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Qatif Municipal

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Civil Society and National Unity Issues
14/07/2009 - 01:31 am

The development of civil society organizations (CSOs) is a distinctive feature in this historic era in various states all over the world for many reasons; most important of which is communities believe that it is necessary to have their members participate effectively in managing the society's affairs and alleviating the dominance of political systems in various aspects of life. Thus, a huge development in civil society concept as well as in the diversity of its social applications has occurred during the last decades in a way that affected different public policies.

Theoretically, there is a belief that various CSOs are suitable for developing the relationship between activists and workers in such institutions to a level that oversteps the traditional limits of relationships; especially in the unmodernized societies. Those CSOs contribute in promoting essential concepts like citizenship and sharing. They, also, create newer forms to concepts of a national and modern state like equality and participation in public affairs. Such forms would have positive outcomes in achieving an effective level of fundamental constraints that promote national unity.

On the other hand, social reality may enforce cultural and social restraints and limits that hinder achieving those aims. Furthermore, CSOs may turn into tools that promote fragmentation and traditional affiliations which contradict with the bases of national unity in a state, as in some developing societies.

Therefore, examining the relationship between the establishment of CSOs and how they affect national unity positively need exploring the particular circumstances of each society as well as its cultural structure in order to ensure an effective interaction. This examination, also, requires making the developments of CSOs within the components of a comprehensive reform project that targets replacing or developing the exited traditional relationships in a society to more civilized ones.  This is to interact perfectly with the transformations and to fulfill the society's and state's needs in order to have national unity with suitable limits.

The Society and the Development of Relationships Limits:
 The ongoing development in any society whether politically, socially or culturally creates struggle and competition between the traditional forces and the new ones which results in reformulating the relationships between all of those groups in a way that preserves the interests of different effective parties.

 Even recently, the role of the state's authority was dominating the formulation of relationships with various social groups, and organizing the role of those groups to achieve a state of control and stability. When economy became more significant in the society and effective social classes that have political ambitions appeared, the status changed into a dual rapprochement; the market and the state, in a way that influenced the levels of relationships between social groups. Because of international developments towards globalization and the subsequent economic and social interactions, the concept of civil society was formed more clearly and considered the third sector within a ternary rapprochement with the previous two sectors; the state and the market.

Arab societies hugely discussed the civil society concept and its ideology due to the problems and extreme resistance to this concept at first; then, trying replacing it with other terms that carry similar meanings or limit it in a specific culture with specific features. As other terminologies of foreign sources and cultures, civil society concept was so debatable; some believe that it is the solution to many social and political problems but others try to find other expressions that might adapt the civil society concept with that particular culture.

 Here, what concerns is the influence of civil society over the relation between the elements that constitute the units of national communities. Rapprochement with the (the civil society) is what really concerns here because it put forms for effective social relationships which could be utilized negatively or positively for national unity field. However, clear features had been applied to civil society expression which is defined as the hereditary ties and organizations that the individual belongs to since birth for prior considerations without having the freedom of choice. This definition differs from international one of civil society concept in several aspects like volunteering, independency, non-profitability to members and participation in the public interest.

 Systems of social relationships develop as a response to social needs and to preserve the interests of individuals. Therefore, those systems changes from stage of time to another according to the economic, social, political and cultural components of each society within a certain stage of time. The rapid development and sophistication of the society and the state resulted in huge, complicated issues in the capability of the current social relationships in comprehending the society's needs and in creating a balanced relationship between the state and the society. Such rapid development caused deficiency in the current systems of relations and offered the state the opportunity to dominate various systems and hold them administrative, executive and social responsibilities which they are not capable of, although it is obvious that developing states suffer from serious administrative and bureaucratic dilemmas. In Arab communities, political systems focused on preserving their positions and worked on deteriorating any system that promotes independency away from the dominance of the state. Thus, systems of social relationships became incapable to fulfill the needs of the society, whereas the state worked on portraying every initiative as ineffective and unproductive.

 Cancelling social institutions that were established for satisfying the society's political, cultural and economic needs by political parties, societies and labor unions results in ceasing social development as well as governmental dominance over the society's civil affairs. Consequently, this leads to disrupting social activities and making them work for fulfilling the state's demands instead of the society's needs. So, many institutions lack any purposeful aims and do not offer any temptations to their associates, and accordingly, they have lost their actual ability in providing social communication mediators that are capable of connecting social elements with each other within certain aims.

 Some attribute this to social and cultural obstacles, but, obviously, the political factor plays a major role in hindering this social movement. When this social movement had suitable political environment in certain decades in the middle of last century, it began to play major and significant social and national roles. It can be noted, here, that national movement in our region had practiced different patterns of civil work through which it was able of overstepping the traditional ideology that was prevailing in the society to more civilized relations which disregard all types of discriminations.

 However, the decline in this movement due to foreign and internal political factors made it lose this distinction. Moreover, because there are no other similar alternatives, the traditional ideology  in the society remained the basis for all relationships between the society's components and the political authority, and resulted in many complications.

 Although our societies went through many social and cultural transformations, the concept of citizenship in the modern state and the individual's effective participation in political entities that combine between rights and duties are still ambiguous. All of that are attributed to the absence of CSOs. Thus, their role contributes in setting more clear limits between rights and duties in the relationship between the authority  with society's members or between the government and CSOs.

