Thursday, March 6, 2008

Guest Blogger: Sula Al-Naqeeb is a New Generation Fellow of the Center for Human Emergence Middle East.

Axis of Evil Comedy Tour: Middle East

The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour is made up of a group of Middle-Eastern American comedians. Their comedy tour has been all over the United States with much success. This is due to their ability to create new grounds with how post-September 11th issues are treated and bring this to mainstream America. Humor has been their tool to comically touch on issues such as racial profiling at airports (something they have all faced), stereotyping, typecast as evil terrorists in Hollywood, Bush and American Foreign Policy.

Like many young Arabs living in the Middle East, I have been a huge fan of Axis of Evil and have been following their skits for the last year on youtube. I never thought I would have the opportunity to watch them live in the Middle East and therefore the DVD of their tour was placed at the top of my birthday wish list. However, after Showtime started managing them and aired their show on Comedy Central in the Middle East, individuals in Cairo, Dubai, Amman and Beirut requested that the group be brought to their respective cities. This made up their hugely successful Middle East Tour. This initiative on the part of individual Arabs is a great indication of a growing interest political openness and streams of dialogue. It also indicates on the part of the respective states where the show was held an openness and acceptability for bold critique.

Having heard that they were coming to Dubai, some friends and I decided that it was worth flying over for a unique opportunity to see them in the Middle East. As we were all familiar with their skits shown in American cities, it would be interesting to see how they would approach issues like American Foreign policy as well as our some of our cultural values that seem antiquated to the West in a Arab country with an Arab audience. After days on end of torturing people around us with the infamous Maz Jobrani phrase, “ I am Persian, Meow!” we were disheartened to find out that tickets were sold out on the first day and so none would be sold online. However, luckily for us, some young Arabs in Kuwait approached Showtime and asked that they come to Kuwait. Despite ministry regulations whereby any public event has to be approved beforehand with scripts being scrutinized, the organizers approached Universities to play host to the Axis tour and to create a private event. Again, within one day the tickets sold out and we reverted to our “I am Persian, Meow!”

Politics is always a controversial issue but that is multiplied when dealing with Middle Eastern Politic especially in the Middle East. However, Axis of Evil did not shy from any political or cultural issues. Their show is essentially a socio-political satire where they deconstruct cultural enigmas, outdated values, and current events. They critique all Arab nationalities, especially the host country with sharp wit and integrity. In Kuwait, they made fun or our reckless generosity, amongst other attributes and were received with agreement and laughter. Despite the comedy, issues are not dumb down but are in fact intellectually stimulating. At the heart of their show is a message that counters discrimination. With such healthy archetypes they are inadvertently humanizing a misconstrued region.

Overall this is exciting not only because I finally got to attend their show, but also because this indicates a growing level complexity in the region. Middle Easterners laughing at each other, and with each other is not something new, however, the difference with Axis of Evil is that we now can do that within a particular context that since September 2001 has been heated or taboo. The ability to laugh at ourselves is wonderfully cathartic and in this sense, it is certainly psychologically advanced. This healthy introspection allows for us to question some of our values that might not be serving us anymore. It further shows our generation new ways of dialogue and communication that allows us to highlight pertinent issues that need to be raised in an amicable way. It is a whole other way to educate both Americans and Arabs of our limitations and strengths which people are more accepting to see and then change when addressed with humor. Axis of Evil is a reflection of how moderates and not extremists are in the majority in our countries who are appreciative of laughing our way to a solution rather than confrontation.

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Guest Blogger: Sula Al-Naqeeb is a New Generation Fellow of the Center for Human Emergence Middle East.

Emergence in Kuwait

After living for thirteen years abroad in Dubai, New York, and London, I had decided to move back to Kuwait. What prompted me to end my self-imposed exile? My move? Change.

The change that propelled me, and many people of my generation to return to the Middle East, and especially the Gulf, is the shift in living conditions that allowed for positive transformations in many fields, but particularly the emergence of young Arabs. So many talented young Kuwaitis who after having studied and worked abroad, chose to return to make a conscious contribution to the community inspired me. This contribution was extensive as young Kuwaitis focused on various issues such as education, art and culture, health promotion, the environment, as well as trying to change how our culture responds to previously taboo subjects from learning disabilities to substance abuse.

