June 30, 2009 11:25 PM

and the Alhambra is the great imitation of Persian gardens not Arabic Gardens, remember, Arabs don't have gardens they used to be until very recently desert dwellers with their camels. Examples of imitation and plunder are countless...

Well-done Roman, you said it all.

Basically, Persian gave Islam the good face, Isfahan the most beautiful city in the heart of Iran, with its majestic mosuqes and breath-taking archtiectures, the jewel of the so called Islamic arts, has NOTHING to do with Islam, it's the monument of the Persian creativity at its best.

Now Islam is showing its ugly face, by those who follow the exact words of the book, Koran, in Iran, look how Ahmadinejad thugs are treating innocent people, this is true Islam, it's bloody, barbaric, savage and backwarded.

@Ahmed, if you think there is no problem in the arab world, and that's why they are not revolting, then perhaps you deserve the barbarism displayed in the Islamic justice system, your illiterate women, your stitched up virgins, your poor human rights record, your dirty cities and your jihad mess. But you don't deserve that, no one does, open your eyes, admire the brave Persians who revolt against such inhuman treatments, salute their thirst for truth and freedom and learn to be cultured, perhaps you never do, you and your type never appreciate the great cultures, it's been thousand of years that you have lived like the way you do, but I'd like to have hopes for the humanity, even the most backwarded is a human and I have faith in the power of reason and compassion in human soul. May truth overcome falsehood, may those who fight for the great values of modern civilisations, such as freedom, equality, justice prevail, may the tireless, well-educated, bright Iranians get their deserved place in the international community and may people like Ahmed (I mean the arab world) get to see and recognise good from bad, barbaric from culture before they die. Amen

Oh, by the way, the people you named were not scientists, besides Averosh is Spanish not an arab, get some education.

Maha / July 1, 2009 5:45 PM

Wow, Maha.. what an unparalleled show of arrogance and racism! (ignorance too, I might add)

Haitham / July 1, 2009 6:52 PM

Once again WOW MAHA and Roman... I am Iranian and i am truly shocked and ashamed by your comments. Haitham I do not know where you are from but i would like to apologize to you and all the Arabs that have participated in this discussion.

Now, i will try to answer Maha and Roman by giving them some academic facts, and by all means i am not trying to degrade our culture, scientists and intellectuals. Iran is an ancient country with sophisticated culture and prominent scientists and intellectuals, but so are Arabs. (A quick read of golden age of Islam might help). In one of your posts you asked if someone could name you one Arab Scientist. I suggest you google it and you will get many names, but to name you a few, Ibn al Haitham born in Basra ( 10th century, the first person who realized light enters the eye rather than leaving it, i am not sure if he was the person who did the first eye surgery, but i am positive that the first eye surgery took place in Arab world if anyone has more information on this matter please correct me), Abu al Qasin al Zahrawi (10th century, born in Cordoba, descended from Ansar Arab, surgeon and chemist...), and the list of the names goes on. I also suggest you do a quick research on a city called Baghdad. Before the fall of the Abbasid this city was the center of culture and education. Unfortunately, mongols destroyed its centers of education and all the libraries as they did in Iran. I also like to mention, when crusaders attacked Arabs, they were amazed by their advanced civilization compared to their own. For instance, Arabs had soap something new to the crusaders in terms of its use.

some where in your posts you mentioned that 60% of Arab women are illiterate. It is true that women account for two thirds of the illiterates in the region, but i would like to mention a positive achievement, which is literacy improvement in six different Arab countries. I will only copy paste from a study i found on this matter:

" Female literacy rates 15 and over, in the Arab world today range from 24 (Iraq) to 85.9 percent (Jordan). Between 1990 and 2000- 2004, six Arab countries ranked above the world average of 76.5%. Bahrain raised it female literacy rate from 74.6% to 84.2%, Jordan from 72.1% to 85.9%, Kuwait from 72.6% to 81%, Lebanon from 73.1% to 82%, Qatar from 76% to 82.3%, and the United Arab Emirates from 70% to 80.7%". Therefore, i disagree with your statement in regards to inability of Arabs in improvement in different matters. I assume you are very proud and fond of Iranian intellectuals, so lets not forget what one of our famous poet Sadi has once said: "Human beings are members of a whole, In creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, Other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, The name of human you cannot retain". If you have faith in Sadi you should realize that instability in Arab countries, which we share close borders with, directly influences us. So i suggest you should either put a positive step forward to solve the region's problems or at least have sympathy for them instead of being merely rude. You cannot appreciate our culture without taking into account one of its most primary and beautiful messages.

