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Arab World: No Shortcuts to Deradicalization

The root cause of radicalization is embedded in a nation’s internal socio-economic and political disorder.

July 18, 2016

MidoSemsem /

Every Arab state, regardless of the extent to which it is involved in combating violent extremism, must recognize that there is no shortcut to defeating this scourge. Those who are looking for quick fixes are in for a rude awakening.

Military force is selectively necessary to destroy irredeemably ruthless and bloodthirsty organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But to neutralize violent extremism in the long term, no amount of military muscle will suffice.

The Arab states must realize that the root causes of radicalization are embedded in their internal socio-economic and political disorder.

Only by undertaking systematic and consistent measures to cure this domestic malaise will violent radicalization abate.

The West, especially Britain and France (and at a later stage the U.S.), have not been without fault and contributed to the plight of the Arab masses. However, Arab leaders can no longer blame their problems on Western powers.

The decades-long suppression, suffering and servitude that the Arab masses, especially the young, have endured under largely corrupt and uncaring leaders. There is an insatiable hunger for power in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and others.

No passing fad

The Arab states must now understand that their youths’ awakening, manifested in the Arab Spring, is only at the beginning stages.

Countries that have not, as of yet, been engulfed by the Arab Spring and argue that it was only a fading phenomenon are deeply misguided. It is only a question of when the rise of Arab youth will reach their shores to haunt them.

The convergence of a plethora of jihadist groups into Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen is not accidental. And as long as grievances, hopelessness and desolation prevail, they will continue to provide fertile ground for radical Islamists to step in and capitalize on public despair.

There is certainly no single road to radicalization. Some join violent radical groups to acquire a sense of belonging. Others seek to shed their daily indignities. Some are swayed by the desire for recognition or integration. Others are drawn by the lure of adventure or heroism.

And yet others have no other outlet to vent their grievances in the absence of due justice or any access to the political process.

The common denominator is that these young men and women have become estranged from their own communities and are open to almost any path that would lead them to a new meaning and purpose to their lives, even in death.

Voltaire got it right when he said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

Not surprisingly, for every terrorist or jihadist killed or captured, two or three more are recruited.

This suggests that regardless of how much military force is used and irrespective of the efforts made to rehabilitate captured radicals by some Arab states (including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq), there will be no end to violent extremism.

Now or never

Therefore, Arab states must either embark now on social, economic and political reforms that offer a new horizon and hope for a better and brighter future.

They will be swept away by escalating violent extremism that will destroy the political foundation on which these regimes rest. Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen provide glaring examples.

There is no panacea that would bring an end to violent extremism. It will take a decade or more before meaningful change and stability occurs. That will only happen if:

1.) There is a strategy in place to deal with the aftermath of the defeat (as a prerequisite) of ISIS and other major violent extremist groups (to be discussed in next week’s article)

2.) The Arab states embark upon building a sustainable socio-economic and political structure (while the war against extremism is continuing) to mitigate the outcry of the masses who want these changes that they will otherwise seek by some other means, including violence.

The wealth gap

In order to do this, the Arab states must first begin to reduce the growing gap between rich and poor.

Nothing is more devastating than witnessing how the wealthy in most Arab states ride on the backs of the poor, and how the governments do next to nothing to lift the majority of the people from abject poverty.

Equitable distribution of resources is not a handout that provides temporary relief from daily hardships.

Equitable distribution means, among other things, the allocation of funds to build infrastructure as well as schools, health clinics and water management systems and the creation of new jobs that benefit the average person.

Although the Arab youth are impatient and want instant improvements, as long as government efforts are genuine and the youth are experiencing tangible and sustained progress, they will embrace it as it offers the promise of a better tomorrow.

Tailored reforms

Arab governments must commit themselves to social and political reforms to end the marginalization of the vast majority of the population.

Social and political reforms should not necessarily translate to a full-fledged democracy. However, providing larger doses of social justice and political freedom in conjunction with economic development is necessary. That will allow for steady progress without threatening the government’s hold on power.

Instead of shoving Western-style democracy down their throats, which precipitated counter revolution in Egypt, chaos and civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya, the Arab states will develop over time their own brand of democracy consistent with their culture and religion.

Stemming radicalization does not rest as much on democratic reform than on a commitment to human rights. The Arab youth are more concerned with job opportunities and living with dignity than being given the right to vote while still living in abject poverty.

Empowering participation

Perhaps nothing halts violent extremism more than empowerment of the ordinary people. Nothing can achieve that more directly and efficiently than sustainable development projects. Launching them requires a relatively small amount of money, but yields disproportionally rewarding returns.

Sustainable development is not a new concept. It has been shown time and again that self-enablement, generated by the creation of wealth, provides solid family life and a sense of belonging. Absence of that will push people to seek belonging elsewhere through radicalization.

Poverty-ridden Arab states in particular must make sustainable development projects a priority in their fight against violent extremism.

Giving small communities the opportunity to choose and develop their own projects not only provides economic stability, but also engenders collaborative efforts by members of the community and fosters a free decision-making process to achieve their goal, which is the essence of self-empowerment.

Toward this goal, participatory democratic planning — where communities themselves identify, implement and benefit from their priority human development projects — is the key element to sustainability.

Effective implementation is essential. Directly engaging the remote and marginalized communities requires a high level of commitment for a long period of time.

Minority rights

Given that the population of many Arab states is composed of different sects, races, religions and tribes, their different aspirations and goals invite radical groups or states to exploit such division and discord within communities.

The only way to deny foreign countries or violent extremist groups the opportunity to pry into the internal affairs of any Arab states is by not discriminating against minorities, and peacefully reconciling discord between the various segments of the population.

It is clear that the Arab states face an unprecedented challenge posed by violent extremism. They can address it only by providing what their youth needs the most — hope, opportunity and a life of dignity.


To neutralize violent extremism in the long term, no amount of military muscle will suffice.

The Arab states must realize that the root cause of radicalization is embedded in their socio-economic and political disorder.

Arab states must embark now on deep reforms that offer a brighter future, or will be swept away.

Only by undertaking consistent measures to cure domestic malaise will violent radicalization abate.

The Arab youth are more concerned with job opportunities and living with dignity than being given the right to vote.