Why don’t Arabs learn from others’ experiences?

Mohammed Al Shaikh
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The intelligent Arab politician should carefully study two countries: Afghanistan that has a predominantly Sunni population and Iran with its Shiite orientation. I believe that both models prove that Islam is first and foremost a religion, faith and worship. However, if ideologized politicians deviate religion from its purpose, politicize it and make dubious interpretations of its texts, like what the Sunni Taliban and Shiite Iranians have done, the result will be exactly like what’s happening in these two countries.

Afghanistan was a relatively developed country, particularly when compared to its neighbors, before being invaded by the Soviet Union and before people in rural areas were mobilized to resist the Soviets. Education was flourishing and some Westerners greatly admired it to the point that they called it “Switzerland of the East.”


One of the consequences of the Cold War and the covert conflict that played out between the two superpowers at the time in Afghanistan was the decline of educated enlightening intellectuals and the rise of ignorant bloody mujahedeen and their control over the society in cities and rural areas. This took the country hundreds of years backwards.

Afghanistan has been suffering from fierce battles and continuous conflicts until this day. Despite Taliban fighters’ religious appearance and their raising of the banner of jihad, their behavior proved to be as far as it can be from the teachings and values of Islam. They have engaged in the production and promotion of drugs in a way that has turned this Islamized country into a center for disease, hunger, poverty and all the manifestations of the failed state. It has become one of the most backward and poorest countries in the world, in addition to being bereft of security and stability.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is another example of a politically Islamized state but this is the Shiite version. Before Khomeini’s revolution, Iran seemed in line to become another Turkey. It promoted secularism at an accelerated pace. Since it surpasses Turkey in its natural resources, such as in gas and oil, development could have been quicker and easier than Ataturk’s experience in Turkey.

If Islam is politicized by opportunists and made into a tool for deceiving people, then the outcome for countries governed by Islamized leaders will either be like the Iranian model or the Taliban model.

Mohammed Al Shaikh

Before Khomeini’s revolution, Iran was among the top oil producing countries with Saudi Arabia. It had a flourishing tourism sector that contributed to more than 10% in revenues to the country’s GDP. It can be said that if it had not been for some mistakes in the way the Shah governed and if he had stayed in power for 10 more years, Iran would have upstaged Turkey in many fields.

However, the Iranians’ rush behind the religious leader Khomeini and believing his promises slid Iran back by tens years as the nation’s gross national product hit rock bottom, employment and poverty shot up and tourism virtually vanished, making over 40% of the Iranians fall below the poverty line. Moreover, figures announced by the Iranian authorities on the spread of drugs indicate that it is on the verge of becoming a social epidemic.

All the above prove a fact that researchers cannot overlook and which is if Islam is politicized by opportunists and made into a tool for deceiving people, then the outcome for countries governed by Islamized leaders will either be like the Iranian model or the Taliban model. As for Turkey, Erdogan tries to project it to the naïve as an Islamic political experience but the Turkish constitution clearly stipulates it is a secular state. The article on secularism in the Turkish constitution is a peremptory article, i.e. it can never be violated or amended.

The question I always raise is: If experience is always the best evidence, why do so many Arabs overlook this and insist on repeating the experience of Afghanistan and Iran, even as they see the results in front of them?

This article is also available in Arabic.

Mohammed Al Shaikh is a Saudi writer with al-Jazirah newspaper. He tweets @alshaikhmhmd

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