Perhaps the most inaccurate stereotypes you might come across are those related to Arabs.
- The Arab world hosts around 400 million people (almost 80 million more than United States’ population). The difference is that the Arabic population can be found in 22 different and independent countries located in the middle east and Africa. Some of the most common stereotypes could be applicable to the population of one or few Arabic countries but not the whole Arabic world and some other stereotypes are just plain wrong.
- Most of the international knowledge associated with Arabs is the outcome of the news and media. So the images associated with the Arabic world are related to catastrophes and unfortunate events and rarely reflect the reality of life in the Arabic world.
In the first part of this article, I will address the most common misconceptions about Arabs. In the second section of this article, I will present some true facts about Arabic people in general. In the third part, I will discuss regional or country specific stereotypes.
Wrong or Inaccurate Stereotypes
All Arabic people are Muslims
All Muslims are Arab
Wrong, less than 20% of the world’s Muslims do reside in Arabic countries. The total population of Muslims in Arabic countries (all 22 countries) is 322 millions compared to 205 millions in Indonesia, 178 millions in Pakistan, 177 millions in India, 148 millions in Bangladesh, 75 millions in Nigeria, 74 millions in Iran and 74 millions in Turkey.
The Arabic world is a desert
Partially true, It is true that a big percentage of the Middle East and North Africa is a desert, but let me break few incorrect concepts:
- There are many green regions in the Arabic world. Here are some:
- Lebanon and the western side of Syria.
- The region surrounding the Nile in Egypt.
- The northern part of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria on the south coast of the Mediterranean sea.
- The Arabic population doesn’t ride camels and live in tents. Camel riding and farming in the Arabic world is rare and is simply used as a tourist attraction or for sportive purposes, similar to equestrian or horseback riding.
- The Arabic world has all sorts of life standards
- Village like life in the mountains (Example the mountains of Lebanon and Syria)
- beautiful and modern cities like Dubai and Qatar.
- traditional and historic cities such as
- Baablbak, Byblos and Sidon in Lebanon
- Palmyra, Aleppo, Qanawat, Homs in Syria
- Cairo’s pyramids
- Sfax, Sousse, Carthage in Tunis
- extremely populous regions such as Cairo.
All Arabic men wear a Dish-dasha and all Arabic Women wear the Hijab
Wrong, The dish-dasha is what men in the Persian gulf region wear. This includes United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the rest of the Arabic region doesn’t wear the dish-dasha. Regarding the Hijab, not all Arabic people are Muslim and not all Muslims do wear the Hijab. Example, the percentage of Arabic Women wearing the Hijab in Lebanon, doesn’t exceed 20% of the female population (rough estimate).
All Arabic people are rich and all Arabic countries have oil
Wrong, the oil rich countries are Iraq, Algeria, Libya, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Another important point is, not all citizens of the oil rich countries are rich; many citizens of the oil rich countries live a very modest life.
Arabic people are terrorists
Absolutely wrong. The extremist Islamic Jihadist comprise minorities in the Arabic region. The majority of the Arabic population are not different than any other culture and share with the rest of humanity their love of life and peace.
Arabic men beat their women
A very offensive and false stereotype. Arabic people are very family oriented and Arabic men are over protective and supportive towards their family in general and wives in particular. Any Arabic wife beater individual is despised by the Arabic society. The sad story though is that in general, most of the legal systems in most Arabic countries are a joke and not all those who break the law do face proper punishment.
Some true Arabic Stereotypes
Arabs are family oriented
Arabic people are family oriented. This means that children do not leave their parent’s house until they have a family of their own (get married). It is also very uncommon for families to place their parents in houses for the elders.
Arabs marrying non-Arabs
Most Arabic societies are very conservative. Most young men and women are expected to marry someone from their religion and preferably form the same country. However, there are many exceptions; newer generations are less conservative and many youngsters are not adhering to their parents’ expectations and are breaking the social norms and traditions.
Arabs are loud and the Arabic language is rough
I have been told many times, by non-Arabic speakers, that when people are having a conversation in Arabic, it always seems like these people are fighting with each other. Perhaps this is the reason why Arabic people are described as or stereotyped to be loud. Though very diverse in its dialects, the Arabic language is generally considered to be rough; that could be due to the use of the sounds or letters (ق ح خ ع), which are almost impossible for non-Arabic speakers to even pronounce. While I do agree with this stereotype, I would like to add that there are many Arabic accents or dialects that do sound very different and vary in intensity.
Arabs men are jealous and possessive
In general, this Stereotype is true, it is a common quality in Arabic men. Just keep in mind that these traits certainly vary from one country or society to another and from one person to another; Religion, traditions and personal experiences are few of the factors affecting these traits .
- Very friendly: Egyptian people are very friendly, love socializing and will often smile and start a conversation with you.
- Good sense of humor: A stereotype which is quite common in the Arabic region due to Egyptian comedic movies.
- Those who become “Doctors”: Egyptians tend to loose their sense of humility and their friendly attitude once they obtain a higher degree of education (Example: obtaining a PHD) unlike westerners who remain humble and down to earth despite their superior education.
