The latest rounds in the World Cup have shown an interesting phenomena regarding Arabs and sports. While Arab teams have failed to pass the first stage in this season’s World Cup, players of Arab origin have done well as their national teams have passed many hurdles to reach the final stages of this contest. Perhaps the most striking example was the failure of the Egyptian national team to win a single game in the World Cup despite having an international star, Mohammad Saleh, on the team.
The difference between the performance of Arab players and Arab teams has also been seen in other sports and in other contexts. Arab individual stars have performed well in the Olympics, for example, winning gold, silver and bronze, while Arab teams have never won a single medal in the international Olympic arena.
In 2012, Tawfiq Makhloufi of Algeria won the gold in the 1,500 metre run, Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj won two gold medal medal in the Athens games in 2004, and back in 1996, Syria’s Ghada Shouaa won gold in the Atlanta Olympics. All these players won in individual contests, while when it came to team sports, Arab teams have failed failed miserably.
The same can be said about the failure of Arabs in business. Family-based businesses do very well, while corporations have barely made a dent in world economics. Estimates say that 85 per cent of the Arab world’s successful companies are owned by families.
In politics, our elections favour tribes as parties usually fail to make to Parliament. Even inside Parliaments, individual issues and selfish desires trump any effort at coalition building and working as a group. Monarchies, like Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, succeed, while republics that are based on parties and parliamentary majorities, as in Iraq and Libya, recently have miserably failed. Leaders stay in office long past the days that they can provide good leadership.
In Jordan, professional unions insist on winner-takes-all election rules. So any group that can win 51 per cent of the vote gets to clean up the slate. Proportional representation does not exist. That is why it took 26 years for the engineers to retake their union from the Islamists, who had dominated it for decades. The winner-takes-all mentality is evident in Hamas, with the Islamic movement holding on to power after a single electoral victory in 2006.
The idea of a company director delegating authority to members of his team is rarely heard of in Arab-run corporations. CEOs feel that they need to micromanage everything and be involved in every small detail, signing every check and making every decision.
Collective effort requires sacrifice and selfless attitudes. A great player who insists on scoring the goals himself and refuses to pass the ball will not help his team win.
Even the attitude towards empowering women in our society stems from this individualistic male dominated culture that cannot see the benefit of collective effort.
Changing this individualistic mentality requires a revolution in thought and attitudes. A cultural revolution in how we make decisions and in favour of empowering and enabling the youth, who are the majority of the population in our region, needs to be both top down and bottom up at the same time.
This season, the World Cup will go again to a European nation. Europe, which fought deadly two world wars, is working together despite their bloody history and their deep differences in language and ethnicity. We have so much more in common in the Arab world, yet we are unable to rise to the occasion because of our selfish individualistic attitudes.
The saying goes that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. We can do so much more if we work together and apply the very principles that make some teams succeed and others fail.