I would also like to mention that Arabs pre-date the rise of Islam, what about Arab Christians or Arab Jews, so i guess you are wrongly associating the words Arabs and Islam. But lets talk about Islam and lets make clear from the beginning that i am not religious at all and i do not believe Muhammad was a holy and infallible man. But one of the reasons why Muhammad managed to spread Islam in Arabian Peninsula was the promise of a relative social justice, and he was trusted by his people for his early humanistic acts. For example when Muhammad was young he was among the first who joined a committee to promote some basic human rights, such as better treatment of slaves and women. The first Medina Constitution basically offered tolerance between christians, Jews and Muslims, also he added zakat which is kind of similar to paying taxes. Muslims and men were obviously treated better but lets not forget we are talking about 7th century where female infants were killed. What happened after or whether he did all these out of pure piety is history and my knowledge do not allow me be the judge of that. But i can say that Muhamad was a smart business man also politics and religion is not a good mix.

lastly i think it is important to mention that we should not confuse moderate and peaceful Islam or any religion with Fundamentalism. I believe Iranians are still bitter about the Arab conquest of persia. Two things... it is not the Arabs fault from 21st century that Umar conquered Persia in 7th century. Also, we were the first nation to have a monotheistic religion Zoroastrian, which in ideology in so many ways is similar to Islam; and therefore vulnerable in leaning towards fundamentalism. Maybe we would have been in a better situation if we were not a religious country and definitely we would have been better off if we had a secular government. but so what... we should now do our best to promote tolerance in Iran, and also we should accept the fact that we are a relatively religious country. Your statements reminds me of the Huntington's writings on "clash of civilizations" which can be very dangerous to humanity. In contrast to that Khatami aimed to promote "Dialogue between civilizations", which is a call to humanity to solve the enmities, and promote tolerance and democracy. Democracy is a two way road and the practice of it should start within each one of us. We cannot have dictator families and individuals and want democracy and freedom. The change has to be from bottom to top rather that top to bottom. If you cannot tolerate other religions and races and if you are not able to have a peaceful discussion with certain groups of people then Iranians have not even passed the first level to achieve democracy, freedom and equality. This article "Why do Arabs not revolt" is an objective analysis, and more importantly it is based on facts rather than emotions. So i think you guys Maha and Roman have kind of missed the point.

Roman: if you are only calling people from Arabian Peninsula Arabs you are very much mistaken. Read history of Islam then you will realize that the center of power in arab world after the Rightly Guided Caliphate shifts to syria and then Baghdad, and eventually to Turkey.

Elnaz / July 2, 2009 11:50 AM

Roman i am not saying the historical facts that you have given are wrong but i am generally against harsh language and at some point of history us and the region in general have gotten mixed with Arabs.... i was mostly shocked with Maha's comments not yours. I just did not get the relevance of your comments to the article, since i thought the article is talking about contemporary politics rather than early Islam and medieval period and do not see why anyone should degrade the other...and by the details you gave in your writings i guess you don't need to go read the history you probably already know it.

Elnaz / July 2, 2009 12:26 PM

Returning to the original article we are commenting upon, I think the islamic concept of fitna has much to do with the horrendous plight of Arabs and their oppressed colonials. Fitna is 'conflict', it is sedition within the cult, fragmentation, undermining of the hold of the status quo (the sunna and more extremely, salafi). This is again a nomadic concept: the unity of the tribe must be preserved and enforced for reasons of survival in a desert. The legal or clerical leaders of the cult, the ulema, fear fitna more than anything else. Listen again to the Friday Sermon of Khamei... it is spewing full of warnings against fitna.

