Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer
When disharmony emerges among members of an administration, it often becomes clear that someone must step down. Similarly, when individuals even in the highest positions find that the atmosphere is no longer conducive to fully performing their assigned role, resignation becomes an option. However, the decision to resign is viewed differently in the Arab and the Western worlds.
In Western culture, resignation could suggest several notions including accepting full responsibility for what seems to be wrongdoing, tacit admission of negligence in the performance of tasks or the inability to achieve the organization’s desired goal, or recognition of assigning the wrong person to the job. The public in Western culture actually admires and respects such a resignation decision because, apparently, the public interest comes first at the expense of one’s personal interest. Resignation could further denote a way to amend a wrong operational approach; hold the person in charge accountable; firmly indicate that no place for equivocating exists; allow leading positions to be rotated; exercise self-supervision; and openly and directly express dissatisfaction with the current situation.
Resignation can also be seen as the desire to give others an opportunity to lead, especially when leaders feel that they are no longer capable of performing the job to their maximum ability. Both Western and Eastern countries provide examples that demonstrate this. In the East, the Japanese minister of transport resigned because of a train crash, although he did not directly manage the railway. The German defense minister also resigned following a raid in Kunduz, Afghanistan, and the Indian home minister resigned after the Mumbai attacks.
In the United States, George Tenet, head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and his deputy, James Pavitt, resigned because of false information regarding Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction.
In Arab culture, on the other hand, the concept of resigning is different. It carries neither the acceptance of full responsibility nor any of the above assumptions. As such, resignation is actually considered an act of betrayal of the person who recommended the resignee for the position. This is because the person who is resigning is unaware of the damage that his resignation will cause and does not understand that in this part of the world, officials simply do not resign. Rather, others must fire them or at least give them permission to resign. Therefore, individuals who resign their position are considered to be unwise, to lack control of their impulses, and to have weak personalities. They are expected, as a result, to lose numerous personal gains when they step down.
Further negative consequences can result from resigning. Those who resign are no longer considered to have the traits of courage, an independent personality, and a strong character because it is assumed that they have resigned under pressure. In order to play the role of a hero, resignees claim to desire to adhere firmly to professional ethical principles and to avoid damaging the general public interest. In addition, they claim that restrained policies and procedures interfered with their work, and thus reduced their productivity.
However, because these claims are viewed as flimsy and untrue, the decision to resign and to essentially “flee from responsibility” must be condemned in the strongest way, according to their opponents. Some people may go so far as to discredit resignees and try to tarnish their image in the public eye by suggesting that the resignation stemmed not from a problem in the administrative system, but rather in the individuals themselves.
This wide divergence in the concept of resignation between the Arab and Western worlds is evident in the advancement of the Western system of administration and in the failure of the Arab administration system, which suffers from a visible depth of paralysis. This demonstrates that we need to reconsider our way of looking at the concept of resignation so that we do not personalize the decision and do not rely on outdated thinking that is not in compliance with the requirements or standards of professionalism.
In the same vein, we need to consider resignation to be an option based on certain administrative and practical circumstances. Additionally, the new thinking or approach to resignation requires one to be transparent about the reasons behind the resignation, with officials aiming to avoid falling into the trap of being accused of treason. Overall, we need to remember that holding an administrative position requires the performance of certain responsibilities, and once individuals find that they cannot perform these responsibilities, we should let them go without trying to damage their public image. The entire matter should be handled in a civilized manner.
The writer is a Saudi academic who can be reached at email@example.com.