'Yes Men' taking over as the Middle East elite
Eroding the middle class effectively erodes a society’s existence as a people
The middle class should account for a given population’s largest demographic, and define it as a society. Eroding the middle class effectively erodes a society’s existence as a people. Meanwhile, the elite are, traditionally, the leaders. They set the stage for the future, inspiring, setting direction, leading. Eliminating the elite effectively eliminates a society’s future.
Unfortunately, however, it seems the elite have been all but eliminated from our part of the world. They’ve been replaced by an almost comical army of “Yes Men”. This particular strain of parasite, as far as I can tell, is a relatively new one – and it seems to come in two versions. First, there are the lap-ies, who sit on the laps of powerful and agree with everything and anything they say – even when they know they shouldn’t.
The second version of this parasite has its own unique term in Arabic: the “tabaalla”. The role of the tabaalla (literally translated as “drummers”) is to bang on drums and make sure that the main act is noticed. It is a very loud but minor role, which has been around for a long time in many Middle Eastern cultures, traditionally existing exclusively in the entertainment industry. Today, however, it seems to have become a key role in every industry in the Middle East that I can think of.
The sage wisdom of the elite is being replaced, across the region, by the nodding agreement of lap-ies, and the comic fanfare of the tabaalla. In fact, the GCC might well have the highest number of lap-ies and tabaalla per capita in the world – a dubious honour, even if it could earn us a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Our elite today, at least the vast majority of them, no longer seem to meet any of the traditional, time-honored criteria that defined the respected elite of the pastKhalid Abdulla-Janahi
Our elite today, at least the vast majority of them, no longer seem to meet any of the traditional, time-honored criteria that defined the respected elite of the past. Instead, they almost all seem to be Yes Man clones. They are no longer the ones that offer unique solutions to contemporary challenges; not the ones offering constructive criticism, or new ways of doing things; not the ones that inspire and lead; and certainly not the ones that question the status quo.
These nodding lap-ies and comic tabaalla Yes Men have taken over as our modern day elite, conforming, not challenging, following, not leading, all the while clapping comically and nodding blindly.
This has to be one of the world’s oldest professions, but that it’s now taking over our elite is very concerning. Make no mistake - for some people it is definitely a profession. This, in turn, has been one of the key elements, and a powerful catalyst, in the major degeneration we’ve witnessed across the region.
I’m not talking about harmless flattery, or even genuine adoration that exists in all cultures, and may even serve a positive purpose. I mean the parasitic behavior of certain individuals who attach themselves to people of power, feeding off their influence and giving nothing in return, just as a mosquito will draw blood from its host.
Such people exist merely to cement their own place in a social hierarchy, at the expense of everyone, including their masters. Most shameful of all, is that these bloodsuckers often come from the upper echelons of society, sometimes by birth, and other times through genuine achievement.
There are, of course, exceptions, but overall we seem to be taking backwards steps. We seem to be patting our lap-ies on the back, and celebrating our tabaalla, while punishing, persecuting or otherwise driving away our elite.
That, in my opinion, is something we should all be very concerned about because it doesn’t promise a very bright future. A disappearing middle class is tragic - but a disappearing elite, that is truly terrifying.
Khalid Abdulla-Janahi was elected Vice Chairman of WEF's Arab Business Council (2003 to 2007). He was also the Co-Chair of WEF's Global Agenda Council on the Middle East up to 2011. He is the Group Chief Executive of Dar Al Maal Al Islami, a Chairman of Solidarity Group Holding and the Chairman of Naseej. Khalid is based in Geneva.