|By Iqbal Tamimi|
The most bizarre email was circulated and found its way to my inbox a couple of days ago. The email was entitled ‘The Declaration of the First Conference of Arab Expatriates’.
According to the content of the email, the conference mentioned took place at the headquarters of the League of Arab States General Secretariat in Cairo-Egypt, in December 2010.
As an active Arab journalist residing in the Diaspora, besides my many other networking activities I would say, the news came to me as an electric shock.
If the Arab media professionals in the Diaspora, who are considered the umbilical cord that keeps the Arab expatriate communities connected to their Arab world’s womb, were the last to know about such an event created in their name, and knew nothing about such event, who they were talking about then?
Who are the people who were representing us? How they were chosen and by whom, and based on what criteria, and most of all, since the event has been held in Egypt, what happened to the representation of the Egyptian expatriates from the opposition who can’t go home for political reasons or because they fear that their safety or liberties are threatened.
Many questions force themselves and cast their shadows on such an event. A conference for expatriates should have been held on neutral grounds; on the soil of any non-Arab country that respects human rights, where all expatriates can attend without fearing the consequences of expressing their views, and where they will be able to share their visions and aspirations without worrying about the dark drawers where their files will be hosted.
After all, a large percentage of Arab expatriates are from the educated elites who fled the Arab states because they could not take the oppression and corruption that are infesting in most establishments, or because their accomplishments and intelligence were not appreciated, valued or taken seriously, or they were refugees and asylum seekers who could not find a decent refuge in the Arab World.
The circulated email says: ‘After reviewing the studies, reports, ideas, and proposals contained in the papers that were presented at the First Conference of Arab expatriates, and after extensive discussion sessions and an open dialogue between ministers and communities under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General, and the discussions that followed the presentation of papers at meetings of the conference, and the extensive discussions at the workshops, and the interventions of participants they decided the following….‘
I thought, wooooo hold your horses, there were studies, reports, ideas, proposals and submitted papers? By whom and why all that has been done in our name, surely we were not involved. I have contacted a number of prominent Arab media professionals working in UK; none of them had any knowledge of such event and were not invited to submit any of the above mentioned proposals or studies.
Besides, why would the Ministers be involved? Who were the people assigned to do the linking, preparations and the arrangements involved? Were they done through the incompetent media departments of the Arab embassies in the Diaspora that hardly know its own citizens and never invite them to participate in any event or circulate to them any news about any activities?
From my own experience, none of the Arab embassies that I have contacted through their media departments in UK ever responded to any of my media queries, except the Sudanese Embassy. And in the past four years, I knew only of one event attended in UK by an Arab Minister of Expatriates, he was the Yemeni Minister of Expatriates, Dr. Saleh Hussain Sumai who participated in a celebration organized for Yemeni-British students who done well in their education in the British city of Dudley.
Skipping the long Arab media munching rhetoric in the introduction of the report that polished and stroked the ego of the organizers, I reached the point where the report talks about the role anticipated of the expatriates. The congregation expects of the expatriates to ‘to defend the Arab world stances and highlight its prosperous image and work on twinning between similar institutions and projects the expatriates are part of in the West and those of the Arab World’.
I found such recycled demands insulting to our intelligence. How can they demand of the expatriates to do that much for the Arab state’s institutions that never cared about their accomplishments, pains or struggles until they were embraced and sheltered by non- Arab states who helped them actualize their dreams?
But it seems that the organizers of this conference were addressing the wealthy Arabs who managed to create a fortune and establish an economic weight in the Diaspora; not the crushed majority of Arabs who happen to be students, refugees and asylum seekers and intellectuals, whose only wealth is their brains.
How can they expect of the Arab expatriates who managed to stand on their own feet in exile to twin their projects with establishments in Arab countries, after being forced to flee due to encountering gigantic number of obstacles and corrupt gatekeepers back home.
From my humble experience in my field of journalism, most of the projects I have participated in, or worked on in UK, I could not actualize in the Arab World because of censorship, lack of interest, lack of encouragement and corrupt individuals who crush the hopes of any individual who shows any signs of promise, because the majority of those who are appointed to fiddle with the future of their Arab countries were appointed without going through the proper criteria’s of selection based on skills, qualifications or professionalism.
When it comes to participating in the activities sponsored by institutions based in the wealthy Arab countries, the moment, an Arab expatriate agrees to participate in any of their projects, they start whining about being so poor and that they can NOT fund a speaker or a researcher, yet they seem to be kind enough to offer to recycle his hard work, sweat, and achievements and make of them more money that bleaches their own images.
One of such high caliber institutions of research in the Gulf offered me last year in return of my research that took me eight years to compile; and after reading their conditions that would strip me totally of all my rights over my own research, and after a number of exchanged emails, they came up with their generous offer of £70 ‘because they claimed they have no money’ to fund my attendance expenses.
I was denied the privileges made available to all the other participants, that cover the three day conference accommodation and transportations costs ‘because I was not a foreign participant, but an Arab Expatriate.
For those who are interested in knowing the reaction of a hard working expatriate for such treatment, I turned down their ‘bloo-y’ £70 offer, that would not buy me a decent cup of cappuccino with a piece of cake, in one of the lavished hotels where their Council Members usually take their coffees, since I knew them well and I know what kind of funds they enjoy splashing in.
I was not begging, I was offering them full rights over my research and they could not even reflect the minimum amount of common curtsey.
From my experience, the hosting countries are offering the Arab expatriate the free training opportunities, the educational support, freedom of expression and most of all a sense of achievement…. I would suggest that there is no need to organize a conference or deplete resources to achieve the above mentioned organizers’ goals.
Strengthening the ties between the expatriates and the Arab World can happen automatically as soon as the expatriates feel that they do belong and that they enjoy some respect and their efforts are acknowledged and their achievements are celebrated. I wonder, which Arab state has any records or information about its own nationals who are suffering in the Diaspora, and what actions did they take to help them?
Iqbal Tamimi, Director for Arab Women Media Watch Centre in UK
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