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Mohammad Al Rasheed looks through a violent history and finds worrying parallels with today

Many times you have read me on these pages complaining about our social practices and our moral behaviour on the ground, in opposition to our stated aims. And probably, there are still volumes to be written on this subject without giving it its full due. Today, however, I will stop complaining and try and give solutions. Consider this a refresher course rather than a manifesto of sorts; I am, after all, hardly in a position to conjure up an alternative scheme or two (though I probably can!). So I will resort to history and recount some episodes that might light the way ahead and even entertain the reader.

As the Arab world sits around the Arab League’s table only to display a flea market approach to the nation’s problems, one wonders how, in times gone by, without the aid of cell phones, live television, and instant information distribution, things were handled better. The Mamluks, who ruled Egypt and much of the Levant around the thirteenth century, and managed to repel the Mongol hordes even after Baghdad was sacked, had a simple approach. In the words of an eminent historian, they “insisted on hard training, slow promotion and gradual pay increases.” Also, individual merit was well rewarded and mass incompetence was well punished.

Political and social naiveté needs very little to preserve itself; no salt is required to preserve it, nor is a freezer a necessity.

You’d think this comes from a management course given by a weeping American management guru, laden with gold bracelets and showing emotions to the point of nausea to prove a point that really, is just common sense. All the while, this guru is being paid money in Dubai that could subsidise rice imports to that country and several more besides. But no, it comes from the rulers of Egypt who, seven hundred years ago, issued army uniform for the first time in military history. By the way, Mr Ibn Taymiya, the well-known imam and issuer of famous fatwas, was living in Egypt at the time and managed to issue a fatwa making wearing such uniforms a capital sin.

Now you see that the fatwa business is just as ancient as any other activity practiced in this part of the world. The Mamluks did not tarry in handling the man. They exiled him and went on (while wearing their new uniforms) to fight the Mongols, stopped them at the battle of Ain Jalout (Goliath’s spring in Palestine) and sent them home packing. They also put an end to the last Crusader enclaves in the area. All the while Mr Ibn Taymiya was foaming at the mouth in his exile in Damascus where he turned his wrath on backgammon, and banned it outright.

If you have ever wondered how and why the populace in this part of the world is cowed into accepting such behaviour, I will recount a story from history that might shed light on the mentality and approach we are dealing with. Mohammad Ali Pasha, the Albanian ruler of Egypt in the 19th century, who established the monarchy there, could hardly speak a word of Arabic. He was a ruthless man, yet competent enough to withstand the Ottoman power machine. He lived in the Citadel overlooking Cairo and was known to kill his enemies, or those who got on his nerves, with alacrity and cold blood.

To indicate his displeasure and his desire for the murder of whoever is standing before him, he would flatten his palm, and cut the air with it. That sign was enough to have his soldiers take the unfortunate man and decapitate him immediately. The corpse and its severed head were then thrown over the massive walls down into the valley. Waiting below local women would rush to the bleeding corpse and dip their hands into the fresh blood and smear their genitals in hope of conceiving. Mohammad Ali Pasha and his government encouraged this voodoo since it served his purpose for people to believe that his murderous actions had some sort of benefit for the people.

Not much has changed: there is a woman awaiting execution in this country for practicing witchcraft. In several countries in the area, great amounts of money are paid to famous fortune-tellers to say that in the next year so-and-so will be assassinated. The intended victim uses this declaration to eliminate his enemies, or impose even more draconian measures into his system of security, as pre-emptive measures.

In spite of ‘education’ and the appearance of civilization in its mechanical garb in our towns, the mood is regressing and not really progressing. Political and social naiveté needs very little to preserve itself; no salt is required to preserve it, nor is a freezer a necessity. It all resides in one devious mind who imparts it, using psychological terror, to be conserved in the collective mind of a nation.

You can contact Mohammad Al Rasheed at

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