I recently asked people which Arab country they would most like to visit. I got about 60 comments in a few hours with the “winners” being Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Egypt. Of course that started a mini-debate about whether Palestine was a real country or not… (Which is funny since it’s Israel that doesn’t have a constitution or defined borders). But anyway….
It also raised the question of what makes a country an “Arab” country. There are really only two ways to answer that: 1. The predominant language is Arabic. 2. They belong to the Arab League – which has 22 nations (all who predominantly speak Arabic).
Iran and Turkey are not Arabs and do not speak Arabic.
“Being Arab” is hard to define as we found out on our recent film trip to four Arab countries. There is little in common between a rich Sheikh from Dubai and a poor resident of Cairo. The Berbers of Tunisia and the Maronites of Lebanon are both in “Arab” countries but have a very distinct culture from those around them.
Being Arab does not mean you’re Muslim. There are Arab Christians: Coptic, Orthodox, Catholic, Melchite, Assyrian, Chaldean, Protestant and several others. There are Followers of John the Baptist in Iraq. Yazidis. Druze. Kurds. And so many others you’ve never heard of. The “Arab world” is rich in history and diversity.
All that said – I still have my “favorites.” (Note that I have not spent much or any time in Sudan, Algeria, Libya, Kuwait or Oman). All the others I’ve been to many times.
I am partial to Lebanon because it feels like home. But it’s also the center of all things chaotic. The 18 official sects and their representation in the government makes for a guaranteed state of near anarchy. The Hezbollah is a state within the state. Prior to them it was the PLO that was a state within the state. Syria and Israel have controlled much of Lebanon’s past 35 years. But the people are resilient and amazingly friendly. The nightlife there is unparalleled in the Middle East.
So I’d say Lebanon is my favorite place if you don’t mind ducking the occasional war and you love going out on the town with your friends.
The most friendly Arabs are the Egyptians. Hands down. They are just downright nice people. So if you don’t mind crowds and dust, Cairo is the place to be.
If you want nice – fancy…. It’s the Emirates. It’s stable and everyone seems at rest. (Cause their all rich). 🙂
Palestinians are also extremely friendly and well-educated. They will typically give you a good overview of that it’s like in the Arab world. They are well-versed in so many things.
Jordan is great because it’s right in the Middle of the Middle East and the crossroads for so many things. Jordan is stable and the people are friendly.
I suppose I could go on and on, describing each country. Each is unique and has a ton of positive things! Part of what we’re doing with this new film and book project is showing how diverse the Arab world is and how wonderful its people are. Stayed tuned for more.