The Middle East Tribune

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The Real Call of Arab Civil Societies


Human Rights protest at AlKhalil (by members of Internationational Human Rights association in Hebron) Photo by Nayef

The modern concept of civil society is centered on the free joint action between individuals within private and official associations to achieve equitable societal settings and comfortable socioeconomic conditions. Typically, the causes and effects of social and civil movements are mainly of socioeconomic and socio-political nature.

On the socioeconomic front, efficient civil societies struggle to have proficient public administrations and good social services instead of depending solely on private organizations. The objective of social services is to provide individuals and the society with the necessary components of decent life so that to strengthen its civil fabric and elevate the sense of citizenship.

In many democratic countries, governments are the responsible side for the planning, delivering and monitoring of social services, like health care, education and social security. Nonetheless, democratic governments usually incentivize and encourage private organizations and voluntary societal associations to render similar social services to its citizens.

On the sociopolitical front, advanced governments usually open channels of dialogue with political activist groups and active social organizations, which do not operate within the government system, to know the interests, opinions, demands, and complaints of citizens about their public policies.

In the developed world, justice and equality are now important as liberty and freedom were in the early democratic stages. Highly developed civil societies tend to demand the inviolable implementation of justice and equality in which all citizens, like senior citizens, women, and children; for example, are transfigured into equal citizens. Actually, through purpose-built lobbying and keen social networking, civil and social movements have become the most effective vehicles for change.

After World War II, major western players were soaked up in securing their broad political and economic interests, nationally and internationally; while their communities were much occupied with rebuilding their own civil societies. However, it was not before few decades since the west along with the international community started to take on a more potent international stand in the push for civil-oriented societies. Obviously, standing firm for equality and justice for all have turned abusive racial discrimination, human trafficking, and honor crimes, for instance, into unpardonable statutory offense; and thus elevated the call for equality for women to become a major international concern.

Given the civil settings of western societies and as the world has become like a global village, one has to look at the developing world, where more than 85% of world population lives, to perceive the civil picture of around 6 billion people. Actually, the range of engagement of these people in the political and civil activities of their societies varies between developing countries. For that, a look at the Arab civil societies, where their chronic problems do overlap with most world’s troubles, would illustrate in some way the civil case of many developing nations.

Unfortunately, like in most developing countries, civil liberties in the Arab world are either shelved or do not really exist. Though most Arab governments and heads of state claim to be democratic, still they always drop several essential freedoms and civil liberties that define democracy. More knowingly than not, many Arab governments either restrict the practice of essential features of democratic society, like civil liberties, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and  participation in political activities, and freedom from  arbitrary arrest; or they just prohibit all civil and social movements in the name of national security.

In this developing region, most people are busy in securing their living needs or fear to lose their jobs and career or under some pressure not to exercise their civil rights, especially the ones of political and social nature. Actually, the concurrent slogan of all Arab Spring uprisings “the people want to down the regime” comprises several intertwined demands: to get rid of despotism, corruption, and underdevelopment; to be governed democratically through their freely elected representatives and political parties, and to stop the authorities from interfering in their civil and social life. Unfortunately, none of these demands seem to happen soon without further political and civil strife.

Protesters during the uprising in Syria

Before and after the Arab Spring revolts, Arab civil societies were not politically organized nor societally configured to play its roles in the policymaking process. They never had effective civil and social organizations to defend the rights and interests of citizens, plans to improve social services, and resolutely call for the amendment of laws and constitutions.

In most of the Arab world, women’s rights are either totally dismissed or marginalized at best by the excuse of its incompatibility with the religious laws and some archaic traditions. Despite that women are about half of the Arab populations, Arab women are minimally represented in government cabinets and rarely elected to parliaments—not to discuss that not all parliaments permit the candidacy of women.

Arab women are unjustly denied by law the right to transfer their nationalities to their children and spouses. Over and above that, we still see the so-called honor crime incorporated in the penal laws of Arab states and somewhat lionized in social traditions—Let alone permitting the marriage of minors and tolerating domestic violence, sex abuse and sexual harassment of women.

