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  • Writer's pictureRajaa Aquil

Understand Arab People

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

This post is a first of a series that aims at removing stereotyping by explaining some of the behavioral characteristics of Arabs in terms of cultural background. It can guide to cross-cultural awareness and help interaction with Arabs.

The Arab world has gone under a lot of change. To understand the Arab psyche, we need to shed some light on the pattern of change that has affected the Arab world in modern history.

Arabs have been subjected to enormous pressure from the outside world since the first world war, starting with the Arabian revolution الثورة العربية in 1916-17.

In present Arab world most modernization and changes come from adopting western technology, consumer products, healthcare systems, financial structures, educational concepts and political ideas. These changes are always controversial and present to varying degrees in all of the Arab countries.

1- Literacy and education

- Education in the Arab world is free and mandatory

- Literacy in the Arab world is an average of 68 %

- Rate of literacy has risen since 1960s, the number of educated people has doubled in some countries and even increased ten times or more in others. For example, in the Arabian peninsula it rose from less than 10% to an average of 86 percent by 2003

- The highest rates of literacy are in Saudi Arabia 94%, Jordan 91%, Bahrain 89%, Lebanon 86%, Qatar 85% Kuwait 83%.

2- Women in the workforce

- Arab women are becoming more educated and more active professionally. In 1973 only 7% of women were employed in the workforce. At present, the average is 21% but 40 – 50% in the industrial world.

3- Some social changes

- Family planning- promoted and increasingly practice in the highly populated countries, for example, Egypt.

- People are far more exposed to newspapers, media, and the internet

- Entertainment outside the house is increasing and growing more popular

- More people travel and more students study abroad

- Parents are finding themselves have less control over their children’s choice of career and lifestyle

- More people are working for large organizations and industries

- Business organizations are increasingly involved in international trade

- Political awareness and participation have increased significantly

- Educational and professional opportunities for women have completely change family life

The effects of change

- Dualism الازدواجية - Both the modernist and traditionalist ways of thinking are present, modern science and technology are taught side by side with traditional law and religious subjects

- Arabs want technology and modernism but don’t want to lose their identity, values and beliefs

- Young Arabs are attracted to the western ways, culture and products, the generation gap is widening and quite painful for some communities and families

The Muslim View

- Many of the Islamic practices vary from one country to the other and they stem from cultural practices, and not religion. Such as:

o family relationships,

o women’s role in society,

o people’s manner of dress,

o child-rearing practices

o female circumcision


Nydell, Margaret . (2005), Understanding Arabs: A guide for modern times. Fourth edition. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

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