June 7, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10002

Saudi Political Scientist: Refusal To Compromise, Which Characterizes Arab Political Culture, Is Detrimental To Arab Interests, And Especially To Palestinian Cause

June 7, 2022
Saudi Arabia, Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 10002

In an April 13, 2022 article in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, political scientist Tawfiq Al-Saif stated that a characteristic of Arab political culture is a refusal to negotiate and compromise on various issues, especially when it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Even when the majority of people are willing to compromise, he said, they eventually succumb to the pressure of a dogmatic minority that takes an “all or nothing” approach, and this prevents finding solutions for the problems of the region.

Tawfiq Al-Saif (Source: Al-Madina, Saudi Arabia)

The following are translated excerpts from his article:[1]

“According to studies on political culture, some societies are highly adept at bargaining and achieving what they want through negotiations, while others are opposed in principle to bargaining and to compromise, and often regard those who advocate [compromise] as negligent or even as traitors. To illustrate this, let’s say I present ten people in an Arab country with the following question: We have a dispute [with others] regarding certain rights we demand for ourselves. We can achieve half  of them through negotiations, without incurring heavy losses. Should we accept half [of our rights], or continue to demand all of them, no matter how long it takes?  

“I believe that seven out of those people would accept half, because this is a certain [achievement], at no cost. Some would say: Let us take what we have already achieved, and [then] we will regain the other half. [But] three will see the compromise as cowardice and defeatism…

“Some of my dear readers will probably agree with me that one bird in the hand is better than ten in the bush, and perhaps the majority of people would take this path. However, I have noticed that Arab society takes the complete opposite approach when it comes to political positions. On national issues like Palestine, for instance, and on political issues, people demand all ten birds and flatly refuse to negotiate. In my opinion, that is one of the factors that has prevented finding solutions for the serious problems faced by the Arab countries…

“Going back to the aforementioned question, if we pose it to ten people, each of them separately, seven of them will agree to negotiate a compromise. But if we pose it [to them] as a group, the three will stand up and give bombastic speeches about the great humiliation incurred by any nation that agrees to compromise. Then you will see the scales clearly tipping towards that position, and wonder: Did the seven give up their position after listening to the speeches of the three?  The truth is that they did not give up their views, but [only] acquired a different perspective, which is the perspective of values and principles, which are sadly divorced from logic and from the demands of reality. Some may begin to say to themselves: Is it possible that seven people are right and all the rest are wrong? Or perhaps they will say: Is it right to relinquish values and principles for the sake of the trivialities of this temporary world?  

“These questions were posed to the Japanese people in July 1945. The Japanese culture is similar to the Arab one in terms of its dogmatism, but they nevertheless agreed to receive less than half. The Muslims of India faced the same dilemma, more or less in the same period, and took the opposite approach, which led to the establishment of Pakistan. This is a story in itself, which we will perhaps address in the near future.


[1]  Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 13, 2022.

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