Has the Arab Spring wilted before its blossom?

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Jumada' al-Akhirah 28, 1432 2011-06-01


by Zafar Bangash

Expectations for rapid change in the Muslim East have not materialized despite two long-entrenched dictators in Tunisia and Egypt respectively being driven from power in quick succession. What has prevented change in places like Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria, that the people in Tunisia and Egypt were able to achieve in short order? Are conditions in these societies so different than in Tunisian and Egypt to frustrate change? Let us be clear: there are few representative governments anywhere in the Middle East. The two examples in the region are those of Turkey and Islamic Iran. The other wall-to-wall Middle Eastern dictatorships have managed to fight off challenge to their rule, which General Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak were unable to do.

At the outset we must acknowledge the undoubted courage of the people participating in the uprisings. They managed to shed their fear of the dreaded security forces. Fear has been a powerful instrument in the hands of all oppressors throughout the ages. There is also no doubt that the ubiquitous security and intelligence forces have acted with absolute ruthlessness to crush any attempt at dissent. But this was also the case in Tunisia and Egypt. Thus, in order to understand fully what is afoot we need to look a little deeper. Both in Tunisia and Egypt, the militaries refused to obey the dictators’ orders to open fire on unarmed civilians. When the police forces failed to quell the protests, the dictators were forced to flee. The credit for all the uprisings belongs to the people of Tunisia who were the first to take a stand. Their example has been emulated by people elsewhere.

We must also recognize that the conditions in each society are not identical. Further, there is external interference both in support of the dictators as well as against them. Again, this represents a curious paradox. For instance, in the case of Libya and Syria, external powers are actively backing the people’s movements. In Libya, the West led by Britain, France, Italy and the US, has gotten involved directly. They have now overstepped their original dubious mandate given by the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya ostensibly to prevent the Libyan government from attacking the rebels from the air. The Libyan government immediately declared a ceasefire and offered to negotiate with the rebels but the West was not interested. Since the March 17 no-fly resolution, Western planes have bombed Libyan ground formations, their equipment, oil installations and even residential areas. At the end of April, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s house was attacked killing his youngest son and three grandchildren. How does this advance enforcement of the no-fly zone? This was an act of cold-blooded murder perpetrated by Western forces. NATO attacks on residential areas have continued unabated as reported in this edition of the Crescent International. While Western forces have not intervened in the same manner in Syria, there is active support for the rebels there and money and guns are being supplied by the Saudis, Lebanese and Israelis.

The West’s policy toward Libya and Syria stands in sharp contrast to its behaviour in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In all three cases, the West has not only maintained a studied silence but has actually supported suppression of peaceful protesters. This is most shocking in the case of Bahrain where peaceful protesters including women and children have been attacked and killed. Even medical personnel have not been spared because they treated those that had been injured during the protests. Entire neighbourhoods have been placed under curfew while armed thugs of the regime have gone about arresting and dragging youth from their homes as well as vandalising their properties and cars. Even masjids have been destroyed and copies of the Qur’an desecrated. Women have been raped. Such crimes have evoked little reaction from the West or its human rights organizations that are quick to denounce those they do not like. Why the double standards?

Saudi Arabia managed to both crush the meek attempts at uprising as well as bribe others into silence. The Saudi regime has also used its court ‘ulama’ to issue “fatwas” to declare uprisings against the ruler as “haram”. One is forced to ask: what ayat of the Qur’an or what hadith of the noble Messenger (pbuh) support such contention? If per chance, this is true, then why has the Saudi regime joined in the assault on Qaddafi’s regime and why is it supporting the uprising in Syria?

So we see that there is more at work than meets the eye. Many of these dictators quickly re-adjusted their policies once they had overcome the shock of the overthrow of Ben Ali and Mubarak. In fact, it is known that Saudi king Abdullah was upset with US President Barack Obama for allowing the overthrow of Mubarak who was a major lynchpin of the US-crafted order in the region. After Mubarak’s removal, the new dispensation in Egypt announced on May 26 that the Rafah crossing with Ghazzah would be opened so that the long-besieged and oppressed Palestinians can get much needed supplies of food, medicine and cement and steel to rebuild their homes.

It is clear that rulers like Qaddafi, the two Abdullahs and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen will fight back to retain power. Saleh also has the support of the Americans because he is seen as a bulwark against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Whether there is any substance to this claim is open to debate but Saleh has convinced the Americans that he is their man to fight the al-Qaeda “menace”. Thus, while the regimes are fighting back, the West’s hypocrisy stands exposed as does the brutal nature of these regimes. Finally, the lack of leadership of all these movements is a major cause for concern. They can and are being manipulated. That is why Islam lays so much emphasis on leadership.

While one must extend every support to the people’s movements in these countries, it must be admitted that change will not come about easily or without huge cost. The dictators are fighting back and will show no respect for people’s rights or lives. They never have in the past; why should they behave differently now that they are fighting for their lives?

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