However, with all these changes taking place, I am concerned with the polarity between the state and citizenry’s interests and what they view as positive development. Whereas the young generation is focused on creating healthier value systems and co-creating a better sustainable future, the trend of most Governments in the region is to focus on rapid economic growth. Although economic growth is paramount, this becomes problematic when the government has not taken into consideration the appropriate steps to do is in an organic and therefore sustainable way.

Using Spiral Dynamics Integral has helped me to determine where Kuwait and some of the Gulf States are vMemetically and therefore what they require to become healthier states. This also allows me to know how, as a young Arab I can contribute, and what is necessary to allow conditions for further emergence of young Arabs. Therefore, despite these problems that will be investigated, there is much optimism as in some cases it is simply the potential for that change to occur and to therefore be part of and contribute to that experience that appeals to me and many of my generation. [1]

In the last few years, there has been a continuum of change in the socio-political framework in the Middle East and Kuwait is no exception to this phenomenon. As a Gulf state we cannot remain immune to the vast and exceptional rapidity of development that is sweeping states like the UAE and Qatar. The Gulf has seen formative transformation on a surface level; new building, luxury hotels, expanse of projects all very much part of the vMEME Orange of economic empowerment, ambition, and material gain.

The economic development is, however, happening without the solid foundations in place vital for a sustainable state. These foundations consist of viable systems and structures, which are part of the vMEME blue, such as a law system that is respected and implemented with efficacy whereby no one is above the law, as well as proper economic regulations; both of which are imperative and conducive building blocks for the sound development of a healthy state. It is also the creation of healthy nationalism, which is currently lacking. Rather, vMEME blue only exists in patches in the Gulf.

Consequently, as there is a lack of such systems in place, states cannot really function as a surface vMEME Orange condition without incurring ‘problems’ calling for further supportive change.

Holes in the vMEME Orange layer or the Capitalist economy in Kuwait

Naturally, the economic development in the Gulf States has created different living conditions, which makes way for changes in both the social and political order. These changes are evident in various distributions in most of the pseudo vMeme Orange states.

Each state is different; culturally distinct, historically unique and has an individual experience. This article takes into consideration that each state’s evolution of development has come at different stages and at varying rates. Notwithstanding, parallels do exist and certain patterns are occurring throughout the region that is related to a change in living conditions and therefore, value systems. One of these changes is the ubiquitous effort in creating further freedoms. Each state has attempted to create such changes in order to solidify their global vision with regards to the strengthening the economy.

With regards to Qatar, there are two main factors that have put the Gulf state on the map; the exponential amount of natural gas reserves that has catapulted it into one of the wealthiest states overnight, and the fact that it is home to the international and highly contentious media rogue that is Al-Jazeera. It is the perhaps the freedom of press granted that subsequently appealed to al-Jazeera to make the state their international hub. This freedom of press is rare in the Middle East and is a necessary foundation for any healthy state. Thus, the effort plugged in towards granting freedom of press is directly linked to an attempt to sustain and support the state’s mission of strengthening its economy. In doing so, it attracts more international businesses that are willing to set up in Qatar, rather than politically unstable or oppressive states in the region.

With regards to value systems in place, Qatar has placed huge emphasis on long-term benefits such as higher education and athletics. The Asian Games in 2007 was an indication of the state’s effort towards creating healthy value systems. It honored its literary past with shows of Arabian folk tales like Sinbad but stressed that it’s future lies in the quest for continued learning. The astrolabe, an Arab invention, was the common feature illustrating the power of knowledge. There was a heavy emphasis on need to respect all cultures and religions.

Therefore, alongside vMEME orange changes, there are deep underlying transformations occurring calling for healthier archetypes and healthier vMEME purple and vMEME red values and identities.