Essentially the core documents of islam negate and disparage the past, the present and earthly future. Everything is geared to the attainment of a heavenly paradisos, a Persian garden replete with flowing waters, comfortable couches, virginal maidens, pretty boys of 'perpetual freshness handsome as pearls' (Coran 52,24; 56,17; 76,19) and wine (76,22)!


Hence all is geared to a vertical axis, to an absolute and unchanging Tawh'id (Oneness of the divinity). The lack of horizontality in society which results from this creates a passivity, a conformity, an acceptance of the leadership, which enforces its power in the name of a deity by acts of strength (be they legislation and enforcement of custom, the perpetuation of ignorance by a prohibition of innovation (bid'a), or by means of apartheid (dhimmitude)-- and internally by the subjugation of women, and taxation (jizya). This lack of horizontality created a society of discontent passives, who project the ills of their own communality on to a scapegoat, be it 'The West', 'The Crusaders', or 'Western society', or even more absurdly "The Jews". What is not thought of by these passive-aggressives is intro-spection, that the 'fault' may be in themselves. Critical self-examination is not one of the five fundamentals of islam, acceptance and surrender to the will of allat is: Not a great advance in human civilization. Root ideas do matter.

I look at history much as a geologist or evolutionary biologist--there is a long track of development, ideas do not 'just appear' they are not faxed down from heaven to illiterates, written down on camel and goat bones and palm leaves. They develop in specific historical and cultural contexts, everywhere and always: no exceptions. I attempt to get to the roots of things, metaphor: as a good gardener pulls weeds by their roots, not by the top frills.

I am a scholar trained in Classical philology, Akkadian, Syrian, Hebrew, Ugartic and textual criticism, manuscript transmission, orthography and construction of ideas. I am also an historian and have read deeply in Late Antique and Islamic history and theology, as well as European history.

Elnaz, you forget one thing, perhaps it is a result of a certain disparagement of pre-Islamic civilizations, that the East Roman Empire was a very highly cultured and advanced society, at a level not to be reached anywhere in the world until Europe in the 18th century, what was destroyed by the Arabs was more than what they subsequently built upon, copied and took over from that apogee of Civilization. The Arab conquests set human progress back, without them the unity of the Roman world would have gone on and developed. They destroyed that development, and then were left behind in the dust. (Now there's a nutshell description!!) Coda: this sowing of disunity by Mohammad was the reason Dante placed the man he considered a Christian heretic in the lowest circle of Hell, split from mouth to anus, in the jaws of Satan.

Ad rem:

Democracy is an idea. It is a Greek idea. It is an English and American idea. It has developed. Democracy for an Athenian in 500 B.C. is not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind. Ideas are not universally available from a mail-order catalogue. To move towards democracy the nations of Europe and America had to cordon off a traditional cultural idea--religion: the separation of Church and State. It was a struggle which engaged Europe since 1100 (the conflict with Frederick Barbarossa), but more bloodily since the 1560's, culminating in the Enlightenment (c. 1700), the American and French revolutions--and beyond.

I see the politico-cultic imposition of 'surrender' upon the peoples of the East Mediterranean by the Arab conquistadors, along with their nomadic ethos, nomadic language, as the root cause of the debility of those peoples today. Conversely, their liberation will only come from two sources: Western technology and Western civil values. Technology will give them telephones (forbidden by the Wahhibiya imams in service to the dictator ibn Saud in Arabia until 1936), internet, twitter, blogs, DVD's, advertisements and porn (with popcorn and Coca Cola). Western values will come through the spread of Western languages, education (real critical education, not memorizing an 8th century plagiarism), and total separation of Church and State. Religion will have to become, as it is in the civilized, civic, world a matter of purely personal choice, taste and feeling, totally separate and excluded from the political sphere. This will be a great paradigm change for followers of Mohammadeanism, as the cult was political from its origins. The Chinese have effected this change by giving up on Marxism (their form of religion), but they still have a way to go. I look at my four year-old and hope that someday perhaps he will look at his grandchildren while a Lesbian is Pope of Rome and likewise the imam of Mekka is a Lesbian. Now that would be just so divine! ?

