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Social elites and the genesis of political leaders

In ancient times, power was not a priority, but the elites sought to bring about social change that could lead to power

Gulf News

The social elite has always produced political leaders in the contemporary world due to their standing and influence in creating a political, economic and cultural reality in the community. The role of the elite is primarily based on criteria of power, influence, intelligence and their capability to convince, and to a certain extent, their ability to intimidate.

This occurred in countries around the world, in addition to the Arab world, during the mid-20th century. The term ‘elite’ is historically old, and has become strongly linked to modern cities. Political studies indicate its existence in Athens (Greece) and among ancient Egyptians, but it was actually used in the 17th century in the field of commodities to differentiate between wheat and chaff, until it was eventually also applied for high military ranks. That is why the elite is a modern city’s industry, and based on that, any devastation that is wrought on modern cities will hit the social elite, as well as impact values and traditions.

The term ‘elite’ was subjected to many changes. The Marxists, for example, called it vanguardism, while others termed it intelligentsia; a term that was looked into by Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci. During the dawn of Islam, the elites were called the Sahaba (companions) and Ansar (supporters) due to their close relationship with Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

Striving for power was not a priority for the elite. They sought to lead social changes, which could to lead or result in its members assuming power. Now that we have touched on the criterion for elites and their objectives, what is the criteria for a modern city that produces elites and future leaders?

Regardless of the history of cities in the East or West, irrespective of their global standing, Dutch sociologist Saskia Sassen has the answer. She is the first to use the term ‘Global City’ instead of mega cities, which refers to cities such as London, New York or Tokyo. These are cities that used to control a large portion of global trade deals. It was preceded by the term ‘city-state’, which used to apply to the Greek city of Athens because it housed many institutions, the most important one being the military.

The concept of a modern or contemporary city remains within the scope of a ‘city that is considered a key hub in the global economic system’. It also possesses other components, the most important being its participation and influence in international events and global trade affairs. This leads us to the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, both of which are on the list of city-states, because they possess qualifications and capabilities that allow them to act as such.

The prestige of a city is its system of moral values, traditions and norms, not its history. The process of destroying prestigious cities was a phenomenon that was mostly common in the Arab world. Since ancient times, the process of sabotaging Arab cities began with a series of political coups in which, regimes were overthrown and replaced. That is why a majority of the older Arab cities today feel like they are chaotic and that their values are broken and traditions are blurred.

In such cases, it was natural for a city’s elite to be impacted, either by being completely eliminated, displaced or subjected to oppression that eventually forces them into surrendering the role they were supposed to play in society. If the elite of Arab cities managed to survive a coup, then it would die out from some form of social sabotage, such as the ruralisation of cities.

Providing health insurance and ensuring the availability of education in rural areas are necessary so that people living in them can stay there and continue to work on their farms. This will ensure that they will look after the country’s animal wealth, which is a vital contributor to the food basket and a key source for raw materials that are responsible for the development of a society. Instead, people in rural areas are tempted to move to modern cities. They wind up living on the margins and as numbers in unemployment rates.

“The concept of a modern or contemporary city remains within the scope of a ‘city that is considered a key hub in the global economic system’.””
-Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi
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There are three obvious examples that are alien within the context of urban elites. The first was when the former Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi tore up the United Nations Charter during a UN General Assembly meeting in September 2009. The second was in 1960, when former president of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, banged his shoe on a table in the presence of 192 presidents and representatives during a UN General Assembly meeting. And finally, when the former president of Iraq, Saddam Hussain, invaded Kuwait, a neighbouring country, completely disregarding calls from the Arab and international community, in addition to his political advisers, that called for reason and wisdom in order to avoid a disaster.

Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a renowned columnist and author whose writings cover various fields ranging from media studies to education.

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