Voluntary civil marriage is still illegal in most parts of the Arab world, though some countries, like Lebanon, for instance, recognize similar offshore marriage contracts. Civil marriage is a taboo to Islamic religious authorities, since Muslim muftis and other Islamic head clerics harshly denounce and judge such marriages as an unlawful act of infidels that should be severely punished.  Unlike the uncompromising Muslim muftis, some Arab Christian patriarchs and bishops adopt more moderate stance to approach this issue. Nonetheless, when it comes to the legalization of mixed marriages, these same religious authorities, Islamic and Christian authorities alike, compel one of the couples to convert to the other sect—mostly, to men’s sect.

Arab children rights are widely infringed. Child labor is accepted as a norm in most Arab countries since for them it adds manual skills to the poor and uneducated kids, while the fact is that the only skill they acquire is the art of panhandling; seeing most Arab cities are filled with young street beggars and flower kids—let alone the foreseen abuses therefrom. Most Arab children and adolescents, especially in non-rich countries, are not entitled to public healthcare or public medical coverage unless their parents are employed and registered in the state’s Social Security departments, not to mention the inhumane case of orphans and illegitimate youngsters.

Unfortunately, in more than two-thirds of Arab countries, those who are over 64 years old, along with the elderly, and senior citizens are abandoned to their fate without retirement pension, medical and hospitalization coverage, or any other social benefit for them or their families.

Obviously, the current severe conditions of Arab civil societies are in breach of international civil rights and incompatible with the Islamic and Christian societal cultures. Despite that, there are vigorous national attempts and modest international efforts to revitalize Arab civil societies and promote the adoption of human and civil rights in this region, the fact remains that Arab people still have a long journey to establish a rock-steady civil life.

Though there is little room to believe that the current governing elites and their dogmatists will bring on real societal change; yet the prevalent notion is that reform will be set about only when Arab people open their minds to the fact that they deserve to have full civil and political rights like many other nations; and hence work for their rights.

Arabs, all Arabs without regard to religion, color or geopolitical settings have no choice but to moderate their views, convictions, and beliefs so that to create common civil codes of which they can unite their efforts to effectuate it peacefully. Bearing in mind that, once civil activism starts it should never stop.

Meanwhile, Arab heads of states, politicians and religious authorities should take notice that the real outcry in the Arab minds and hearts is about democratization and modernization; and thus they must reform accordingly before Arab societies fall apart or reach an uncompromising state of mind.


Author’s Note: This article is also published at Arabian Gazette


16 comments on “The Real Call of Arab Civil Societies

  1. Kareem
    February 27, 2013

    Good job dear Mohammed,Actually you argued most of the sensitive and great points. we are sure it need a time also efforts by the people who believed a rule of law and gender equality.
    please give me permeation to share the article in my Facebook account.

    Best Regards


    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      February 27, 2013

      Thanks Kareem. Yes it needs a lot of efforts and some time to see change,
      You are free to share it as long as it’s attributed to Mohammad S. Moussalli


  2. Chip Hill
    February 24, 2013

    Job well done, my friend. There is so much work to be done to gain social justice. The mechanisms available through the United Nations are in place but are often dysfunctional.

    It is my belief/hope that international enterprise and global business will eventually knock down the doors to the politically protected and culturally created roadblocks that you speak of so well in your article. As international industry becomes more and more global, national and cultural lines disappear. As this happens, a more homogeneous state of mankind comes into play, and change is e/affected. As a result in the ongoing advances in technology and global communications, this process is occurring more rapidly, every day.

    There is hope for what you speak of, here. Perhaps not in our lifetime, but I think not too far into the future.

    Best regards, Chip


    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      February 24, 2013

      Thank you Chip for your reasonable comment. However, I think and hope that things will be set on track in our life time.
      Thanks again


    • Hi C.H.,
      The security level within a nation largely determines everything else.

