Progress requires a new mindset -Mohamed ElBaradei addresses the Arab world’s youth

Sunday 7 November 202112:37 pm
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The weather is quite cold today in the rural area I visit from time to time to escape the city and its obligations. A combination of sun and rain. The fresh air gives you energy you do not find in cities, while vast swathes of agricultural land being prepared for new crops give you inspirational views and sensations.

The rain stopped, I saw an opportunity to take a walk down the winding roads that cut through the fields around my house. I did not set a specific destination or time for myself. I just wanted to do some of the exercise and activity that doctors recommend to people my age in order to stay fit. On my walk, I only came across one car and a tractor, whose drivers I know only by appearance. We exchanged greetings from a distance and each of us continued on their way. The area is inhabited by a small number of farmers who depend on modern equipment to cultivate vast areas of land.

Ever since I came here, I’ve been determined to spend most of my time catching up on reading that I had postponed, and reach out to my family members, especially my two granddaughters, who give me feelings of hope and new life when I talk to them - feelings that cushion the stress of everyday life. In any case, I had decided to steer clear of following daily events, since the majority are frustrating and disturbing, and to take a break where I would simply read literature, culture and history.

Unfortunately, before I left the house, I found myself taking a peek at the constant stream of news on my mobile phone to make sure that there wasn’t “an event” that I should know about, not because I would be able to change anything, but it’s a habit that has become part of my daily routine. I wish I never did. Fortunately I found no news of “nuclear war” or anything of the sort, I nevertheless had a foreboding feeling that we were on a steady path towards our own “slowly simmering fire of self-destruction”.

In a matter of minutes, the “latest news” poured out: crimes of ethnic genocide in Ethiopia; 42 million people risk dying of starvation; hundreds are about to drown in the Mediterranean Sea and no-one cares; two-thirds of the people of Yemen are at risk in an ever worsening famine; half of the Syrian population have become displaced refugees both inside and outside the country; the plight of the people of Palestine is ever deteriorating, and numerous attempts to eradicate their cause are well under way; the climate is changing at a catastrophic fast pace, and it will most likely change the form of life on our planet as we know it; rich countries are vaccinating their people with three doses against Coronavirus, while we in Africa have only been able to vaccinate five percent of our people; seventy men possess as much wealth as half of the world’s poor population does; disputes between America and Europe on the one hand, and China and Russia on the other hand, are becoming increasingly tense, and everyone is ready with nuclear, biological, and cyber weapons that can destroy mankind and consume everything in moments.

Even though I fortunately found no news of “nuclear war” or anything of the sort, I nevertheless had a dreadful feeling that we were on a steady path towards our own “slowly simmering fire of self-destruction”

I turned off my phone, and hurriedly left my house to go on my walk and take in some fresh air. Perhaps this would help me understand what was happening to our world. I tried as much as I could not to be overwhelmed by pessimism, and to think as calmly and objectively as possible, in a place far from people and from urbanism.

I have studied and worked in both the East and the West, and completed missions and jobs in many different fields, but what I see today is different from what I have seen before. Yes, there has been misery, wars and disasters that we were able to overcome, and many of them are still with us. But this time, the most dangerous of all is that some of the threats we face today are existential threats as a result of our scientific “progress” which has enabled us to develop weapons of mass destruction akin to those found in science fiction, in addition to all the things we continue to do relentlessly to rapidly destroy our planet. These existential threats may not leave any room for the future existence of humanity, if we do not deal with them in the way that they deserve, with radical change in thinking and approach. What is painful and surprising is that we treat ourselves, and our world, as if nothing has changed.

There are so many things that we must do, and quickly, to save ourselves. Time is not on our side:

First: We need to recognize that whatever our ethnic, religious, linguistic and other differences, we must learn from history that we are, in the end, one human family sharing the same planet, and that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. Unfortunately, we still let our superficial differences dominate our humanity, and in our region, we have countless examples of wars, conflicts, and divisions “over identity, ethnicity, and sectarianism” that belong more to pre-modern times, without it ever appearing in our minds that we are first and foremost human beings, and that we have an exceptional amount of cultural and historical ties. This - if we want it to - can be a starting point to alter our situation and conditions. We have lost the ability to see the forest, because we are only looking at the trees.

Second: We must accept that there is no alternative, regardless of our differences and disputes, when it comes to achieving systems and ways to live with one another and exercise acceptance of others on the basis of equality, respect, and solidarity. We need to understand that our differences and pluralism are a source of enrichment and strength, and not evidence of weakness, and that our journey together in life, as a human family, is not a zero-sum battle. Like it or not, we have become one world where one part of it cannot be separated from the other, and we can learn a lesson in this from the Coronavirus pandemic. The bottom line is that we will either succeed together, or we will fail one after the other.

Third: We must make sure that cooperation and joint action are no longer a matter of choice. The major threats we face today, from climate change to infectious diseases, from organized crime to cyber security, and from terrorism to poverty, are all interconnected threats that know no borders and can only be confronted with international cooperation, no matter how powerful any one country is. Cooperation, not rivalry, has now become a responsibility and an obligation.

Most dangerous of all are some existential threats we face today due to our scientific “progress” that has enabled us to develop weapons of mass destruction akin to science fiction, in addition to that, we are all tirelessly destroying our planet

Fourth: We must recognize that the international security system - which is based on relying on an “elite” when it comes to nuclear weapons and prohibiting it for others - is an unjust and unsustainable system. It has become necessary to build a new international order that provides security for all and is based on equality. Needless to say, there is no place in this regime for weapons of mass destruction.

Finally: Together we must reach the conviction - a conviction that has its own special importance in our Arab world - that there will be no good or stable system of governance unless every human is guaranteed his basic freedoms: freedom of expression and belief, and freedom from fear and want; a system based on respecting the opinion of the majority, protecting the rights of the minority, and separating the public and private spheres. In other words, a system based on equality, freedom, and social justice. Democracy, with all that it implies in terms of climate, institutions, and civil society, goes beyond the voting booth, and despite all its deficiencies, it is still the best system we have reached to achieve human freedom and dignity, and create a society in peace with itself, based on knowledge and creativity.

Together we must reach the conviction that there will be no stable system of governance unless everyone is guaranteed basic freedoms: freedom of expression and faith, freedom from fear and want; a system based on respecting the opinion of the majority and protecting the rights of the minority

Everything I have mentioned here are lessons that experience and history have taught us. They oblige us to change our way of thinking, our mindset, without hesitation if we want to change our miserable reality. And if it’s “fashionable” now to talk about the need to build a “better edifice” for humanity, after Coronavirus revealed the flaws and fragility of the existing one, then I am sure that we will not be able to make any progress, until we change our mindset. Our battle is a battle of thought and values ​​above all.

I went back home after a little brainstorming, to write these words. And if I doubt that I have added something new, then I have no doubt that exercise has helped me refresh my mind and rejuvenate my energy, and that I have enjoyed the peace, serenity, and beauty that nature provides.

Mohamed ElBaradei. Honorary Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nobel Peace Prize laureate (2005)

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22

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