by Tahir Mahmoud (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 11, Rabi' al-Thani, 1439)
Seven years after the Islamic Awakening (aka Arab Spring) movement erupted, the question that preoccupies many people’s minds is: was it worth it? This column will not only argue that it was worth it, but that it was absolutely necessary and it is a great blessing even in places where events went completely off-track, like in Libya and Syria.
Prior to the first uprising in 2011, which overthrew the illegitimate and oppressive regime in Tunisia, the people in the Muslim world only daydreamed in cafes, masjids, and their homes about a day when foreign propped tyrants would be toppled. After the Islamic Awakening, the people of the MENA region saw that the dream of resisting despots can be converted into reality.
The Islamic Awakening movement was a natural socio-political process, which got subverted into an imperialist project. Nevertheless, the indigenous process broke the invincibility perception many people had about NATO-backed regimes in the MENA region. Today, imagining the fall of the Sisi regime (in Egypt) or the Bani Saud regime (in the Arabian Peninsula) is quite conceivable. This in and of itself is a huge achievement.
As the people of Yemen aborted the Saudi instigated sedition to be led by Yemen’s former dictator, ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Íalih, the people of the MENA region realized that one does not need NATO air support as in Libya to bring tyrants to justice.
The Islamic Awakening movement also provides an opportunity to learn from the failures in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. In all of these locales, the Islamic movements, which were at the forefront of events, committed strategic mistakes. Part of the solution to any problem is the realization of how and where one has committed a mistake.
As pointed out by ICIT director, Zafar Bangash, in Egypt “…the Ikhwan and Mursi assumed that if they played within the existing system and surrendered to US-Zionist interests, they would be allowed to complete their term in office.” This mistake will most probably make Islamic movements in the MENA region realize that strategic compromise with oppressive regimes and their NATO benefactors is not a viable option. This point has been emphasized numerous times by one of Turkey’s most popular Islamic activists and scholars, Alparslan Kuytul.
In Libya, the US backed Qatari regime utilized the naivety and greed of some individuals within the Islamic movement in Libya and used them as a stepping stone for the NATO invasion. As a result Libya collapsed as a state, but eruption of the migrant crisis forced Europe’s ruling caste to realize that they are no longer immune from the chaos they instigate in the MENA region.
While Syria faced the worst kind of NATO sabotage, it made it out of the crisis in far better shape than Libya and Egypt. In September 2017, Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israel’s National Security Council, summed up the main reason behind the carnage in Syria. Amidror stated, “We do not interfere in the question of who will rule in Damascus; we interfere with the question of how strong Iran and Hizbullah will be in the region.” From day one, Crescent International had argued that the crisis in Syria has nothing to do with freedom or human rights, but it is all about weakening Islamic Iran. The unfortunate reality is that even though there are numerous videos of Syrian “Islamic” rebels being treated in Israel, some narrowminded Muslims still view the conflict through the sectarian lens.
Post-2011 events, no regional dictator can afford to disregard the popular backlash. Violence is no longer the monopoly of corrupt and oppressive regimes. Of course the elimination of monopoly on force by illegitimate regimes created its own problems, like ISIS and others, but these are short-term problems that are slowly but surely being eliminated.
Another strategic lesson that has been learned from the Islamic Awakening movement is that the so-called Islamic organizations with ties to and influenced by Salafist/Saudi ideas are not capable of presenting not just a civilizational alternative, but an Islamic organizational alternative, nor can they provide even rudimentary long-term solutions to Muslim societies.
ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other NATO-facilitated groups with the Umayyad takfiri mindset have failed to run a state and manage a society in Afghanistan, when the Taliban were in power, in Chechnya between 1996–1999, parts of Nigeria, Somalia, and more recently in Libya and in some parts of Syria and Iraq.
NATO regimes hoped that the failure of the Saudi tied “Islamic” movements would discourage Muslims from pursuing an Islamic socio-political model for Muslim societies. Of course the opposite has happened. Muslim masses became more motivated in seeking an alternative to the NATO propped “Islamists.”
Detractors of the positions presented above will be quick to point at insecurity and economic hardships created after the 2011 events. There is no denial that post-2011 events caused a great deal of misfortune, but these are short-term sacrifices and obstacles. The long-term gains from making ordinary people realize that tyrants are not invincible and that people will no longer remain silent in the face of abuse of power, are huge assets for future changes that are bound to occur.
At the moment the Syrian, Bahraini, and Yemeni theatres are going through positive turning points. In Syria, the NATO project to eliminate Iran’s and Hizbullah’s presence collapsed completely. Prior to 2011, the Syrian regime was an equal partner with Iran and Hizbullah; today the survival of Syria depends on Iran and Hizbullah, thus the most powerful forces resisting Zionism in the region have become more influential in Syria than prior to 2011. Through the Syrian theatre, Hizbullah, the only regional actor to kick out Zionists from occupied land, graduated into a regional military and political power, which even its detractors now openly admit.
In Bahrain, the ruling kleptocracy remains entrenched only because of a foreign army propping it up. The people’s resistance has not died down and is only gaining more legitimacy domestically and internationally. The people’s movement in Bahrain learned from the Libyan and Syrian fiascos and is refusing to accept foreign military “assistance.”
Perhaps the most strategic events are taking place in Yemen where the region’s most hard-core pro-Zionist regime is bogged down in a quagmire. In all locales where the people’s revolutionary movement was scaled down or subverted, Riyadh’s money and lobbying with Washington played a significant role. This convinced many leading scholars and activists of the fact that if the Saudi regime does not fall, all other regional changes will be secondary.
Due to unpopular Saudi policies, the Saudi soft-power emanating from its occupation of Makkah and Madinah has lost its appeal even within its own constituency and it cannot be revived without collapse of the Saudi monarchy. The Saudi brand no longer appeals even to scholastic Wahhabis, to wit the desire of the “new” royals to rebrand themselves in the mold of modernism and a more “moderate” form of Islam that is approved by the secular establishments and governments in Europe, the United States, and Israel. Observation of online activities of Wahhabi “scholars” and organizations reveals that the ones possessing “legitimacy” are those who at least partially distance themselves from the Saudi monarchy, and the ones who are not, simply view them as cash cows.
In addition to the above, the presidency of the irascible and short-tempered Donald Trump created the first strategic divide between Washington and European powers, which provides an opportunity to further isolate the US and thus limit its destructive impact.
The Islamic Awakening movement created short-term difficulties, but if properly utilized, these short-term hardships can be utilized as long-term opportunities.