Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The importance of Afro-Arab ties

Amid concerted efforts on the part of global powers to shape Arab and African peoples to the ideology of the global market, thought should be given to Afro-Arab ties as a defensive strategy, writes Awatef Abdel-Rahman

Al-Ahram Weekly

Efforts by Arab and African officials to boost Arab-African relations, in light of regional and international developments, call attention to the importance of the cultural dimension of this relationship. Cultural interaction between Arab and African regions provides a foundation for successful cooperation in all other fields of activity.

It is possible to identity three general modes of cultural behaviour in the Arab and African worlds. One is the culture of submissiveness that stems from the authoritarian and paternalistic systems that prevail in most African and Arab societies, and in their rural communities in particular.

The second is the culture of subordination that promotes imitation and borrowing from Western culture, and above all Anglo-American and Francophone culture. This type of culture is embedded and spread through the domestic and foreign media and prevails among the political, cultural and media elites in Africa and the Arab world.

Third is the culture of participation that forms the cornerstone for democratic practices in all political, social and cultural domains. Unfortunately, this mode of culture has declined significantly in Arab and African societies due to the hegemony of authoritarian political and cultural structures and the prevalence of the culture of submission to political, religious and traditional authorities.

In other words, the prevailing modes of culture in most Arab and African societies are moving in a direction that does not encourage real democratic practices. Instead, they tend to support superficial and token practices that do not genuinely seek to encourage freedom of thought, opinion and expression, which most Arab and African governments, in fact, work to curtail through various legislative and extraordinary measures.

This issue was raised in the MacBride Report published by UNESCO in 1980 and confirmed by many human rights organisations that have highlighted the inconsistencies and contradictions that abound in laws regulating freedom of opinion and expression in Arab and African countries that are signatories to international rights conventions.

Reports by these organisations document how governments in these countries have expropriated the freedom to form syndicates, community associations, political parties and other civil society organisations; the freedom of assembly and the right to organised protest; and the freedom of opinion and expression. All such rights and freedoms are essential components of the human rights of access to knowledge, media freedom and free cultural communication.
Freedoms of opinion and expression also face cultural challenges. Prime among them is the use of satellite media to promote and spread consumerist, commercialist culture through advertisements, serials and variety programmes that seek to train the Arab and African collective mind into conforming to the modes of behaviour and values that favour the ideology and interests of the global market.

It is important, here, to underscore the need for serious efforts to protect culture itself from the domination of the market and consumerist ideology. Towards this end, it is necessary to resist persistent attempts on the part of investors and businessmen who are determined to commodify and Americanise culture and to marginalise serious national cultures, and to counter attempts to fragment national cultures through the programmes aired by US, European and Zionist satellite television stations.

Globalisation has engendered many threats to the cultural system in Africa and the Arab world. This raises the crucial question of what is to be done. What actions should be taken to counter the impediments to freedom of thought and expression and other problems that hamper the realisation of the concept of media citizenship, with its guarantees for the information rights of all Arab and African peoples, and their ability to exercise their legitimate rights to freedom of opinion and expression and participation in the crucial decision-making processes that effect their lives?

It should be stressed that these very problems and challenges also hamper effective interaction between Arab and African cultures. Undoubtedly, the responsibility falls primarily on cultural institutions, universities, research centres and civil society organisations in the Arab and African worlds to try to work together to formulate a comprehensive strategy to achieve two chief goals.

The first is to determine how to gain the optimum benefit from the achievements of the revolution in communications technology that are currently dominated by multinational corporations, the board of directors of the global economy (the World Bank, IMF and the World Trade Organisation) and the overlords of the global market.

This, in turn, will necessitate national research efforts to identify priorities and preferences with regard to the transfer of communications technology to African and Arab countries. It will simultaneously be necessary to accelerate the channelling of Arab and African capital into the creation of joint African-Arab projects aimed at indigenising communications technology.

The second goal is for Arab and African intellectuals to work together to use the positive aspects of joint Arab and African heritage in the framework of a civilisational project that relies on economic, social and cultural structures capable of avoiding the shortcomings of the currently prevailing official structures and institutions.

Here it will be important to support the role of civil society in the face of governments and the networks of domestic and international vested interests that are bent on transforming Africa and the Arab world into centres for servicing the global market, dominated by utilitarian and consumerist values and governed by the laws of supply and demand.

On a final note, we must acknowledge that despite the historical depth of Arab-African cultural relations their actual exercise is marred by numerous negative aspects. This is because these relations are carried out in an environment encumbered by the detrimental practices of the forces of foreign Western influence, which seek to disseminate among the African and Arab publics distorted images of each other.

To rectify this situation, academic studies will be needed to identify and expose how the international media and information system works to shape or distort Arab and African cultural awareness. Such research will entail monitoring and analysing the images of Africa and the Arab world that are disseminated through the press, television and satellite communications and that influence political and economic decisions and the course of African-Arab political and economic relations.

The writer is a veteran professor of journalism.

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