Elnaz, YES!! I AM saying that Arabian nomads conquered the Egyptians, Iranians, Mesopotamians, Syrians--Sassanians and East Romans. Read what I wrote carefully--the imposition of Arabian language (something carried out by the 'Abbasids mostly), and tribal customs through "surrender" (in Arabic this is "islam"). The modern notion of pan-Arabism has proved to be a miserable failure and illusion. The notion of pan-islamism is also a delusion. The notion of the dar-al-islam is merely a tool of tyranny, which is the political sine-qua-non of Mohammadeanism.

Also, the Umayyads and 'Abbasids are both Arabs, from the Arabian tribes. I seem to know a small amount of history. The caliphate was effectively a broken toy by 900, with Fatmids in Lybia, Umayyads in Spain, 'Abbasids in Irak all claiming the title. Later even a Turk would claim it. Look at the end of the Umayyads - a whole tribe wiped out by as-Saffah, not the merciful, but the bloodthirsty. This is the islamic polity in action!

So what will be the future of peoples under the Mohammadean yoke? Will they become sufficiently 'Westernized" or 'globalized', as have the Chinese, the Japanese, most of Latin America and Russia to have a significant place in the future, or will they sink into the glory of the past, dreaming of something that never was, that never will be and is destined to the trash-heap of history? It is their choice, but we won't tolerate a nuclear mistake.

Roman / July 3, 2009 3:13 AM

What an honest presentation of fact. It coincides well with the Muslims whining about 200 years of Western European crusades(1095 to 1261AD) when Islamic armies invaded Western Europe regularly from 701 to 1683AD a period of 1000 years or six times longer than the period the crusades spanned

Richard Kadas / July 3, 2009 10:31 AM

why does anyone revolt?

instead of binding the question to history and culture, i would recommend to bring it into conection with the contempory situation in a country. people revolt when they see an alternative and have a good guess of the reasons for their problems.

First: arabs do revolt. all the time they do. it just does not seem to get anywhere - but maybe they do not know their true enemy. can you believe it: its not realy israel. its not western culture either. Its on the socond thought western oeconomics input on the arab world. But first: the enemy of the arabs is their own arab authorities. wallertein has pointed out that we all (also) live in a world system: arab dynasties are living (draw their power) from the basic goods (yes it's also oil)they deliver to the west in exchange for industrial und postindustrial products of capitalistic countries. this trade system tends to arrest technological development in the arab world, is keeping the arab masses poor and uneducated and ensures magnificent profits for a very small elite, that at the same time gains the power to keep the masses down (armed forces, police, secret police...). antisemitism and unreflected hate towards the west are the additional tools to distract people from theirs true enemies: the semifeudalistic regimes that rule large parts of the arab world.

I believe arabs will revolt. But first they need to know against who and for what reason. It might take a process. but I'm convinced arabs are functioning just the same way like all other human beeings on this blue dot. they will not let themselves be fooled forever.

why do people iran revolt? Because they - other then the arab world - live in a rather high developed industrial society. Their materialistic enviroment is simply different from the one of the arab world. Therefore their minds work different as well: They are educatetd to a far greater extend. They are on a high intellectual level. They are - other then many arabs - equipped with a clear picture of their true enemy and they discussing useful alternatices to to the system of goverment they have at the time. Last but not least: The women in the country - in all of the benefits stated above - make no exeption from the male part of society. Every Revolution that had an equal support af women got better chances to turn out to be succesful. (a longer subject, but I mean it absolutly serious.)

But I would not be so sure, that the reasons for the situation in Iran have too much do with culture. I am a German. We are respected for our technology all over this globe (disagreement taken). When Darius ruled the Persian Empire - we were running nacked trough the woods. How does that fit into a general idea of a helpful cultural herritage? I don't think it matters all too much who build exactly which garden some centuries ago (maybe it matters to cheer people up) - what realy matters is only what you know about - and what you do: with your today...



