Wed, Jun

The Arab World's Leadership Vacuum


MIDDLE EAST LEADERSHIP - The political and social regression in the Arab world has exposed the shameful failure of Arab intellectuals to provide leadership and guidance for their fellow citizens.

Intellectual elites are leaders of change. They guide public opinion and enlighten members of society about their rights and duties. These are the responsibilities they have to advance their societies.

The crisis of Arab culture is the crisis of intellectuals. If intellectuals, a nation’s conscience, produce analyses and judgments based on their personal agendas, how can real change take place? Culture then becomes just a cover for opportunists who carry no noble message for true transformation.

The Palestinian people are currently experiencing a level of devastation that is impossible to ignore. All wars, by definition, are synonymous with extreme suffering, loss of life, broken families, and pervasive destruction. But for Palestinians, whose periods of peacetime are marked by the latent conflict and tension that is inevitable under occupation, the current war feels like it is being executed to the extreme. It feels personal.

Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel was not intended to be a secret operation. It took place during the day, and it was streamed live on social media. They wanted the world to know what they were doing, and they had their reasons for using this strategy: First, Hamas wanted to put an end to the progress of the Abraham Accords, which were normalizing Israeli-Arab relations. They were especially concerned about the progress being made towards Saudi Arabia becoming a signatory to the Abraham Accords. Second, Hamas wanted to disrupt the idea that Israel is the “safe” home of the Jewish people globally. Third, Hamas is an Iranian proxy. Iran and all of its proxies flourish in volatile environments. This attack, therefore, was intended to destabilize the region even more and ideally allow for Iran and its proxies to fill the void.

Despite this strategy, Hamas did not anticipate the scale of Israel’s response. They had witnessed the domestic turmoil taking place in Israel and believed that it was a society and a political system too fractured to respond effectively to an attack. Hamas also believed that by taking Israeli hostages, they had an insurance policy, so to speak – counterattacks would be precise and minimal so that the hostages could be kept safe. Lastly, Hamas assumed international pressure and popular support of the Palestinian people would ultimately prevent Israel from responding in a heavy-handed way. Specifically, Hamas believed that a ground invasion and the destruction of their underground tunnel system in order to destroy Hamas fighters were outside the scope of an Israeli retaliation. Israel surprised them and the world with the totality and force of its response, which is still raging nearly eight months later.

I have witnessed numerous Arab-Israeli wars in my lifetime; we in the MENA region are accustomed to the Arab public’s response of unwavering support for Palestine, not only at times of military conflict but as a constant state of being. At its core, this support can be explained as both cultural – we feel connected to the Arab population in the region – and religious.

The few times we have seen over the last 50 years progress happening in the region, it has been due to the rare occurrence of good leadership: MBZ in UAE, MBS now in Saudi Arabia, President Sadat of Egypt in 1977, and the slow but courageous progress shepherded by the late King Hussein of Jordan from the 1970s through to the 1990s. Everywhere else the region has suffered due to not just poor leadership, but destructive leadership.

Eventually, this horrible violence will come to an end. In anticipation of that eventual end, it is the responsibility of thought leaders to be working right now on the inevitable question: how do we move forward, together, towards a goal of lasting peace? It is my firm belief that we need more people to invest their time and energy into understanding the other side – not to agree with others, but to be able to see where they are coming from. To recognize their pain, their historical perspective, and the rationale behind their choices. We need more Arab and Islamic thought leaders who have a deep understanding of Judaism and Israel, just as we need more Israeli and Jewish thought leaders with a similarly deep understanding of and empathy towards Palestine and its people. This is the only path forward. 

(Mihran Kalaydjian has over twenty years of public affairs, government relations, legislative affairs, public policy, community relations and strategic communications experience. He is a leading member of the community and a devoted civic engagement activist for education spearheading numerous academic initiatives in local political forums.)


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