In Dubai, this change and openness is evident in the law that grants non -GCC nationals to purchase land. This is a policy to further support the emirate’s goal to be seen as a global city. It is essentially a vMeme Orange move as it is economically driven. It is local knowledge that Dubai is run more like a corporation than a city. Therefore, this acts as a direct shift from the dominant old social order of the tribe, pertinent to the vMeme Purple. Another change is policy is more lenient censorship laws in media and film. It would seem contradictory to have an international film festival, or a Media City if Dubai would continue with its stringent censorship laws. Once more, these changes are vMEME Orange driven and are creating different living conditions throughout the Gulf region.[2]

Just as in Qatar, the deeper manifestation of this change is the inadvertent creation of healthier value systems. In Dubai this is done through a cartoon called ‘Umm Khamas.’ The popular cartoon is in fact high-end animation that is broadcasted all over the Arab world. It follows the comical tales of an elder called Umm Khamas and her friends. The narrative highlights important issues like water shortage and wastage, as well as living a balanced life Dubai whereby traditions are respected, but so is technology and development.

With regards to Kuwait, this change came when women were granted the right to vote, and did so last July 2006. This shifted living conditions that were ripe for youth emergence in Kuwait.

Women in Kuwait

The reason for the lack of the women’s vote was not because women were oppressed, as it is mostly assumed, especially in the West. Indeed, their political voice was being limited, however, it was mostly due to a lack in a viable political system (vMEME Blue). Historically there has been a strong pattern of political participation amongst civil society in Kuwait with the establishment of a Parliament in 1963. Furthermore, there is a tradition of liberty with regards to the freedom of speech and press and a tolerance for overt dissent unparalleled in the Arab world. In fact, Reporters Without Borders in 2007 have ranked Kuwait 63rd in Freedom of Press, above any other Arab country. [3]

Legally, women were eligible to vote and were recognized as equal and full citizens as per the constitution. However, once more due to the lack of a system and the breakdown of assertive leadership, this was never implemented. Therefore, women found themselves at the brunt of this failing system.

Women have always been active members of society, most of them working in various positions in both the private and public sector.[4] Kuwaiti women are far more educated than their male counterparts, making up almost 70% of the student body at Kuwait University. Due to opportunities the scholarship programs in Kuwait provides, women are able to continue their studies in higher education and many as a result hold PhDs making Kuwaiti women one of the most education in the Arab world. Furthermore, during the Gulf war, Kuwaiti women were a major part of the resistance. Therefore, the perplexing question as to why women did not get the right to vote any sooner must be addressed.

Deconstructing Kuwait’s social and political milieu through an integral model, one notes a growing rise in both unhealthy vMEME blue and vMEME purple that has created fractions, stratification, and weak internal sovereignty. The vMEME purple can be explained through the unhealthy tribal identities that were politicized propagating an ‘us versus them’ outlook. This social exclusion transformed into political exclusion when certain tribal leaders or unhealthy vMEME Purple leaders increased their power in the political field. This forged the earlier citizenship laws as well as dictated social customs.

The unhealthy vMEME blue can be explained in the religious dogma that rose post the Gulf war. With the decline in Arab nationalism, competing ideologies came to the forefront with political Islam leading the way. Therefore, a distinct rise in Islamists became evident, especially within the Kuwaiti Parliament. Furthermore, because of the lack of healthy foundations in place, and the living conditions as stated above that changed after the Gulf war, Islamists in Parliament were blocking women’s suffrage. Due to a lethargic Government at first, the building blocks necessary to pass a bill and/or implement what was written and agreed upon within the Kuwaiti Constitution could not be executed.

However, in the summer of 2005, with the pressure from public protesting, liberals, and the Government, the bill was passed granting women the right to vote. The passing of the bill restored the faith in our political process, and our parliament. This also served as a catalyst for youth empowerment. Many of the protests and demonstrations held outside Parliament calling for the woman’s right to vote were young men and women. This gave way to a deeper shift that is currently occurring and resulting in a change of life conditions once again. Whereas the Gulf war saw a ‘regression’ to unhealthy value systems, the women’s vote formed a shift into healthier vMEMEs.

