MEMRI translates interview with Algerian Historian Dr. Nasser Al-Din Saidouni: Arab Society Remains “Tribal,” Therefore Cannot Achieve True Renaissance

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Mon, 2017-12-04
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We have critiqued MEMRI a number of times in the past for its selective translations from Arabic media, which repeatedly focus on Islamic firebrands. To readers who are not familiar with the Arab world, these translations may indicate as if such statements are common. Consider, for example, the interview with anti-Semitic lawyer Nabih Al-Wahsh (see: Arab-West Report newsletter 2017-52, November 28).


That said, MEMRI also occasionally translates interviews that are right on target, such as this Al-Arabiya TV interview on October 26 with Algerian historian Dr. Nasser Al-Din Saidouni who said that the Arab peoples are still living in a "tribal" stage. According to Saidouni, this is the result of an effort towards self-preservation, which followed several onslaughts on countries ruled by Islam since the 13th century (MEMRI report, December 3, 2017).


“Tribal” culture means that people first look at what group they belong to before they consider the arguments that are dominant in a particular group. “Tribal” peoples would rather rally to the defense of the group they belong to then weigh all arguments objectively and draw conclusions that might be counter to the predominant beliefs of the group they belong to.


Alongside a group of student interns, we here at the Arab-West Report wrote and published the book, (Tectum Publishers, 2017). Herein, we demonstrate how Islamists and non-Islamists, despite huge differences within both categories, looked first and foremost at loyalty to their own, and thus accepted manipulations of information that were favorable to their own group, instead of questioning certain claims and arguments emerging from within. As such, this “tribal” behavior makes it extremely difficult to find people in Egypt who are truly independent, who are able to evaluate arguments for their merit, and not based upon the person or group presenting them.


Dr. Evert du Marchie van Voorthuysen, a Dutch physicist and solar energy expert, read our book and wrote, “this book would need to be obligatory literature in the school for training diplomats of any Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am impressed that you have been able to be so restrained in giving your own opinion.” Yet, this is what is needed: focus on facts and analysis, while avoiding sympathies for either this or that side.


Our book is still for sale and can be ordered either directly from Tectum or, if you are in Egypt, from Arab-West Report.


For the full MEMRI interview, please see below. I would most appreciate if our Egyptian readers would respond to the argument of Prof. Saidouni.


Cornelis Hulsman

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report

Newsletter 2017-54, December 4 2017


MEMRI report of December 3, 2017



Dr. Nasser Al-Din Saidouni: "There is cultural stagnation that began, perhaps, in the 13th century, with the fall of Islam in Andalus, and the advance of the Christians, along with the attacks of the Mongols and the Tatars in the Arab East.


"The Arab Mashriq and Maghreb found themselves between a rock and a hard place – the Mongols and the Tatars in the East, and the advancing Crusaders and SpanishReconquista in the West. Therefore, I believe that the Islamic and Arab societies at that time withdrew into themselves. Consequently, the Arab and Islamic world cocooned itself in an effort at self-preservation, rather than attempting to develop.




"Signs of backwardness became evident in the Islamic West, when the writings of Averroes were burned and he was treated violently, when Lisan ad-Din ibn al-Khatib was put to death, when Ibn Khaldun was forced to emigrate to the Mashriq, and when Al-Maqqari had to leave Tlemcen in the Maghreb for the Mashriq. These are all indications of withdrawal into oneself. Egypt continued to have [openness] to a certain degree, in the Mamluk era, but in face of the Crusader strikes in the Middle East, the attacks by the Mongols in the East, and the advance of the Christian Reconquista in the West, the Arab and Islamic world entered a kind of... I wouldn't say a coma, but a kind of..."




Dr. Nasser Al-Din Saidouni: "Yes, desolation, and a kind of slumber. Historically, we entered a period of hibernation, from which we did not awaken until the Europeans landed in Algeria, when de Bourmont disembarked at Sidi Fredj [in 1830], and Napoleon at Alexandria [in 1801].

"That is when the Arab world realized that the world was not as they imagined. They realized that there was something new. Something new, something called Europe.




"We have not been able to create a renaissance in the Arab world. All we have done is borrow European enterprises, imagining that they would save us and make us more progressive. But the truth is that the real awakenings, which took place in Japan, in the West, and elsewhere, were driven by internal stimuli, which the Arab peoples have not managed to obtain. Therefore, what we believed to be a renaissance is in fact the manifestation of something superficial, which does not impact the underlying structure [of society], which remains tribal. [Arab society] does not belong to the modern societies familiar to the West."