Mark / July 3, 2009 11:12 AM

@roman (wrote:):

"Democracy is an idea. It is a Greek idea. It is an English and American idea. It has developed. Democracy for an Athenian in 500 B.C. is not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind. Ideas are not universally available from a mail-order catalogue. To move towards democracy the nations of Europe and America had to cordon off a traditional cultural idea--religion: the separation of Church and State. It was a struggle which engaged Europe since 1100 (the conflict with Frederick Barbarossa), but more bloodily since the 1560's, culminating in the Enlightenment (c. 1700), the American and French revolutions--and beyond."

Point taken. But I like to add: Democray is not just an idea - that develops by pure will and struggle out of the will. It is also a form of goverment that fits to a certain phase of technological development. That is why democracy itself has constantly changed - as a picture, but also in reality. Ideas make sense one time and less or no sense the next time. The greek democracy was the ruling of the few over the many (slaves). The "return" of democracy in the city-states of the late middle ages was an outlook on the capatalistic age. The english/ american / french democray was the slow breaktrough for the kapitalistic age. The reason lies not only in the courage of the people that gave their blood for this idea - it also lies in the simple fact, that you can not rule an industrial society with a feudalistic power. It is the million opinions, the "diskurs" (Habermas) between them that makes a modern society function. Last but not least: I guess there will be a point in the future, when also the representive system of democracy has had its time and only a more direct democray can go on to handle the complexity of our future lives.

Mark / July 3, 2009 11:34 AM

I just want to say that it seems that Elknaz is a muslim person who is supporting the Iranian regime, so her comments should be taken with a pinch of salt, and none of her figures about muslim literacy is true, is made up, she hasn't mentioned any source and I couldn't find any on the internet. She is obviously very religious and wants to defend the backwarded Islam.

We here criticising the inhumane and brutal aspects of arabic/ilmaic cultrue and whoever that tries to justify those is either blind or dogmatic.

About the article, my point was arabs haven't reached the intellectual maturity to revolt and by granting them false historical scientific and cultural credit we are in the west telling them they and their cultural practices are fine, which they are not actually, beheading, forced marriages, illiterate women, segregated practices, anti-women rules, and harsh Islamic justice system are INHUMANE and needs to be changed by the enlightened and educated people and arabs have not simply reached to that stage yet. That's my view and no one should apologize on my behalf, I meant every word that I said above, Elnaz should be apologetic about her own attachment towards such a barbaric religion of Islam.

Maha / July 3, 2009 12:05 PM

I have followed all the above comments. I think Maha has a point and she is not a racisit or anything like that, she is a passionate librated woman who is brave enough to criticize the wrong practises of Islamic culture that Arab muslims practice. At this difficult time that Iranians are beaten in the streets of Tehran by basijis and their Arab supporters; Lebanese and Palestinian militias, I think that it's impossible a conscientious, patriotic Iranian, who is in their right mind would go out of their way (like the person who calls themselves Elnaz have) to fabricate facts about Arabs contributions to Islam. I am sure anyone who is so hot about Arabs, right now cannot be a Persian, I cannot believe that 'Elnaz' is actually Iranian, Maha, this person who is so blinded that goes in to details to give (forged) figures similar to the Scandinavian literacy rate for Arab women is an Arab herself/himself and a racisits one.

Maha's only crime has been to criticize a culture, not certain group of people who happen to be Arab and practice that culture, this is not racism, Arab muslims practices of their every day life is barbaric, due to their lack of education. Cultural relativism that says all cultures are equal is very wrong, some cultures and practices are anti-human and should be criticized and dealt with.

Darious / July 3, 2009 2:12 PM

The numbers i gave are close to literacy rate in Scandinavian Countries?? I have to say you are WRONG again. The literacy rate in these countries are almost 100% (99.0%). i think if they read your message they will be insulted. If you read what i wrote carefully i have mentioned that literacy rate in Arab World is very low and there are only 6 countries which have significantly improved...Darious it seems that the only thing you know about Arab World is Hamas and Hizbullah which is really close to G.W.Bush mentality.

and Maha i did not make those numbers up u can follow the link... or just type illiteracy rate in arab world and this comes up in the first page i'm really sorry that you didn't even try to look it up and accuse me of lying and NO i am not a muslim person who is supporting the regime i just happen to like peace. this article is about contemporary issues in Middle East and has nothing to do with the arguments you gave. i bet you didnt even read the article and just wrote whatever. so i have nothing to say to you guys anymore. your ignorance leave me speechless...


