Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Voices from the Arab press: Two stories in two pictures

It is often said that a picture is worth more than a thousand words. So let me share two pictures that left me thinking about who we are as a society.

The first: a meeting between the British and Kuwaiti prime ministers. Members of the two delegations are sitting across from each other, face-to-face. The British advisers are busy jotting down verbatim notes from the meeting between the two leaders. The Kuwaiti advisers, meanwhile, seem bored and unamused, with their cheeks resting on the palms of their hands.
The truth is that these advisers can’t be blamed for their incompetence; it’s endemic to our society. This is the exact behavior they learned from their mentors, teachers and colleagues.
Note-taking, written documentation and knowledge preservation are simply not part of our culture. That’s why when we find an ancient letter, assumed to have been written a century ago in Kuwait, we rush to frame it and hang it in our national museum. So few of these documents exist in our country, where the emphasis is on verbal, rather than written, communication.

A look at the way marriage agreements have been dealt with in our country up to just a few years ago – without any written documentation – would suffice to understand the magnitude of this situation.
The second photo I often reflect on dates back to 1957. It shows the Al-Azhar imam, Sheikh Ahmed Hassan al-Baqouri, standing next to his unveiled daughter. The daughter’s hair is tied in beautiful braids behind her back, and she is wearing a dress that reveals parts of her shoulders and arms.

I can’t help but think that while the daughter of a sheikh wore this outfit over six decades ago, an ordinary girl wearing a similar dress today would receive hurtful, violent remarks.
The late Egyptian actress Faten Hamama used to say: “We were respectable societies with liberal clothes and bright minds. Now we live in loose societies, with modest clothes and rotten minds.” READ MORE