      For example, building powerplants in a poverty-stricken nation is often perceived as a good plan and a good use of charitable funds. However, in the case of a nation which is experiencing some level of war, civil strife or medium to large scale terrorism, what eventually happens is that the most brutal criminal element gains control of the powerplant or the grid. (“Give it to us, or we will blow it up!”) Those sorts of things happen all the time, especially in Africa and it is not limited to powerplants. Roads, bridges, pipelines, schools, trains and other national assets can all be threatened in this way, thereby empowering the criminal element at the expense of the law-abiding citizens and the best efforts of the government.

      Therefore, as each nation gains internal security, real progress can begin to be made. Otherwise, we are just further empowering the criminal elements in those countries.

      Security first, then building up infrastructure, then maintaining what has been accomplished, are the fastest way to our common goals.

      Best regards, JBS


  3. Dr.Devendra K.Dwivedi
    February 23, 2013

    Freedom to work and economic security are the greatest concomitants of employment..Though the civil societies gurantees the right to work as afundamental right,it is important that there should be an exploitation-free and safe working environment to make right meaningful..Absolute instrument of empowerment,it cannot be denied that it does play a significant role.At times,civil societies may be high sounding but their weak enforcement for retrograde interpretation may dilute their efficacy..Secure and effective rights like land-rights are of critical importance for womens’ welfare and empowerment..But achieving this will need concerned effects and efforts by gender progressive NGOs,especially women’s groups as well as by those within the government who are concerned about women’s empowerment,poverty and equitable development..Women executive better than men executives..Therfore for women much more than for men,livelihoods will be linked to access.My real surveyshows that most indian women do not own asset,even fewer effectively control any..Rural india showed that only 15 percent of women with fathers inherited as daughters..To improve women’s access–it is necessary to act on all fronts..inheritance,government transfers,and access through the market..


    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      February 23, 2013

      Generally I agree with your comment, especially with this “At times,civil societies may be high sounding but their weak enforcement for retrograde interpretation may dilute their efficacy..Quite true


  4. Pingback: The Real Call of Arab Civil Societies | lnternationalrelations's Blog

  5. John Brian Shannon
    February 21, 2013

    Hi Mohammad,

    This is a beautiful piece of writing — if only these words were being spoken and acted upon by many of the world’s governments, including ones in the Middle East.

    I myself, am only a lukewarm supporter of the Arab Spring as almost as much devastation has come about because of it — as the Arab Spring was supposed to prevent.

    The ‘jury is still out’ on the AS in my mind and I would be happy to admit that more good has come from it than bad, at some future point in time! I fervently hope that will be the case.

    ‘Tearing things down’ whether it be governments, social structures, religions, etc… is not the best way to bring about change. Reacting to poor governance, or to oppressive leadership, by using violent civil disobedience or protests and demonstrations in the streets, is using a blunt instrument to achieve their goals — and with some costs, as we have seen.

    Rather, I support ‘thriving in spite of’ poor governance or oppressive governance. If huge numbers of citizens just agree with whatever the oppressive government says, and then just blithely go about their business ‘their way’ completely serene and unconcerned with the anger portion of their response, this will be far more effective.

    Prior to the end of the U.S.S.R., the most frequent phrase one would hear in Soviet Russia and it’s satellite nations (until 1990) was, “As long as they pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work!” Which is just one way to show non-violent displeasure with a government.

    More than all the protests and demonstrations put together, those citizens practicing their quiet response to the oppressive Soviet governments, made an end of that system, and with finality.

    As Gandhi showed with his non-violent protest and famous Salt March, the oppressive or misguided leadership common in his era was forced to concede — although at great personal cost to “the Mahatma” — (Gandhi).

    Here is a worthwhile link about Mohandas Gandhi:

    Your second-to-last paragraph is profound;

    “Though there is little room to the belief that most of the current governing elites and their dogmatists could bring on real change, the prevalent notion is that reform will be set about only when the people and their representatives open their minds and hearts to the fact that there are other people in this world. And that Arabs and non-Arabs alike, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, have no choice but to interact with each others, moderate their views and convictions, tolerate other people’s ideas, practices and beliefs, and above all, to live and pursue their goals peacefully. It starts here and never ends.” — Mohammad S. Moussalli

