Hardly anyone would disagree that the state of the Arab nation leaves much to be desired, and that our Arab societies continue to stagnate. Our discourse and inspiration for the desired Arab renaissance remain merely rhetorical. What, then, is the missing element?
Let us recall that the first Arab renaissance revived the spirit of hope in the souls of our forefathers at an extremely difficult time. Pioneers like Al Yazijy, Al Rihani, Al Bustany, Mohammad Abdo, Al Kawakiby, and all the others who deserve a place on this impressive list, laid down the foundations for what was to come. The product of their intellects outlined the form of this grand "first renaissance" that continues to pervade the thoughtful Arab soul. I wish we would revert to those texts, left by these great men, for inspiration in our present and future.
Let us try to understand the astute vision represented in the well-known saying: "Religion is for the Almighty, and the homeland is for everyone". Those pioneers have touched on something vital, seemingly warning us against any ethnic, sectarian, religious or other discord. Catastrophes and calamities have challenged us from within and without, leading to the eclipsing of our first renaissance, though it has remained an enlightening source of hope, guiding many through the bleak realities of today.
The second Arab renaissance took a different, worldlier form Ã¢â‚¬" the Great Arab Revolt that spurred the nation into action and revived hope once more. And what, after all, is a renaissance if not a revolution, a sea-change in mindset that changes forever what went before? This second renaissance bore with it its predecessor`s torch as it sought to validate modernity and modernise what was real in the lives of Arabs.
Sadly, confusion and disappointment reigned once again and this second renaissance followed in the footsteps of the first: the absence of values and standards destroyed its benefits.
After these disappointments, the time has come for a third renaissance that is more firmly rooted, one that learns and benefits from the lessons of past mistakes and transgressions.
I believe that such a renaissance should begin with the concept of citizenship and should culminate with a charter of hope: an Arab Citizen`s Charter, a document to clarify duties, rights and responsibilities for individuals and groups. This is what we hope to achieve, even if in broad terms, at the "Citizenship in the Arab Nation" conference, hosted by the Annual Intellectual Symposium of the Arab Thought Forum in April 2008 in the Kingdom of Morocco. I had the honour of presenting this concept, and some of the Charter`s relevant articles, at the Forum`s Annual Intellectual Symposium hosted by the State of Qatar in January 2007.
What, then, is citizenship? Full citizenship, in its proper meaning, has many dimensions to it.
The Human Dimension: Compassion; solidarity; cooperation; gender equality; rejection of all forms of discrimination; freedom; and the right to choose and practice one`s faith.
The Democratic Dimension: Freedom to choose political authority; peaceful deliberation over authority; emphasizing the participatory concept - in both the public and private dimensions; empowering democratic actors and the public and enhancing a democratic climate in various ways, so that democracy does not remain a mere slogan or a hollow term; honouring the principle and practice of plurality, based on a profound awareness of diversity and difference within a civilised framework that absorbs cultural, religious, ethnic, tribal and sectarian distinction: diversity within the framework of unity.
The Environmental Dimension: Preserving and protecting the environment; nurturing the earth; and recognising its capacity and limitations.
The Legal and Constitutional Dimension: Respect for law, constitutions and standards that guarantee individuals and groups freedom of expression.
Put simply, we must make the citizen a `stakeholder` in his country, not merely conceptually, but also physically. He should hold a fair stake in his country`s present and future.
We can benefit from the experience of South European Muslims who articulated the first Charter for Muslims in Europe, identifying citizenship rights for 30 million Muslims. Through this Charter, these Muslims addressed the European Union and all Muslims in Europe and the Muslim world, on the basis of adhering to the rule of law, principles of tolerance, and values of democracy and human rights; and by emphasising the values of life, faith, freedom, ownership and dignity.
I call for the development of an Arab Citizen`s Charter along the lines of the South European Muslims` charter. We aspire to the establishment of full and meaningful citizenship, with a charter that guarantees equal rights for individuals and groups to participate in decision-making, share the wealth of the state and enjoy an equal presence in the public space. This concept of citizenship emanates from an Arab nation that adopts a policy of rallying under the umbrella of codes of conduct. The "nation" is a concept that transcends the state, starting from the base of the pyramid, and working its way to the top.
Let us, at the very least, contemplate a transitional citizenship, along the concepts of transitional democracy and justice, in order to open a window of hope, so that these ideas spread to all Arab citizens.
* Prince El Hassan bin Talal, brother of the late King Hussein of Jordan, is chairman of several organisations in fields which include diplomacy, interfaith studies, human resources, and science and technology. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews)