August 20, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7631

Jordanian Journalist: Tyranny, Corruption, And Religious Extremism Pervade Arab Countries; Wiping Out Terror Will Not Be Enough

August 20, 2018
Jordan | Special Dispatch No. 7631

In an article he published in the Al-Hayat daily, Jordanian journalist Muhammad Barhouma claimed that, from the dawn of history until the present day, Arab countries have been afflicted by three diseases – tyranny, corruption, and religious extremism. He writes that these illnesses feed on each other and prevent the development of democracy and acceptance of the other, and therefore even if the Sunni and Shi'ite terrorist organizations in the Arab world were wiped out, this still would not lead to stability in Arab countries and they would not be transformed into enlightened democracies. Barhouma called on the Arabs to learn from the West's experience of war and renaissance, and from the reforms undertaken by Christianity and Judaism over the years, and to reevaluate the Arab Renaissance of the 19th century – which he says was nipped in the bud by Western imperialism – so as to adapt itself to the modern era and advance democracy in the Arab world.

Muhammad Barhouma (, April 20, 2016)

The following are excerpts from the article.[1]

"What would happen if the Islamic State [ISIS] and Al-Qaeda, as well as the Shi'ite militias in the Arab world, were wiped out? Would the impossible problems and crises in our region diminish? Would we wake up and discover united societies and decent countries ruling in accordance with the law and upholding liberties? And would stability and renewal prevail in our region?

"It is clear that the answer to these questions is no, since our problem is not exclusively with terrorism – although it does immense harm, which everyone must strive with all their might to defeat. Terrorism is [only] one side of the destructive triangle in our region. The two other sides are tyranny and corruption. In modern Arab history and in Islamic history, an organic connection exists between these three sides; the Arab despots created a religious and national culture that supports their tyranny and authority, while excluding interpretations that differ from their own and [do not suit] their interests, so that the regime's interpretation of the religion became the strongest and main interpretation, which corrupted the mind and society.

"Therefore, if I had to rate which of the three of these [sides] is the worst, I would say tyranny, followed by the corruption and [only] after that extremism and terrorism.

"The main problem with this triangle is rooted in values, since the corrupt, the tyrant and the extremist ascribe no importance to the liberty and dignity of man, nor to justice,  compassion, love or beauty. Since the period of the Arab Renaissance[2] – both in the writings of the 19th century pioneers and in the experience of Muhammad Ali Pasha[3] – there has been little interest in re-defining [Arab] values and ideals and reforming them... [although with respect to] technological innovations and worldly matters [the interest was] immeasurably greater... The violence inherent in the tyrant, the corrupt and the extremist overcame – and even almost obliterated – every effort to give top priority to the assurance of liberties and equal rights for all...

"In Western history people learned from their mistakes after sacrificing immense [numbers of] victims to the greed of feudalism and the corruption of clerics and dictators. And since the Arab Renaissance is not exempt from the need to [learn from] the experience of the Western Renaissances and the wars that [the Westerners] fought against each other, [we] must consider three points:

"The first is a careful evaluation and re-examination of the narrative of political Islam about the religious reform in Christianity and Judaism. This [reform] was comprehensive, giving due consideration to the circumstances of the modern era and the changes that took place [in that era], while favoring modern science in interpreting phenomena. This type of deep reform requires a positive interpretation [of the religious text] and a refusal to surrender to the narrative of the extremist Islamic streams, [who view such reform as] false and as a deviation from the straight and narrow.

"The second point is a re-evaluation of the efforts of the pioneers of the Arab Renaissance in the 19th century, whose uniqueness – according to [Moroccan historian and novelist] Abdallah Al-'Arawi [Abdallah Laroui] – is that the  Renaissance program began to come together even before the imperialist takeover of Arab countries, as opposed to what happened with other nations, like Japan. The significance of this for the Arabs was that [Western imperialism in fact] halted the consolidation of the Renaissance program. Imperialism wiped out the first budding efforts at reform, and what is worse – a connection was created in the Arab mind between modernism and imperialism.

"The third point is that the [Arab] nation states that gained independence [in the 20th century] were unable to institutionally accommodate the rich diversity of the peoples living within them and to comprehend in advance the need to manage this diversity – which resulted in a society that remains ill to this very day. Ideas like federation, confederation and autonomy were characterized as crimes or else failed due to power struggles [between different sectors] and their desire to devour one another. Naturally, the result of the flawed values was an inability to accept [the idea of] democracy in our countries...

"That is why nobody expects the defeat of ISIS to produce a renaissance in Iraq or Syria, for the [Arab] countries and societies are afflicted by tyranny, corruption [and extremism] – and the remedy is defeating this triangle, [whose parts] feed one another."


[1] Al-Hayat (London), September 30, 2017.

[2] The Arab Renaissance (Al-Nahda) was a cultural revival in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, which played a major role in the shaping of Arab perspectives and worldviews. It involved an encounter between Arab culture and values and those of the Western world, which produced tremendous appreciation for Western technological and cultural achievements, alongside a sense of urgent need to preserve Arab culture.

[3] Muhammad Ali Pasha (1769-1848) was a governor of Ottoman Egypt between 1805 and 1848. He is considered the founder of modern Egypt due to his dramatic military, economic and cultural reforms.

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