    It was a pleasure to read your article, Mohammad. Best regards, JBS


    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      February 21, 2013

      Dear John,
      Thank you for valuable comment and worthy argument. It is to my full satisfaction to know that a brilliant writer like you enjoys reading my articles.
      I fully agree with you that nonviolence is not a condition but a requirement. As for Ghandi’s civil struggle, I add my respect of his undertaking to yours. Yet I dont agree with you that the issue of “As long as they pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work!” is a good way to achieve people’s demands. At the least consideration, it’s not ethical.
      I hope one day we meet and discuss issues of similar nature and many others. Meanwhile, I look forward to read your next piece
      My best regards,


      • Hi Mohammad,

        Thank you for your kind comment! They are cherished words for me coming from a man of high calibre and impeccable credentials! Warmest wishes to you and your family.

        I do agree that “As long as they pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work!” is unethical. I only employ that example to show that there have been other, successful ways of fighting government oppression. (Though it is morally problematic, it is still better than violent confrontation or outright civil war, in my opinion).

        Gandhi’s example was another way and a better way, from my point of view.

        Also, we have the example of Solidarity (Lech Wałęsa) which dramatically, and peacefully, for the most part, changed the political structure of Europe — in it’s entirety. Significant assistance was given to that movement by the Roman Catholic Church, which could not be published at the time — and much of that assistance remains hidden to this day, although that is slowly changing.

        Perhaps other peaceful, but more effective ways will yet be found so that citizens can express displeasure with oppressive regimes and great bloodshed need not occur.

        Thank you for your valuable contribution to our shared civilization and for continuing to publish thought-provoking pieces.

        As always, very best regards, JBS


        • Mohammad S. Moussalli
          February 25, 2013

          Thank you so much for your good feelings. I got your point of nonviolence from the begining and the objective of your given examples. So rest assured that we share the same civil track and goals.
          Sincerely yours,


  6. Linda Banks
    February 20, 2013

    Glad to see you are still an active participant for the freedoms that so many take for granted. Having begun a new program doing taxes for low-income families, widower’s, and the elderly, I am shocked that even quote in our civilzed society they have little or no recourse for the care of these folks. An example if the woman is left with the deceased husbands retirement they see fit to reduce the amount of pension she can get. When did there become so many different definitions for fair and justice? My world truly makes me sad, angry, and humble all at the same time. Having never been fortunate to meet the mate that I could have shared my life with, as well having worked since I was nine years old; I can hardly wait to see what I will be afforded for my own retirement. I will most likely retire in a Central American country so I will not have to be a beggar in my elder years.


    • Mohammad S. Moussalli
      February 21, 2013

      Dear Linda,
      It seems that things are worsening everywhere though some to claim to be developing. Real societal development is when poverty and homelessness start to lose grounds to equality and liberty, otherwise no purpose.
      I don’t think you will face any problem with your retirement seeing the good you are doing to others. God is watching and will reward you at some point.
      Thank you lady
      Your friend


      • Linda banks
        February 21, 2013

        This morning on the world news they were interviewing the freedom dissadent, as he was rerferred to, on his release from prison, yet his brother is still being detained. Basically we are all asking for the same respects and freedoms no matter what our cultural differences are. Though you more eloquently stated these truths, as the killing escolates with no end in sight. How does one go about disarming the powers to be on such self evident facts that no-one wants the killing to continue. Is the hatred more important than the child laying in the bloody streets? Even my own country that is so fital to the world in so many ways has starving children and our elders do without heat and proper nutrition. There comes a time when the monetary gains are not the solution, the humanitiarian possibility the hope of all nations. I pray each day that the Humanitiarian will be the next Peace keeping force. As the United Nations has been rendered totally ineffectual. There is no excuse for anyone being hungry, nor in need of medical attention, nor homeless, least of all the human atrocities against women and children. Always your western friend, LB


        • Mohammad S. Moussalli
          February 22, 2013

          A loud YES to your words “the United Nations has been rendered totally ineffectual. There is no excuse for anyone being hungry, nor in need of medical attention, nor homeless, least of all the human atrocities against women and children”. The current notion of putting profit-making first is draining humanity from its humane characteristics. My best wishes


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