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Iran, Arabs and longing for the past

Iranians and Arabs long for the peace, reconciliation and unity of the 1960s and 1970s

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Iranians and Arabs long for the peace, reconciliation and unity of the 1960s and 1970s, which they have lost due to political developments. Things changed following Iran’s revolution, when extremists seized power.

Cairo, Tehran, Riyadh, Kuwait, Beirut and other Middle Eastern capitals were very different than they are today, as people seemed more civilized and streets seemed safer. When those born after that period compare their cities then and now, they find it difficult to believe so much has changed.

When was Tehran happier, in the early 1970s or in the 21st century? Cairo looks worn out today, but was a city of joy and creativity during the times of presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat. This generation’s aspirations are not that different from what their parents enjoyed. They are simple ambitions. How ironic that the future they hope for is the past.

Chinese example

Tehran, Cairo, Riyadh and other cities suffer from religious extremism. Our region is not the first to go through this. China suffered from communist extremism, which was falsely called “the cultural revolution.”

This generation’s aspirations are not that different from what their parents enjoyed. They are simple ambitions. How ironic that the future they hope for is the past

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

In 1966, communists led by Mao Zedong led an “awakening,” not against the enemies of communism but against their own communist comrades, whom they considered less committed than they were.

The Communist Party exploited youths to impose extremist ideas on society, pursued parents and teachers, collected books and burnt them, and destroyed many of China’s cultural symbols and historical monuments. Their cars roamed the streets and propagated Zedong’s slogans, calling on people to pursue those who do not abide by his teachings.

Chinese public opinion later voiced its rejection of what happened, as seen by the correctional movement that tried the leaders of the awakening and held them accountable. After that China changed, as did the people’s ideas, and their relations with one another and the world.

People want to live happily - this does not mean they are less religious, and it does not compromise traditions. There will come a day when someone from within the Iranian regime itself will lead a movement that takes them back to the era of the 1960s and 1970s, and gets rid of religious extremism. The same will happen in the Arab world.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 1, 2016.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

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