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We must prepare Arab youth to be effective leaders

Bakir Oweida

Published: Updated:

It is impossible to fix the future without reconciling it with the past. How can the Arab societies that have witnessed civil wars or entered into wars with their neighbors build better relations among their future leaders if the legacy of hostility is passed from one generation to another?

Knowledge of the latest ideas about politics and society will not, by itself, prepare the youth for a better future. In fact, this should be accompanied by reconciliation between the new generation of future leaders. Otherwise, these leaders will find themselves governed by the legacy of today’s enmities.

For example, how would the future leaders of Iraq, who are now in their 20s and 30s, be able to advance Iraq in 2020 or 2030 if they are bequeathed the same political and social legacy that is playing out today in the shape of massacres and suicide operations?

Is it possible to imagine Libya in 2020 making steady progress towards 2030 if its future is dominated by the legacy of today’s rivalries? Does not the same apply to all Arab societies that have been witnessing political violence since the middle of the 20th century? Have not those who have provoked violence and whose theories were behind that violence claimed they would create social progress, while in fact they have taken these societies on a backward path?

Our goal

Without doubt, our goal of improving the situation of today’s youth so that they become able to perform better in the future presents us a challenge: It makes it necessary to shake off some of the ideas and structures of the past, both as individuals and in society at large. Those who develop a fear of the sea after having survived a shipwreck will not be able to swim again. Societies that experience a civil war or enter into war with their neighbors will not make progress on the path of reconciliation, whether with themselves or with their adversaries, as long as they remain filled with apprehension. They must move away from forging alliances according to the opportunistic principle that says “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” which often ends in disaster.

As long as politicians in the Arab world remain unable to accept any degree of criticism, it will not be possible to come to terms with the past

Bakir Oweida

However, reconciling the present to the legacy of the past cannot be achieved just by signing agreements among counties, sects or groups within society. Rather, that process begins at home, in school curricula, and in relations among students and teachers, as well as within institutions from all parts of society.

In the same context, it can be said that as long as politicians in the Arab world remain unable to accept any degree of criticism, it will not be possible to come to terms with the past or guarantee a safe path to the future. Of course, there is a difference between calm and objective criticism on the one hand and sharp satire, which no politician anywhere can handle, on the other.

On Oct.19, I watched Sir David Frost’s documentary about political satire over the past 50 years. The show featured several prominent satirists, including John Stewart of The Daily Show, the show that inspired Bassem Youssef’s al-Barnameg. I have noticed that all satirists agree on the fact that politicians have an aversion to satire.

Of course, it is no different in the Arab world. The scenario has been repeated with the return of Youssef’s show, and speculation that the new situation in Egypt will mean satire is prohibited, whether from Youssef or anyone else. Many people—and I am one of them—hope this will not happen, so that our young leaders laying the foundation for a better future do not lose hope.

This article was first published in al-Sharq al-Awsat on Nov. 2, 2013.

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Bakir Oweida is a journalist who has worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for the Opinions section, until December 2003. He can be reached on bakir@hotmail.co.uk and bakir@darbakir.com

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.