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I think, therefore I am

Oct 07,2018 - Last updated at Oct 07,2018

A couple of days ago, a dear friend of mine sent me a video recording of a speech by Abdelfattah Mourou, the Tunisian lawyer, politician, co-founder of Ennahdha (Islamist) Party and first vice president of the assembly of representatives. 

I find Mourou very interesting because he has enlightened, progressive and controversial views, for which he was assaulted verbally and physically more than once. This is rare because high-ranking political figures anywhere in the world, particularly those with a religious orientation, tend to be extremely conservative. They do not advance enlightened and progressive views.

In this speech, Mourou criticised the educational systems of Arab and Muslim countries for giving priority to medicine and engineering to the detriment of the humanities, particularly law and philosophy. The result, in his view, is a population that can manage the movement of large numbers of people, for instance to the Hajj and back, but cannot comprehend the great historic movements taking place around them. They can memorise and recite facts, but they cannot think.

This describes perfectly the state my wife and I were in when we finished school in Amman and went to England to do GCE Advanced level exams and then go to university. We had to re-learn how to study. We needed to learn a whole new set of skills discouraged and suppressed by the Ministry of Education syllabus, such as thinking, analysing, developing theories and testing them.

We succeeded, but we both remained influenced by the prevailing social outlook that clever students study medicine, engineering or some scientific subject, while others study humanities when they fail to do anything else. Those with the lowest academic achievement go to military college or Sharia school, and either way, wasta permitting, become leaders of their nations. 

Imagine our shock and consternation, then, when our son, although an A student much praised by his teachers, told us that he decided to study law instead of his original plan to study astrophysics, which would have guaranteed him a secure and cushy position at the Ministry of Awqaf monitoring the crescent of Ramadan.

Exploring the prospects of studying law turned out to be as educational for us as for him. For instance, we learned that the legal and judicial systems in Arab countries are independent, fair, upright, transparent and highly trusted, so much so that when Arab companies do cross-border business-to-business transactions, they resolve any disputes in English courts, according to English law. 

This is hardly surprising. Admission to law school in the West is very highly competitive, so only very bright and highly motivated students make it through this filter. In the Arab world, by contrast, admission to law school, unless it has changed very recently, is not quite as easy as Sharia school but the second best thing.

This is a sad state of affairs because the first and most important component in nation building is the law. Law is the source of national cohesion. It may be time for Arabs to reassess their experience in nation building.


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