August 15, 2008 Special Dispatch No. 2027

Al-Ahram Center Director: "The Islamist Stream Has... Uprooted the [Concept of] Homeland from the People's Consciousness"

August 15, 2008
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 2027

Dr. 'Abd Al-Mun'im Sa'id, director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo and columnist for the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, recently wrote an article titled "The Meaning of the Fourth of July," in which he describes his impressions of Independence Day celebrations in the U.S. and laments the lack of similar national pride in the Arab countries. Sa'id wrote that in the Arab world, national sentiment has been gradually repressed and eroded, largely because of the influence of the pan-Islamic ideology. He argues that this sentiment must be restored, since it can reinstate the sense of belonging to the state and prevent civil strife.

Following are excerpts from the article:[1]

"Everywhere I Went... There Wasn't a Single Soul Who Did Not Wish Me a Happy Fourth of July"

"On the morning of July 4, I happened to be sitting in a cab on my way to Logan Airport in Boston, from which I was to catch a plane to New York to attend a social event. At the end of the ride, the old Thai driver surprised me by wishing me a happy Fourth of July. [Only] then did I notice the American flags adorning the homes, the huge flags draped on state buildings, and the [smaller] flags hanging from private cars or affixed to them in various ways.

"At the airport, the staff was all attired in [stars and stripes]. Some of the men wore [flag] ties, and some of the women sported [red, white and blue] ribbons in their hair, though most felt that a small flag on their lapel was sufficient as a display of holiday spirit.

"Everywhere I went, as I bought breakfast and made the final arrangements for my trip, there wasn't a single soul who did not wish me a happy Fourth of July..."

"The [Independence Day] Celebrations That Used To Be Held in Arab Countries Have Dwindled And Faded – As If We Had Not Yet Gained Our Independence"

"The celebrations in Boston and New York made me wonder if such independence day celebrations could take place in the Arab states. I do not mean a speech by the president in which he greets the nation on the day the state was born and became the 'homeland' of the people. I mean spontaneous celebrations by the people, like the ones on ['Id Al-Fitr], the religious festival marking the end of Ramadhan; on ['Id Al-Adha] marking the end of the pilgrimage season; on the Prophet's birthday, celebrated in some countries; or even the Christmas celebrations in some Arab capitals like Beirut and Cairo...

"The [independence day] celebrations that used to be held in Arab countries have dwindled and faded, as if we had not yet gained our independence. In Egypt, we have grown used to the intense Jihad celebrations on March 8, marking the 1919 revolution. [We also used to celebrate] Egypt's independence day on February 28, commemorating the day in 1922 when our country declared its independence and the British mandate ended. But after the 'glorious' revolution of July 23, 1952, this celebration was cancelled and replaced with a new one.

"It was not long before the new holiday faded as well, to be replaced by the October 6, celebrations marking the [Suez Canal] Crossing Battle of 1973. Since the death of [president Anwar] Sadat, nothing has remained of this celebration either, except a special speech by the president, a [presidential] visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and a screening of one of the few movies made about the war..."

"The Islamic Stream Has Played A Very Significant Role in Uprooting the [Concept of] Homeland From the Citizens' Collective Consciousness, And Replacing It With [the Concept of] the Islamic 'Nation'"

"In a TV interview I conducted with Dr. 'Issam Al-'Aryan, a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, I asked him which date he regarded as Egypt's independence day, and he replied that [Egypt's independence day] had not yet arrived. I understood [from this remark] that, [in his opinion], an independence day would only come when Egypt became an Islamic republic of some sort.

"It is reasonable to assume that what has happened in Egypt has happened in other [Arab] countries as well. The state has been buried in people's collective [consciousness], together with the [values] that connected the people and their children to the land... Most [societies in the world] are based on tribal, ethnic or religious ties among their members. However, the connection to the homeland is a completely different [matter], since it is defined by contrast with the other – [the people] across the border. It is rooted in symbols imbued with reverence and even sanctity."

"[These symbols, however,] have been gradually relinquished by the Arab states... The Islamic stream has played a very significant role in uprooting the [concept of] homeland from the citizens' collective consciousness, and replacing it with [the concept of] the Islamic 'nation'... The cost [of this process] has been great, by any standard.

"National sentiment – which [independence day] celebrations reflect and transform into a kind of historical tradition – is about love and loyalty to the homeland, and the willingness to do one's duty to it. It is national sentiment that causes [citizens] to cleave to their homeland, and which unites the various groups and sectors [of society]. Had this sentiment existed among the Palestinian jama'a [i.e. Hamas], the rebellion against the Palestinian Authority in Gaza would have never taken place..."

"It Is Time to Revive the [Concept of] the Arab State"

"The Arab states must restore and strengthen national sentiment [among the citizens]. Although the glorious [symbols] of nationalism constitute a return to the past, they are also an enterprise for the future and for the interests of our children and grandchildren... [National sentiment] does not detract from our reverence for, and celebration of, other holidays, linked to religion or ethnicity...

"In celebrating our shared homeland and state, we celebrate diversity, coexistence, shared interests, a shared system of symbols, a shared political and economic regime, and everything [else] that unites us [and differentiates us] from the rest of the world. The homeland is what guards us against division and even civil war. No matter how diverse [the population of] Iraq, the Iraqis are seen as Iraqis by the rest of the world...

"It is time to revive the [concept of] the Arab state, and to understand once again the reasons for its existence and significance of independence."

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 9, 2008.

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