The Description of Social Reality:
 The traditional ideology of different levels and forms formulate the basis of relationships between various social components. This ideology depends on the forms of civil affiliations in the traditional societies where family and tribal ties play a major role in confining the forms, patterns and limits of these relationships.

 Although there are Islamic teachings that promote communication between family members to maintain family and social ties, they do not promote discrimination among members of the society. Extended families played and still play a significant role in social cohesion within Arab communities, and this condition is, of course, tempting to the political systems because it is more easy to deal with such entities in which their members usually refer to certain prominent figures, although there are possibilities of rebellions or insurrections for diverse reasons. Political groups and systems work on promoting the role of such entities through holding them significant responsibilities in order to promote stability and find state of social harmony.

 Although these entities contribute in boosting the ties and relations inside them, besides their relationships with  others in the same atmosphere to achieve certain interests that concern their own members. Thus, they can not transform to modern civil relationships because that requires disregarding the interests of their members and concentrating on wider civil interests and participations. Absence of civil society link resulted in a collapse and retreat towards the traditional ideology in a way in which it was made the center of social relationships through promoting tribal discrimination instead of national unity concepts.

 Many writers and intellectuals discussed several phenomena that refer to the escalating number of the orientations that contribute in boosting narrow tribal affiliations and disregard national unity concepts.

 There are many examples over sectarianism in social relationships which lead to discrimination among citizens like forbidding marriage between people of different religious sects, lacking a unified law applied over all, or discriminating between people based on their sectarian affiliations. All of these cause serious gaps in the social system and affect civil peace and social stability in a negative way.

The Future Horizon of Civil Society:
 Although all of these retreats in the modernization of relationships in social systems and the revival of the traditional ones were due to the absence of civil alternatives that suit the society's and the state's needs, there is a significant escalating awareness to the need for such relationships and systems. This need appeared due to openness in media, communicating with other societies and the formation of the concept of modern state role as it is a political space that approaches the economic space; the market, and the social one; the civil society, in a way that the three of them make integral work fields, and influence each other.

Moreover, the composition of Arab communities is so sophisticated in terms of pluralism in ethnicity, religions, sects and tribes which can not be perceived only through a civilized system that can absorb all of those diversities and avoid different factors that lead to social and political disturbances. Even if certain circumstances had contributed in hiding the diversities and marginalizing some social groups in some periods of time, it is impossible, now, to do so and the state is obligated to international treaties and conventions that require the recognition of pluralism.

 The spread of democracy, calling for individual freedoms and claiming human rights were maybe the result of the contemporary conditions, and that require setting common grounds that are proper for individuals to practice their rights. The spread of democracy, also, means the development of certain significant political and cultural concepts like tolerance, coexistence, mutual understanding, consolidation of citizenship, integrity, equality before the law, respecting human rights and other concepts.

 The new generation of youths, who are educated, ambitious, demanding for change and not attracted by the traditional systems, are looking for new institutions that provide them the opportunity of competition, challenge and revival. On the other hand, revival requires a great efforts to create new creative communication means that could influence all forms of traditional systems as well as all cultural, social and political aspects. It is, actually, constantly prevailing as we hear all the time about initiatives made by groups of young people who aim to fulfill certain social needs.

Towards National, Modern Civil System:
 Because of such current challenges and renewed social problems, it is necessary to look for modern civil systems that can respond to these challenges and interact with the changing social needs. These modern systems can, also, correspond with the various existing systems, and develop themselves in a way that they can positively affect national unity in order to promote and strengthen it.

 The legal system is a significant pillar in this field because it contributes in creating a common space that interacts with needs of the society and promote dealing with the field of law to have a balanced state between the rights and duties of individuals. Human rights associations can achieve high national goals through adopting the society's various components and issues, and involving individuals from diverse backgrounds. Moreover, the comprehensive concern of those associations requires dealing with different human rights issues like rehabilitation, training, addressing diverse forms of human rights violations as well as various forms of discrimination between citizens.

 Labor issues, that require establishing professional labor unions and associations specialized in defending and educating labor about their rights and that require, also, enhancing the professional skills and competencies to provide the individuals the opportunity to exchange experiences with their equivalents, are significant systems. These systems attract specialists to look for the similarities with their equivalents that make them work together for reaching common goals. This is, also, applied to other associations like the ones that take care of weak or marginalized social groups like women, handicapped, elderly, religious minorities and victims of drugs and auto accidents. 

 Moreover, political development institutions are working for promoting political awareness in the society in order to activate the individual's national role. However, the most distinctive domains of those institutions are organizing and participating in elections, monitoring the performance of legislative and executive authorities and promoting public freedoms.

 Yet, this does not mean that the approach of work for the civil society is so easy. It is actually, in Arab communities, so difficult and has many obstacles; the most prominent of which is the negative attitude of political authorities which still consider the CSOs as competitor without considering its role in preserving the security and stability of the society. To have an active civil society, it is important to modernize the political structure in a way that accept the presence of independent institutions that work efficiently for developing the society in various fields.

 Lack of education about CSOs in Arab communities is, also, a significant obstacle; not only in terms of ideological understanding, but, also, in social practice and sociological rapprochement.

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