Guardian journalist Brian Whitaker gave a speech where he highlighted what outsiders considered problematic with the Arabic world, and what issues Arabs themselves deemed to be priorities.
Taking 10 hot-topic statements on the Arab world, issues from social discrimination, religion, oil, to family, education, media and democracy, Whitaker presented them in front of 20 Arabs during lengthy interviews.
The surprise? Nobody wanted to talk about democracy.
But everyone wanted to talk about family, especially the statement “The family is a major obstacle to reform in the Arab world.”
Since a family is essentially a microcosm of society, it is important to become acquainted with the typical Arabic family structure. Because in more ways than one, that’s where the problems start.
Halim Barakat describes the traditional Arab family as one where the father sits at the top of a pyramid of authority and requires “respect and unquestioning compliance with his instructions”. … Although this is a broad-brush picture and the character of Arab families is certainly changing in some parts of the region, authoritarian and patriarchal attitudes seen in the traditional family are replicated throughout society, right up to the top.
“Rulers and political leaders,” Barakat says, “are cast in the image of the father, while citizens are cast in the image of children. God, the father, and the ruler thus have many characteristics in common. They are the shepherds, and the people are the sheep: citizens of Arab countries are often referred to as ra’iyyah (the flock).”
Whitaker discusses the influence of family dynamics – the idea of shepherds and sheep, subsuming individual liberty for the collective good, over societal structure. Essentially, he says, the tyrannical father evolves into the tyrannical leader on a grand scale, and rule over his citizens whom were subjugated from a young age to obey and accept.
The role-play becomes apparent in the Arabic world, when it comes to the theoretical application of gender and class/tribal equality, secularism and the practice of sovereignty, and genuine civil engagement. All of which can be traced back to the patriarchal construction of the Arabic family unit.
An overall excellent piece, whether you agree with it or not.