December 9, 2009 Special Dispatch No. 2684

Syrian Liberal: 'Not a Single Ray of Hope' in Arab World

December 9, 2009
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 2684

In an article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, Syrian liberal Zein Al-Shami lamented the state of the Arab world, saying that instead of taking care of its acute problems, it is preoccupied with petty and oppressive practices that only confirm stereotyped opinions about it.

Visit for our new Democratization in the Arab and Muslim World section (, which includes Inquiry & Analysis reports, Special Dispatches, and MEMRI TV clips, and the Leading Arab and Muslim Reformists portal (, featuring profiles of major reformists.

Following are excerpts from the article:[1]

We "Wish In Our Hearts That We Were Not Arab Citizens"

"As we follow the latest reports from the Arab world... and compare them to reports from other countries and societies, we feel so much frustration and shame that all of us wish in our hearts that we were not Arab citizens. This sad [fact] reflects the general deterioration that prevails in our countries.

"In Lebanon, we spent months waiting for the birth of the national unity government. With all that is said about its civilized people and rich culture, and with all the Arab, regional and international 'interest' [that has been focused] on it, we wonder how Lebanon managed to function so [long] without a government."

Lebanon's Citizen Sees "Syria, Iran, France, America and Saudi Arabia as... Hold[ing the Key to] His Present and Future"

"It is very disappointing that the formation of a government is sabotaged by arguments about who will be appointed to which ministerial position and which party or stream will get which [ministerial] portfolio. A Lebanese [citizen] feels great pain that the political future [of his country] depends on agreements between foreign [elements] and on the influential countries in the region. And it is very sad that the Lebanese [citizen] sees Syria, Iran, France, America and Saudi Arabia as sources of advice and authority and as the ones who dictate the distribution of portfolios [in his government], and [believes] that they hold [the key to] his present and future, more than his fellow Lebanese [citizen] who lives in his neighborhood or in a nearby village."

"The World is... Preoccupied with the Trial of Journalist Lubna Al-Hussein" in Sudan

"Let's drop the issue of Lebanon, since [attempting] to follow its internal politics would cause even a scientist of Einstein's [caliber] to have a stroke...

"Turning to Sudan, for example, we discover amazing things. Despite the disturbing problems [afflicting] this large country – from Darfur and [the troubles in] the south to the drought that periodically strikes it – the world is unfortunately preoccupied with the trial of journalist Lubna Al-Hussein.[2] Her trial has blotted out [all of Sudan's problems] and has caused [the world] to focus on the trousers she wore...

"We must say that in this trial, which occupied world public opinion for a short while, the Sudanese court won a resounding victory by confirming all the stereotypes about the Arabs and Muslims, for example that they oppress women and think that their honor resides in the woman's body and [depends on] the extent, type and shape of the garments she wears. This [situation] is indeed shameful considering the considerable progress made by women in other parts of the world, in the fields of science, politics, and art. Many other countries and peoples laugh when they hear... how the Arabs forget all their political and economic problems, their poverty and their backwardness, in order to focus on a woman's clothing and its impact on their honor."

Somali Extremists "Forgot All of Somalia's Problems..." – And Flogged a Woman for Wearing a Bra

"Not far from Sudan, in Somalia, there recently emerged a movement called Shabab Al-Somal [i.e., Al-Shabab Al-Mujahideen], which controls large parts in the center and south [of the country], and in them enforces strict laws banning movies, plays, dancing, soccer games, and all types of music, including mobile phone ringtones. And that's not all. Recently, these extremists did a peculiar thing: they caught a Somali woman and flogged her in public for wearing a bra. They announced loud and clear that wearing a bra contravenes [the precepts of] the religion because it constitutes deception and fraud.

"Once again, they unfortunately forgot all of Somalia's problems – the division, the drought, and the internal wars. They forgot all of Islam's noteworthy achievements and focused on women, on the weakest sector in a backward society, so as to prove once again just how far the Arabs are from what is happening in the [rest of] the world."

Hamas "Is Preoccupied With Forcing Women to Wear the Hijab" in Gaza

"[The same thing] is happening in Hamastan [i.e. Hamas-controlled Gaza], where the [Hamas] movement is forcing all the Gaza residents to [live by] its laws and opinions – [as though] it has already achieved its great national goal of reconciliation with its rival, Fatah, and as though it has already liberated all the Palestinian lands from the Israeli occupation, and solved the problems of unemployment, poverty and hunger that are crushing the Gazan population.

"It is strange that a political movement – whose political goals and plans are presumably aimed at liberating the Palestinians and their land – is preoccupied with forcing women to wear the hijab in school, in court and on the beach. In fact, Hamas is lately issuing laws pertaining to women that are not much different from those of Shabab Al-Somal, including a law that forbids a girl or a woman to sit on a motorcycle behind a man, even if he is her brother, father or husband – because, according to Hamas, this contravenes [Muslim] tradition."

In Kuwait, "Voices Call On Women MPs to Wear the Veil"

"Turning to Kuwait, we occasionally hear voices calling on women MPs to wear the veil. It is encouraging to find that in Kuwait there is opposition to calls of this sort, as part of political and social activism under the banner of the struggle between the past and future, or between tradition and modernism."

In "Secular" Syria, First Graders Learn Islam – "When They Do Not [Yet] Know the Difference Between a Muslim, a Christian, a Shi'ite, and a Druze"

"Even in Syria, a secular state, the authorities have recently introduced a [Muslim] textbook on religion into the first-grade curriculum, even though the classrooms are shared by pupils from different faiths, sects and religious streams. [The pupils are exposed to this textbook] at an age when they do not know the difference between a Muslim, a Christian, a Shi'ite and a Druze. Instead of preparing a unified religious curriculum appropriate to [all] religious cultures, the [Syrian] Culture Ministry is fostering the children's awareness of discriminatory sectarianism – something that was foreign to the previous generations."

"There is Not a Single Ray of Hope [in the Arab World]"

"In Iraq, Libya, Egypt and other Arab states, the situation is [even] worse.

"There is not a single ray of hope [in the Arab world]."


[1] Al-Rai (Kuwait), October 22, 2009.

[2] A Sudanese journalist and activist who was prosecuted in July 2009 for wearing trousers.

Share this Report:

 Fight Extremism - Support MEMRI