The Arab world has long suffered a drought of the type of leadership that transforms its people. No such shortage is so evident than in recent post revolution times. Transformational leaders are not the type that win elections based on empty promises. Of those, there are as many as there are football coaches on a monday morning. They are the kind that, through their actions, improve their environment and the lives of those who follow them.
Of special interest to me is Tunisia which has long played the role of the beacon, especially in recent history.
Due to its place in history, Tunisia had always served as a leader of sort to the rest of Arab Nations, especially since it had emerged as a free and sovereign country from the colonial grips of France. Today it is struggling for a new direction and a new leadership. This lack of leadership is particularly troubling because Tunisia is at a critical monumental juncture. Tunisia needs a leader that has a great vision and the charisma to unite all Tunisians under the one umbrella that is the common good of the country. Tunisia today does not need a “soviet style” dictator, one that creates a divided Tunisia so that he can easily rule them. Tunisia today does not need to be stuck with its own version of a religious dictator. Tunisia today needs its Sputnik moment. It needs its own version of Martin Luther King Jr. One, who is not afraid to be from the minority but has the respect of the majority, he can be from a forgotten region of the country, or from an economically underprivileged family, or from a lesser than average public school system. He does not have to be from the elites or the lucky few. He can be one of us.
Why has this public revolt not created any real leaders? The technical answer is because the democratic process is still working itself out and will hopefully flush out the best of the crop. There are however deeper factors at work. In order to dream of a better Tunisia, we must know exactly what just preceded this leadership drought. There was Ali Ben Gthahem, Habib Bourguiba, Salah Ben Youssef, Farhat Hached, Tahar Hadad, Fadhel Ben Achour, Tahar Ben Achour and many others like them. It was a time when we felt great pride and honor to be Tunisian. Our country was among the first in the Arab world and first among post colonialism in education, personal freedom, healthcare, scientific research and athletics. Most of all, we had reason to dream because we had a common vision and charismatic leadership that assembled and not divided. That period was followed by a deliberate and mind-controlling system that encouraged selfishness and discouraged proactive, practical, analytical, and out of the box thinking has created many generations of young people who lack the emotional intelligence to be active members of an efficient society. And thus was laid the foundation for the present culture which discourages initiative, courage, vision, charisma, and self identity.
One has to wonder if our Arab-Muslim composition is responsible for laying the ground for authoritarian leaderships. Is it because we lack the drive and know-how, the desire to innovate and work together towards a common goal that we are easily ruled by dictators? Is it because we value personal goals more than common objectives, or because we inherently have no trust in one-another and our ability to effectuate change, that we had become a herd of sheep? Is it because we automatically associate leadership with power and corruption that we have grown allergic to it? It is therefore my opinion that it is because of these reasons and others, that today we are experiencing a brain-drain and the absence of true leaders. In brief, Tunisia’s leadership, then and now, presents a pathetic picture of oppression, poverty and waste. In foreign as in domestic affairs we stand disunited, powerless, dependent and unable to influence our people and the international community.
The question before us then is who will rise up and tell the people that the hole is very deep, that our current leadership development model is flawed? Who will tell the people that religious extremism and ideologies are not the answer to a bright and successful future? Who will be able to capture the revolutionary wave of youth movement and set it straight with a common vision that solves and not divides, that our education system and our current educators should all be tossed out, and the new way involves professional and practical development, not worthless diplomas? Who will tell the young generation that their study habits are insufficient, and that they have the capacity to be as good as any in the world? Who will tell the people that our current model of borrowing to pay old debts is not the way for the future and sustainability? Who will tell the labor unions and opposition parties that they must also provide solutions as well as constructive criticism? Who will tell the people that our current leadership is dividing us more than it is uniting us?
Our new leader will have to be honest and trustworthy, able to pull people towards him through his accountability and fairness. He will do so by first explaining that what unites us is a lot bigger than what divides us. More than telling the truth, we will need a healer and a coalition builder, a change maker and a rain-maker. Our new leader will have to convince all of us that change has to first come from within, that we have to abandon the bad habits of always seeking the quickest, and not always the best approaches, that we have to learn to listen and to trust, that we have to look out for the common good even at the expense of our own. He has to convince us that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That hard work pays off and that our competitors are not always our enemies.
The people of Tunisia must be committed to building leaders today to solve the problems of tomorrow. The next generation of leaders will face a growing list of complex issues and must be prepared to step forward with vision, courage, and the skills to meet the challenge. To right the ship, we have to accept our share of the blame by first looking inward. Each of has to be his own leader by pointing his compass into the right direction. It is only through this collective reflection that we will begin to create the next generation of government, business, science and community leaders.