Closer look at the uprisings in the Islamic East

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Thani 27, 1432 2011-04-01


by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 2, Rabi' al-Thani, 1432)

Since the first stirrings of revolt erupted in Tunisia on December 17, 2010, the entire Islamic East has been engulfed in civil uprisings. Two tyrants — General Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and General Hosni Mubarak — have been swept from power.

Since the first stirrings of revolt erupted in Tunisia on December 17, 2010, the entire Islamic East has been engulfed in civil uprisings. Two tyrants — General Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and General Hosni Mubarak — have been swept from power. Other dictators are feeling the heat to varying degrees. The uprisings have been described variously as “pro-democracy movements”, the “Arab Awakening” or even “revolution”. Absent from all these is mention of any Islamic movement. In the West this is greeted with much relief. While Muslims make up the overwhelming majority of Islamic East’s population, the West does not want Islam to have anything to do with shaping the socio-political order in these societies. Similarly, Islamic parties — al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon, al-Nahdah and others — are either banned or seldom mentioned as having played any role in the uprisings. This, however, is only one dimension of the problem.

The more important question is whether these uprisings can be characterized as revolutions. At one level, perhaps they could be, insofar as new methods of protest, such as twitter and facebook, are being utilized for mass mobilization. Additionally, in almost all countries, the youth are in the vanguard. This, too, is a new phenomenon but it would be simplistic to get carried away with this. The youth can and have offered great impetus to movements in all countries; they usually do but in the current uprisings, they are not following any particular leader or ideology. At one level this may be considered a blessing since an identifiable leader can be arrested and the movement dealt a blow but one should not fall for romanticism. In the real world, there are certain requirements that must be in place for a movement to succeed. It is not enough to get rid of a tyrant or be content with a change of faces. What follows next is equally, if not more important. Thus we need to have a better understanding of certain basic rules.

First, let us be clear about the phenomenon of revolution. While the word revolution has great romantic appeal, the minimum requirement for any movement to be called revolutionary is that it overthrows the existing order and replaces it with a new, radically different one. This has not happened either in Tunisia or Egypt where old-time dictators have been removed from power but the old order is still in place and does not appear to be in any danger of collapse. The Egyptian military, an important pillar of the old regime, is fully in control. The newly appointed foreign minister, Nabil al-Araby, endorsed the Saudi invasion and occupation of Bahrain in order to crush the people’s uprising there. The state of emergency remains in place; the border with Gaza remains sealed and even the old pharaoh, Hosni Mubarak, who presided over decades of torture, is living comfortably in his opulent villa in Sharm al-Shaikh. So what has changed in Egypt?

The same is true of other countries — Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria — where uprisings are underway. With the exception of Bahrain and Jordan, there are no identifiable leaders or movements leading these protests. In Bahrain, the movement is led by the ‘ulama while in Jordan, the Islamic Action Front (IAF) is in the lead but its demands are modest. The IAF has not demanded abolition of the monarchy; it is only calling for resignation of the prime minister and curtailment of some of the king’s vast powers. These can hardly qualify as revolutionary demands much less leading to any revolutionary change.

Muslims must understand that the systems in their societies are constructs imposed by colonial occupiers. These are not designed to serve the interests of the people. The ruling elites in every Muslim society barring Islamic Iran are all subservient to the West. Unless Muslims strive to dismantle these systems completely as happened in Iran in 1979, their desire for change will not be realized. For change to occur, certain conditions must be met. There must be an Islamic movement led by charismatic muttaqi leadership that will give a directional course to the movement. All energies of the people must be channeled toward the goal of not only overthrowing the old order but also replacing it with an Islamic order. Such a movement can have no parochial, tribal or national interests. Further, the movement and leadership must not be dependent on any outside powers, such as the US, Britain, France etc. In Egypt, for instance, the new regime is still pursuing old policies and the movement that forced the removal of Mubarak is too consumed by internal, purely nationalistic issues to worry about the plight of the Palestinians. This nationalistic trend is worrying. Similarly, the rebels in Libya want the West to help them against Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s forces. Since when has the West supported people’s yearning for freedom and fundamental rights? If Qaddafi is overthrown, the Libyan people may find themselves entering a period of direct colonialism once again.

While one must applaud the courage and dedication of the youth and other segments of society in the Islamic East for rising up against their tyrannical rulers, there is still a long way to go before they will taste true freedom. This will not come about by espousing nationalistic slogans or accepting servitude to the West, regardless of how much they may hate their present rulers. The ruling oligarchies in the West are not their friends; they are nobody’s friends, not even their own people whom they oppress and exploit. No amount of wishful thinking can change this reality.

Muslims struggling for dignity and freedom must have a much clearer understanding of the reality both in their own societies and of the global setup if they are to achieve success in their undoubtedly genuine struggles. Nothing comes easy. This is what we learn from the Sunnah and Sirah of the noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh). Muslims should not harbor any illusions about the price that freedom demands.

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