The recent clashes in Egypt - due to increasing sectarian, doctrinal and ethnic alignments within and among Arab countries - reveal a problem regarding the concept of citizenship that they have faced ever since independence.
Authoritarian conservative regimes - whether republican, monarchic, nationalist or leftist - have all, to varying degrees, destroyed the concept of citizenship and deepened, intentionally and unintentionally, sectarian and ethnic identities and loyalties in societies mostly formed from a complicated human mosaic.
Authoritarian conservative regimes - whether republican, monarchic, nationalist or leftist - have all, to varying degrees, destroyed the concept of citizenship and deepened, intentionally and unintentionally, sectarian and ethnic identitiesHisham Melhem
Conservative monarchies have wrapped themselves in an Islamist cloak (specifically Sunni), and marginalized or discriminated against non-Sunni Muslims.
Nationalist Arab regimes have raised their rhetoric and practices to the level of chauvinism, and marginalized, discriminated against, and sometimes resorted to violence and murder against minorities that are deeply-rooted in the Arab world, such as Kurds, Amazigh, Christians, Jews, Alawites, Druze and others.
Absenting citizenship, mistreating minorities, and dealing with people in sectarian terms are the reasons that there is a Sunni-Shiite alignment unprecedented in the modern history of the Middle East, where members of each sect demonize the other. Even uprisings that have led to the toppling of tyrannical regimes, including in Egypt, have failed to revive the concept of citizenship in a civil state that treats its citizens equally, whatever their ethnicity.
The fall of these uprisings in the hands of Islamist movements has contributed to Christian-Muslim tension in Egypt, and helped the Syrian regime turn a peaceful revolution into armed opposition that Islamist organizations (some of which are fanatic Salafis) are major components. Sectarian and doctrinal grudges are dominant in Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and, to a lesser extent, other countries in the Arabian Peninsula.
Religious and ethnic minorities in the countries of the region do not need the majorities’ ‘protection’ and ‘tolerance.’ This implies that these minorities are either not equal in terms of citizenship rights, or are immature.
This article was first published in Lebanon-based Annahar on April 11, 2013.
Hisham Melhem is the Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. Melhem's writings appear in publications ranging from the literary journal Al-Mawaqef to the LA Times, as well as in magazines such as Foreign Policy and Middle East Report. Melhem focuses on U.S.-Arab relations, political Islam, Arab-Israeli issues, media in the Arab World, Arab images in American media. In addition, Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. Twitter: @Hisham_Melhem