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Who are the New Arabs? You. And us. Open in fullscreen

Azmi Bishara

Who are the New Arabs? You. And us.

The New Arab was born of revolution [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 November, 2014

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A new generation is emerging, seeking a revolutionary path that relies on neither army nor imam. This is a struggle against authoritarianism and the social and cultural backwardness on which despotism is based.

A human being cannot be shaped or reshaped according to some physical or philosophical blueprint. All well-known historical efforts to "build the new human" have ended in disaster.

As for us, we have not, thank God, yet been afflicted with totalitarian regimes capable of shaping a new Arab individual.

Rather, we are merely beset with worn-out authoritarian regimes capable only of deforming what came before - corrupting their legacies, repressing dignity and personality in order to subjugate. When repression occurs in the context of backwardness, it is usually expressed as physical and verbal violence.

Since no political administration has emerged that is capable of forming al-Araby al-Jadeed - "the New Arab" - through any form of inevitably disastrous social engineering; and since an entire generation has been consumed by long-held dreams of revolution and subsequent disappointment, the principle features of such a new Arab individual have grown up outside the context of manifestos or programmes, and are being shaped by practical action by means of a struggle that rejects the situation Arabs find themselves in and challenges the intellectual discourse of our times.

A New Arab Era 

At last, we catch a glimpse of a new era in the shape of the individual who has had enough of subjugation by a tired, corrupt authoritarianism, and has rebelled against the forces of repression, rejecting backwards bureaucracy and the system of theft known as clientelism.

     We catch a glimpse of a new era in the shape of the individual who has had enough.


During 2011 and 2012, there appeared the features of an Arab who refuses to be subjugated in the face of physical violence, who longs to enjoy the rights of citizenship and who calls for values such as dignity and freedom - the basic condition of which being that one's life should not be preoccupied with struggling to meet one's basic needs.

Hence, the demands that arose were for bread, freedom and dignity. These are the features, not only of a new Arab era, but of a modern Arab era.

Before the moral and material forces of the past closed ranks, we heard the new Arab era satirising the hyperbolic rhetoric and grand ideologies behind which petty rulers and their relatives hid. We noted in amazement that this new Arab era stuck to its Arab identity in the face of sectarianism, while eschewing nationalist identities and publicly supporting both democracy and Palestine.

It craved modern developed countries without neoliberal economic theory, social justice without communist ideology, democracy without the abandonment of cultural Arabism - and a policy which recognises the centrality of Palestine, which symbolises adherence to justice and a rejection of colonialism.

We saw young people calling for civil rights without being bewitched by Israel's perversion of democracy, and adhering to their Arab identities without a pan-Arab fanaticism directed against other cultures or ethnicities. We saw New Arabs coming together - both men and women - in public squares without violence or sexual harassment, favouring diversity and shunning intolerance of other identities.

Virtue exploited

However, the innocence of the New Arab Era deprived those who fought for it of the acumen necessary for identifying the tricks of the old political order with its parties and its media. The spontaneity of the New Arab Era caused its adherents to sidestep political organisation.

They had not experienced the difference between political protest and the political action necessary to build democracy - so all those against whom they had rebelled, those who stood for violence, ignorance, sectarian intolerance, militarism and the old parties and their interests - ganged up against them.

Moreover, the adherents of the New Arab Era were betrayed by those who gave them the false impression that they had abandoned their military or intolerant pasts in favour of democracy.

This unholy alliance turned the dream into a nightmare. In politics, dreams often tend to morph into nightmares. This nightmare drenched countries in blood.

It obscured the boundaries between despotism and democracy through fragmenting identities and through spawning the intolerances of "us" and "them" between majorities and minorities, and between Islamists and secularists.

     In politics, dreams often tend to morph into nightmares.


These polarisations have replaced the struggle between democrats and non-democrats. The perpetrators of the nightmare have replaced morality with conflicts over identity, while murder and other atrocities have become acceptable as long as they are committed against "them".

The struggle continues

Democrats face a massive challenge: the struggle against despotism has turned into a struggle against the social and cultural backwardness upon which the entire structure of despotism is based.

However, democracy's greatest strength in this fight is that the New Arab Era was not a mirage that disappears whenever approached. It remains an entire generation of young people that cried out and showed solidarity, that produced its martyrs and its wounded, that discovered its own voice and blood and was amazed and overwhelmed by unfolding events.

It is a generation that awakened the forgotten dreams of the previous generation, inspired the imaginations of its societies and captivated the entire world. It shocked the opportunists and terrified the reactionary forces - states and regimes, those on the right and those whose only leftist attributes are their names and their chauvinism.

They all closed ranks against the New Arab Era, but not one member of the old establishment dares to ridicule it - except for fools. Its ghost traverses the entire Arab nation, and it is still implicit in language, glances and tones.

It is here and there, and finds sympathisers throughout the world. It is regrouping its forces, regretting its mistakes, laughing at its own innocence and searching for practical political programmes, organisational formats and answers to questions as it continues its arduous, but ultimately victorious journey.

It is preparing a fateful return. The seed of aspiration - for freedom, equality and a dignified life - has been planted in the hearts of an entire generation. The contemporary soil is fertile, and this generation will turn into a generation of citizens who will compete on the basis of political and cultural platforms to one day rule every Arab country.


Dr Azmi Bishara is a prominent Arab academic and thinker.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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