- Mixing English with Arabic: It is funny when Egyptian people try to mix Arabic with English (I will try to find a video)… Edit: none found yet, sorry
- Egyptians are very religious: Despite having a 10% Christian population and a majority of moderate Muslims, the Egyptian culture is very religious and a non-Muslim wouldn’t feel at ease at all in Muslim dominant society. Below is the trailer of the movie (لامؤاخذة), I think after watching the movie, you would get an idea about what i mean.
Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian Stereotypes
Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are three Arabic countries located in the Northern part of Africa. Many people assume that all Africans have black skin. That is incorrect; Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians have an Olive like skin, slightly darker skin than that of a South European. These three countries are very similar and have unique qualities that distinguish them from the rest of the Arabic world, mainly, the presence of a strong lingual and cultural French influence.
Here is how the world sees Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia:
- Friendly and helpful
- Speak Arabic in an accent which is difficult for most of the Arabic world to understand.
- Brave, honest and straight forward.
- All three countries speak french very fluently.
Here are some Stereotypes specific to each of these countries:
- Lebanese and Tunisians feel a strong connection despite the distant geography between both countries, this is due to the Phoenician history which unites both nations.
- Moroccan women are beautiful.
- There are Rumors (which I personally don’t believe) about the Moroccan black magic. Have you heard anything about this?
Naturally, Iraqi share most of the Arabic qualities (Being family oriented, Jealous and Possessive, Loud…). The only Iraqi stereotype I have heard prior to writing this article which is somehow unique to Iraqi is their resistance to rules and to authority. I did my research though and here is what I could conclude:
- Most Iraqi people see them selves as being smart, hardworking, creative and funny.
- Most non-Iraqi people are very influenced by the media and consider Iraqi to be violent.
Knowing that Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the Arab league and the country with the lowest Human Development Index, the stereotype of poverty is an inevitable one. Sudanese are famous for being simple, friendly and hospitable.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are two of the most religious countries in the Arab World; Citizens and expatriates residing in these countries have to abide with very strict Islamic rules. Both countries usually play a critical role in aiding the Arab world during crisis and many citizens from the Arabic world migrate to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to find better job opportunities.
Syrian, Jordanian, Lebanese and Palestinian Stereotypes
Four countries located in the Levant region. Despite having similar cultural background, a very similar Arabic accent and similar physical features, the fate of all four nations drifted apart since world war II. By the end of World war II, Jordan was an English colony, Syria and Lebanon were a French colony and Palestine was handed over to the Israelis by the Allies (the World War II victors) to construct a Jewish state. Syria, Jordan and Lebanon gained their independence soon after, (I have written an article about the Lebanese Stereotypes), however, Palestine, is still drowning in the struggle of the century.
Here are stereotypes which are common to all four nations:
- Most Arabic people from other regions of the Arabic world cannot tell the difference between the Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinians and Jordanians Arabic accents.
- Very hospitable, Social and Friendly
- Share many qualities with Turkey and the rest of the Southern European region.
Yemen, is the 7th most populous country in the middle east but has the 4th lowest Low human development in the Arabic world. Browsing through the web, I found out two common Yemeni stereotypes:
- Yemeni people are very religious
- Yemeni people are stingy (not the author’s opinion)
United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain
In the past 30 years, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar had become the alternative image to the strict Islamic Saudi culture. The Oil rich countries thrived with “relative” religious freedom and became icons of prosperity in the Arabic world.
Qatari, Omani, Emarati (Emirati) and Bahrani citizens have a good reputation and are known to be:
- hospitable and friendly towards expatriates.
- very conservative
- Patriotic and proud of their citizenship
There are mainly four main stereotypes associated with Somalia.
- Extreme poverty: thought it doesn’t reflect the situation of the whole Somali nation, the images of the starving children in Somalia during the 90s remains forever imprinted in my mind.
- Piracy: A very unfair stereotype; we have the media to blame for this stereotype. Ten million Somali citizens cannot be responsible for the action of very few individuals.
- Somali are proud Muslims and take love being part of the Arabic culture.
- Love eating banana with rice and curry.
Two words… Tribal and dangerous. Here are some quotes from CNN’s Libya’s tribes rise up against Gadhafi
Soon after the Libyan rebellion escalated, a senior member of the nation’s powerful Warfallah tribe announced it would no longer support Moammar Gadhafi, saying that “he is no longer a brother.”
The Zawiya tribe, based in a petroleum-rich region in the east, threatened to cut off oil flow. The Bani Walid tribe decided to withdraw its men from the regime’s security brigades. And the influential Zintan tribe, allied in the past to Gadhafi’s own tribe, broadcast a statement of support for the opposition.
Why is it dangerous? Because Tribalism is dangerous.
Mauritania, Djibouti and Comoros
I haven’t met any people from these countries nor have I heard any stereotypes associated with these fellow countries and their citizens. Non the less, Mauritania, Djibouti and Comoros are some of the poorest countries in the world and deserve more support from the Arabic world. If you have heard any stereotypes associated to these Arabic countries, please share it in the comments below.