Kuwaiti Youth Emergence

After the women’s vote, the general mood of the culture changed as previously disenchanted youth, bored with the materialism the unhealthy vMEME Orange state produces, found an outlet in participating in the political process. As they felt they had co-created this change: a monumental change in their political system and the social order of the day, they reclaimed their agency. This is coupled with the steady growth of non-profit organizations pertaining to youth that aim to develop a healthy youth culture. Organizations like Lothan Youth Achievement Centre:

Strive to provide the youth with unique opportunities to develop their personal growth, explore their talents and potentials, build and enhance their professional and interpersonal skills and find their sense of purpose in an attempt to help them evolve into highly effective young leaders"[5]

By providing opportunities for almost every outlet from internships locally and abroad, drama productions, environmental activism, to community outreach programs LoYAC is creating healthy values in the culture. Grass-roots organizations are increasingly playing an integral part in youth culture. By encouraging certain positive values and providing vast opportunities to explore any interest, they instill a sense of purpose and a mission. This is detrimental for youth anywhere, but especially the case in a welfare state where almost everything is provided for, which can deplete the driving force that makes youth feel incompetent.

What can be seen today is just the beginning, which is to lay the foundation for the emergence of Kuwaiti youth. Such living conditions allow for healthy vMEME red emergence whereby the individual rather than the tribe evolves. This can be seen in the healthy honoring of vMEME purple kinship ties and tribal lineage systems but opting for independence and autonomy by dismissing traditional lines of professions. Rather than follow in the footsteps of their parents in the usual family trade or business, an increasing amount of conscious recent graduates smart, highly intelligent, and business orientated are cultivating their desires and manifesting their dreams through opening alternative art spaces, independent cinemas, avant-garde galleries, culinary schools, and unique cafes and restaurants. They are the generation that seeks to be successful by maintaining their authenticity.

Therefore, these monumental changes happening around the Gulf and in Kuwait instigated the right conditions for cultural and social emergence. In Kuwait this emergence pertains to youth and this change propelled me to come back and be part of this evolution. I could not miss out on the empowering opportunity to co-create our future through adopting healthy systems that would lead the way to a healthier society.

What is required next is for the Government to take a more active role. Rather than ad hoc vMEME Purple leaderships, what is needed is a strong healthy leadership with a well-developed integral vision for the future of Kuwaiti youth. This leadership must also acknowledge the need for systems that match authority and individual accountability where no person is above the law. Furthermore, an integral approach to education is vital to create healthy value systems for the next generation. This will allow for the next stage of development and consequently create a vMEME Blue density within the state. It will not only guarantee stronger internal sovereignty, but also only then can vMEME Orange truly flourish healthily and can we functio

[1] vMEMEs are social DNA which were invented by the scientist Clare Graves to explain value systems and consequently human behavior and societal patterns. Through extensive research, he noticed both historically as living conditions had changed so did value systems. He further noticed the particular pattern in which that occurred in the Western world. This pattern is expressed as a spiral moving from one vMEME to the next depending on the determining life conditions. Each vMEME was given a colour. The spiral starts as follows, Beige ‘instinctive/ I survive’, Purple ‘ tribalistic/ we am safe’, Red ‘egocentric/ I control’, Blue ‘absolutism/ we are saved’, Orange ‘materialistic/ I improve’, Green ‘sociocentric/we become’ etc. With this in mind, one can see how the Gulf states are existing in surface vMEME Orange but with a vMEME red, and purple density. Although Clare Graves’ research was based on models and experiences in the Western world, Spiral Dynamics Integral has been successfully field tested in unique places and situations, such as South Africa, Singapore, Holland, and more recently in the Middle East, Kuwait, Syria and Palestine.

[2] It must be noted however, that although these efforts to increase some freedoms are positive, they are fuelled by regional competition and a want for economic growth. This poses a problem because all Gulf, and indeed Middle Eastern states are not fully developed vMEME Orange states. By skipping the usual organic development of a state and experiencing appropriate growing pains, the states risk suffering from social and political stratification as the vMEME Purple (tribe/community) cannot function healthily if it is not acknowledged by the state, or is pushed to ‘develop’ as the same rate as the Dubai skyline. Therefore, because there are very little vMEME Blue systems being utilized, which is the key step to take vMEME Purple/Red into vMEME into Orange, the gap is widening and the cost is weak internal sovereignty. The effort highlighted to create healthier value systems are a start, however, they do require vMEME Blue elements in order to really flourish.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Welcome to the Young Arabs blog

Young Arabs from all over the world are invited to take the lead on Global Emergence and Arab Emergence. Please refer to the codes of the spiral to tell us about your culture, your city and your peers.