Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stagnation in the Middle East

A western journalist writing about the Middle East's problem with apathy and corruption has hit a raw nerve in Egypt

A Worthwile Comment

Joseph Mayton, Sunday 7 February 2010

"Lying, cheating and stealing. It is a perception that many foreigners have of the Arab Middle East. In Egypt, Mr White Man is seen as a cash cow – and when so many Egyptians live in poverty, who can blame them? But when Tim Sebastian, the prominent journalist, host of the Doha Debates and former presenter of BBC HARDtalk, talked about Cairo's rip-offs in a New York Times article, Egyptians were infuriated....

It becomes more problematic when journalists highlight some negative aspect of society – such as the behaviour of taxi drivers – and treat it as a microcosm of the country's ills. Egyptians don't like foreigners speaking badly of their country, and become prickly and defensive. For them, it is something only they have the right to say, no matter how accurate the writer's observation may be....

Sebastian points to this towards the end of his article when he discusses how apathetic Egyptians – and Arabs more generally – have become. He gives the example of four friends who agree to meet for dinner, but no one turns up. They don't even phone each other to make excuses, because none them really expected anyone to turn up anyway.....

In many ways, Egyptian and Arab thinking is (italic in the original) stagnant. There has not been a great cultural revolution in recent history and the governments of today are the same as decades ago. So, when Egyptians get angry that someone called them out, maybe they should start calling themselves out for their apathy."

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