Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed - Arabnews - Who can imagine that the residents of Riyadh, known as a very conservative city, were more tolerant about three decades ago? The schools in the city then had theaters and there were cinema houses in its literary and sports clubs.
There were military music teams on the streets. During celebrations a music festival was held and folklore dances were performed. Its TV would broadcast live the gala nights.
This was also true for the city of Cairo during the 1960s and 70s, which were replete with theaters, art galleries and art institutes. Much more in this respect can also be said about Kuwait. There are also old pictures of Baghdad that shows the city to be very different from what it is today. Al-Rasheed Street had many art and culture houses in addition to places of worship. I have a photo from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer showing how beautiful and bustling with life this street was in the 1940s. Who believes what is happening today?
We were shocked when we heard about battles in Tunis and its suburbs and attacks against artists in Cairo, which nobody would have imagined. In Alexandria early Friday morning, bulldozers leveled to the ground the book market on Al-Nabi Daniell Street.
All people look forward and hope for the best, but it seems that we are going to where the sun sets. Nobody knows when this sun will rise again.
Egypt is a bigger example in this respect. What happened there was a horrible thing for arts, creativity and the two centuries of development. Egypt is the largest and last bastion of arts and creativity in the region. With its downfall, the entire region will plunge into darkness.
Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi tried to appease the society and stop conflict between artists and fundamentalists. When he met a number of artists, he gave the impression that he was not siding with the fundamentalists. The artists who attended the meeting came out smiling and thankful to the president, his initiative and his attitude. The artists may be justified not just because Mursi might have really meant what he said — and I believe he did and is committed to protecting the arts and artists — but is Mursi, the president of all the Egyptians, capable of containing the members of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement?
Who will prevent attacks against the cultural edifices and movie houses by extremist groups who believe they were the ones who brought Mursi to power and not the vice versa?
The problem is that they believe that political win and electoral majority means that a certain culture has the right to be dominant over others. They believe that their election victory gives them the right to overpower others. The electoral victory just gives the right to rule, but not dominate or reject other groups. This is an integral part of freedom and the rights of individuals and the society.
Heated political and social discussions are taking place in our societies, but they all ignore an important aspect: The rights of others and the freedom given to them by God, no matter how marginal they may be and how little their number may be. The pillars of freedom and democracy are based on peaceful coexistence, tolerance and accepting the other.
What is really perplexing in our society, which is replete with ideas, wishes and reform calls, is that those who speak about “rights” and “freedom” never bother to explain the meanings of these slogans to themselves and their followers. What is the meaning of ”rights”? To whom are these rights given? What is freedom and what are its limits?
It is certain that when social or religious conservatives speak of human rights or when they get involved in democratic practices the society has reached maturity, but we often see them failing to cross the first step. We are facing a culture of regress in the name of progress. We refuse injustice to be replaced with a more ferocious injustice. In Tunisia, the Bin Ali regime deprived its opponents of their rights and liberties. Today, some factions of the society do worse than what Bin Ali’s police used to do. After these bad practices of the new era, do we still have the right to be optimistic? I say yes, because we are witnessing a social conflict, not a conflict with the regime. People will not accept to be deprived of their rights and liberties under any name.