I am a stereotypically normal Arab in that half the time I complain about people being lazy, and the other half I am too lazy to bother. I live almost always in a state of nail-biting, eye-rolling jealousy.
Why jealousy is as ubiquitous here as saturated fats are in America, is because the region suffers from the inferiority complex. To start, you condescendingly refer to us as “Third World countries.” What’s that supposed to mean? Like we care? We don’t even want to join your snobby developed world anyway. We’re not stupid, your governments only say they care about Arab nations, when they want our oil. Almost everyone in the Arab world is married, we know a selfish, abusive relationship when we’re in one.
Our insecurities are best demonstrated in fights. The first words exchanged in any argument, regardless of context:
Arab A: “Who the hell do you think you are?”
Arab B: “Have you any idea who I am?”
Arab A: “You think you’re better than me, don’t you?”
We’re so insecure that during the Egyptian revolution, parents worried about being judged because their shameless youth were “being difficult.” Actually, whenever anything bad happens in the region, the society is usually more concerned with how the world will “laugh and gloat,” rather than the actual impact.
It is rumored that Arab societies collectively suffer nightmares about walking naked into the UN assembly.
The average Arab will spend the first two decades of his or her life trying to get into that better college, to have that better job, to land that better someone, to prove that they’re better than people who are better than them.
Anyone who is inferior to us financially or socially is a sad, sad soul who needs to try harder because they’re of little use to the world. And anyone who is superior to us financially or socially is a sad, sad soul who needs not try so hard because they’re of little use to the world.
I, like most Arab women, have a central figure on which I direct all my negative energy, the seemingly perfect Mozza (Arabic for “hot girl”) who has done nothing wrong, to me or anyone else, but will suffer regardless.
Mine is little miss captivatingly beautiful philanthropist sitting ahead of me in design class turning everything she looks at into art, gracefully humming classical French music, and periodically flashing her million dollar smile at anyone with eyes.
My seemingly perfect Mozza is the worst type, the kind that doesn’t know they’re a seemingly perfect Mozza. They flip their hair backwards and blush at compliments, whereas when I’m flattered, I snort like a guinea pig and only flip my hair to shake the wind-blown bugs out of it.
The seemingly perfect Mozza is any Arab girl’s worst nightmare. First, she is a Mozza. Second, she isn’t a slut, no matter how many times you argue to the contrary, so you can’t look down at her. Third, they are always tall, so you’re always looking up at her. She is an Arab girl’s living and breathing reminder of what Allah has cruelly denied her and generously bestowed to some mild-tempered, decent human being.
And the fact that Mozzas are visible to men only adds insult to injury. Cats can compete with fellow cats over food—but against a cheetah, they’re doomed.
Shoving the Mozza aside, there is still an infinite number of people more successful than us to relentlessly ridicule and hate.
To Arabs, success can be measured. We measure it in weight, grades, money and social status. Anyone who disagrees with us is either a self-help book author or an idiot.
This is also why Arab students get so many As, because the comparison with others and the jealousy that follows is so daunting, that they go to great lengths to make sure they win these hypothetical competitions, which are simultaneously taking place in the minds of others. A B grade is an insult, and a D is a good reason to slap one’s face with both hands. Hard.
Some Arabs, particularly Gulf Arabs, like to show off their success by cruising the streets in expensive, obnoxiously large vehicles, posting pictures of themselves cradling piles of money on Facebook, and casually airing their bank account balance sheets. Then there are those who dye their hair an implausible shade of blond, pretend not to understand Arabic and speak a heavily accented English, hoping to pass for a foreigner, which is always cooler than being Arab.
“According to the envy theory, ownership of anything valuable would raise the bushy eyebrows of friends and family (who secretly harbor a grudge against you for being so naturally better than them) and earn you their admiration co-mingled with spite and jealousy, which will certainly lead to the complete annihilation of the admired object, if not the owner as well.”
On the other hand, working class and more old-fashioned Arabs, who are the majority, like to keep a lid on things, following the “if you screen your burning candle, it will glow” logic. This renders the years of trying to achieve superiority useless, because showing “evidence of success,” by buying anything might attract attention, or worse yet, admiration.
According to the envy theory, ownership of anything valuable would raise the bushy eyebrows of friends and family (who secretly harbor a grudge against you for being so naturally better than them) and earn you their admiration co-mingled with spite and jealousy, which will certainly lead to the complete annihilation of the admired object, if not the owner as well.
That object could be anything—a newborn child, a fiancé or a new pair of shoes. Everyone believes in envy, but the extent to which they are willing to act upon these feelings differs. A particularly fearful Arab might lie about their unborn child being a girl to ensure a safe pregnancy and delivery of a boy, the far more coveted choice of offspring for Arabs. The lying parents would later set things right in an awkward hospital room full of congratulating visitors, were they would claim that “the doctor just thought it was a really big clitoris.”
Meanwhile, a less fearful Arab will inwardly recite verses from the Quran for protection, while cautiously telling you their midterm scores. A particularly honest Arab, however, would do so out loud and wave their fingers in your face to ward off your envious eye energy.
Envy and jealousy are probably the most feared and cherished concepts here, because while all believe their effects to be devastating, they still relish the thought of being so much better than someone who makes them mutter “lucky fucking you.”
*Nour Ali Youssef is an Egyptian writer and blogger. This article was originally published on McSweeny’s.