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Venue: a London suburb - small town in the heart of   the English countryside neighboring a gentle valley.       Time: My vacation this summer 2004

  We were four friends of mine and me, in my humble house inside the old woods. The scent of fresh pine was charming, a sweet condolence for five Arabs trying to forget for a while a miserable reality in the Arab World.

Unfortunately there was no way to do that. One cannot retire from the real world, migrate from the actuality, or desert the daily challenge - that of survival as it unfolds in occupied Palestine or the challenge of a scorched land that develops in Iraq.

From time to time, we, this Arab generation of thwarted dreams, try to find a place for joy, a touch of condolence. We drag ourselves far away to a remote shade, or glaring sands to slash this mental burden, but in vein. Our crisis follows us like shades, inhabiting our suitcase, mocking this effort of false escape that disintegrates soon.

I have invited a group of English friends to join us and our discussions were generally covering social and political topics.  

  I can no longer remember exactly what we were saying when one of them asked about the number of Arab states that have a social system, which provides government assistance for families with newly born babies. He meant financial assistance to help families provide the additional needs beyond the healthcare, because the government freely provides the latter not only for every UK citizen, but also for every resident in the country.

Let me admit that I pretended not to grasp the question at first instance to hear it again. And my guest repeated it slowly, in robotic way, stressing on the expression ďwhen the baby sees the daylightĒ.

Taken by the question, with a manipulating investigative tone, I asked the guest whether this policy is implemented in the UK.

In the same quite tone, familiar for the English, my guest raised his eyebrows listening my manoeuvre and confirmed that the UK government pays to the families £ 60 monthly for every child effective from the first day of his or her life until 16 years of age, regardless of the number of children in the family.

Of course, this in no way means that the government is free of any liability towards these citizens after 16. There are other responsibilities - it provides them with free education and healthcare and tries to create new jobs. Moreover, there are certain establishments, commissioned to provide career-planning advice and direct them towards academic qualifications sought by employers.

Letís not forget the social security system for seniors and the establishments dedicated to their wellbeing. This is just to name a little of the services implemented by the UK and other countries catering for their people.

My English guest didnít end his remarks about the European social systems in general when I began feeling contradicting things.

First, I was full of admiration for these policies aiming at protecting people from poverty and social insecurities.

Second, it was bitterly frustrated by what I knew about deteriorated social conditions in most of the Arab World. Despite the vast wealth of some of our states and gigantic natural resources of the Arab lands, the majority of Arab people lack social security and live in an increasing fear of tomorrow - a situation alienated most of the Arabs from their governments whose last concern is the wellbeing of their subjects.

While in the Arab World billions of dollars are plundered by some Arabs, the funds in the West are systemically invested to eliminate poverty and assist people to afford for their needs.

An endless train of images from all over the Arab and Islamic World crossed my mind and the general theme is the same - totalitarian regimes that put the interests of their peoples at the bottom of their priorities.

It is a matter of fact that the Western nations achieved those vast strides of development only after they fulfilled the needs of their citizens and provided them with the socially secured environment that could nurture creativity and productivity.

On the other side of the scale, the nations that aborted the dreams, frustrated the minds, uprooted the creativity, suffocated the thought, stolen the liberties, nurtured the corruption and deepened alienation are at the bottom of our world.

When would our Arab and Muslem states wake up to the reality and reconcile with their people? 

Itís not too late.

Adding to this bitter situation, the Arab private sector doesnít go ahead to bridge this gap or to counter balance the government imbalances, or at least to improve it.

In this regard, I donít exempt even some officials of the Palestinian Authority, from the responsibility of this plunder. Belonging is the sense of commitment, sacrifice, partnership and benevolence. Itís not an escape of whatsoever responsibility.

Khalaf Ahmed Al Habtoor



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