When the Arab Spring began, many top thinkers and analysts started to write asking what was the reason behind the uprising. The Arab Spring started in Tunisia and subsequently spread to Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Syria with small-scale riots in some Arab countries.
We saw hundreds of live reports on TV and read thousands of pages in the Arab and world media. But, no one gave at least one real reason for the Arab Spring. Many accused foreign hands of being behind the uprising and conspiracy theories were the top choice of many Arab think tanks.
To my surprise, many media and think tank analysts didn’t know that the reason for the Arab Spring and the Arabs' backwardness in terms of science and political stability was very simple and a question by a Saudi teenage boy, Basel Al Thunayan, who is only 14 years old, said it all. His question was, why does a small country like Israel have 870 libraries while many Arab countries have less than one tenth of that number? This is a billion-dollar question that should have been asked by Arab thinkers, rather than a 14-year-old boy from Saudi Arabia. The presence of many libraries reflect how the people behave and how educated they are and how advanced a particular country is. Libraries are the place to read about others and to think on your own.
The Arab world's recent uprising didn’t take place because a foreign hand wanted it to happen. It is because many people in the Arab world always look at the past and not the present or what can be done for their future generations. People saw change of governments, but at the end of the day they want changes of many systems. There has to be drastic changes to the education system in the Arab world otherwise the sacrifices of many people will be wasted. The education system in the Arab world is designed to prepare graduates for government jobs which is a coverup for unemployment. The Arab world has to set up research centers and help the students think not just read and read until they memorize the books. Yes, memorizing a book will get you a degree, but will not help you or help your country advance.
Also, one very important problem in the Arab world which should be dealt with in a dramatic way — that is population growth. Many Arab countries such as Egypt and Yemen have very high birth rates, but the health care facilities are inadequate to cope with the population growth. Many children in this region are sick from the day they are born. Tuberculosis and Hepatitis B are common among young children. The Arab world has to get rid of poverty, diseases, poor education, weak infrastructures and unemployment before wasting time on political issues.
The Arab Spring started not because the West was behind it, it happened because we never planned for the future or worked out better solutions to guarantee better life for our future generations. We only have to look at the past if we want to learn from it. There are many issues that should be solved once and for all without taking personal interests into account. It is very sad to see people from the Arab world being the highest in number among refugees or people leaving their own countries out of despair, even though their countries have immense wealth. We see millions of talented and highly educated Iraqis outside Iraq even though Iraq is one of the richest countries in the world with many different sources of income. They have water, fertile land, huge oil and gas reserves and very highly educated and hard working people.
Also, the Arab states have to solve the Palestinians' refugee issue. The world will not continue to provide financial aid forever. There are serious talks in the United Nations regarding who is a Palestinian refugee and who is not. There are many countries in the United Nations who want to consider only the 1948 Palestinians as refugees. And with simple calculation, this means that the youngest Palestinian refugee is 64 years old, the rest of the Palestinians are not considered refugees, even though they have no place to go to.
The most recent news concerning the Palestinians, which was the main Arab headline, was the announcement by Suha Arafat, the wife of the former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, that her husband had died of poisoning. She said she wanted to show the Arabs and Muslim world that her husband was poisoned by a radioactive material. I understand her grievances, but why now and why do we always look at the past. The questions to Suha Arafat could be: Since when did you start paying attention to the Palestinian cause; why did you leave the country to live abroad and why did you revoke your Palestinian passport? Also, how come no one ever saw you visiting a Palestinian refugee camp? Suha Arafat should have addressed the issue of refugees because it is the main point of the Palestinian agony.
Suha Arafat and many others in the Arab world have to know that using the Palestinian issue as a cheap ticket for fame and political gain is over.
Thousands of lives have been lost and billions of dollars wasted on this issue but the Palestinians are still living miserable lives in refugee camps.
In the nutshell, it is very important for Arab countries to act. They should set new standard for libraries. These days there is no room for unnecessary censorship. It is the Internet age and nothing can remain hidden. And there is no reason for hiding the truth, because sooner or later, even an Arab teenager will know the truth.
(This article first published in Arab News on July 14, 2012)