Elnaz / July 5, 2009 10:01 AM

Roman i think you are over simplifying the whole Muslim and Arab world. you are looking at Islam as a static religion that has not changed at all over the history. cultures, religion...are dynamic and cannot stay the same. the issues of for instance, Ijtihad nad Taglid that you are talking about have been questioned as early as 12th century, and especially after 18th century and therefore eache group has different stands on matters of ijtihad, taqlid, secularism, westernization, womens right... and so on and so forth. some are fundamentalist some are traditionalist some modernist and they all take the early islamic ideology as a way to prove they are right so this is to say humans have different interpretation and this has led the muslims to be divided into many different groups...so it seems to me that you are over simplifying and generalizing.

I am familiar with pre-islamic history in east roman empire and persia, we were at constant wars and wasn't that the reason we had become weak and therefore conquered?

so i have to agree with Mark. He basically wrote what i have been wanting to say in 2 lines. this article is about contemporary politics in the region and i dont think you can answer why arabs do not revolt this simple. so i still do not see the relevance of your arguments with the main question even though i agree with some of the things you say. To me it is more plausible to answer this question by presenting illiteracy rate, poverty, palestinian and israel war that has basically crippled the region, the fact that boundaries of countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq are not natural and have been drawn and so on and so forth. and also the argument of the article is a good one too. So i guess it is the sum of many reasons and yours can be a small part of it but can not be all of. and also are you under the impression that all the Arab Countries are under theocracy?

Elnaz / July 5, 2009 10:40 AM

Everybody marches to their own beat.

Daedalus / July 5, 2009 11:21 AM

Because Arabs are cowardly. They abuse their women and children. They cowardly send children with suicide vests to die. They cowardly

allow terrorists to operate and recruit,unopposed in their communities Most support the terrorist's causes, but I have yet to figure out any???

In fact, the vast majority of Arabs seem to be caught in a time warp.

Evolution seems to have past them by. Most Arabs seem to be stuck in the Stone Age with no desire and/or will to improve their societies

or the lives of their people.

Take a page from FDR- "We have nothing to fear, but fear itself."

Jack / July 5, 2009 11:24 AM

Its difficult to overcome tyranny when the bad guys have all the guns. Talk means nothing when facing the barrel of a gun and no defense.

wsd / July 6, 2009 4:17 PM

I attempt to look at the root, the base, causes of the crisis in the Middle East.

Bluntly this is the pernious spread of a false ideology, a political cult which in ALL its beliefs and origins is based on false premises, false ideas.

It has set back the indigenous peoples of the Middle East to a nomadic status... with cell phones!

Until that falsity is shown for what it is, they will continue to live in barbarity, or emigrate to the West, leaving the dirt behind them, if they are provident. But wash that dirt well, dude.

It might be helpful if Mohammadeanists were to ask themselves, why has Judeo-Christian-Helleno-European civilisation been so uniquely successful, advanced, wonderful and free? What are the root causes of that? What is there in the philiosphical, religious and cultural nexus which is that civilsation which fosters all this?? The Chinese, Africans, et cetera can ask the same question of themselves.

I find it naively and charmingly useless to point up 'the greats of Islam' when clearly they are flashes in the pan, false gold, which did not develop: they were sterile. Why is that?

Then look at themselves, and ask what is it in this politico-cult which has formed their societies which has left them on the dump-heap of history? Why should they continue to accept it?

Perhaps in 500 years the Mohammadeanist falsity will catch up, or disappear.

History is not about dates, or flashes in the pan, it is about ideas. Dates and flashes in the pan are the stuff of sociology, or philosophy without a backbone, or multi-cultural relativism (aka wishy-washy sentimentalism), which is to say a lack of clarity of thought.

Roman / July 7, 2009 5:18 PM