by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 1, Jumada' al-Ula', 1437)
The month of March is associated with spring and renewal, at least in the minds of people living in the northern hemisphere. It is anything but, as far as Muslims of the world are concerned. Here is why.
Five years ago, a number of movements for change erupted in the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) after decades of oppression by Western-backed dictators. These were referred to as the Islamic Awakening or the Arab Spring, depending on one’s outlook. After much bloodshed, suffering, and heroic resistance in the face of indescribable brutality by the entrenched regimes, not one country has achieved meaningful change. Instead, most societies are either back under the boot of dictators or have been turned into war zones without security of life and limb. Most people hark back to the days of the old dictators.
Let us be specific. The spark for these uprisings was provided by Tunisia, an unlikely locale that mobilized people in other countries as well. Muslims reposed great hopes in Egypt, one of the most important countries in the Muslim East. While the long-entrenched dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted from power, the old guard remained entrenched even if the Ikhwan-backed government took power for a brief period. The government of President Mohamed Mursi was greatly constrained throughout its one-year rule and was then overthrown by the brutes in uniform. He and a large number of his supporters were arrested and thrown in prison where they continue to languish to this day. Some have been sentenced to death. Egypt is back under the heels of the military while a large number of Egyptians have been bludgeoned into submission and forced into backing the new dictator for fear of facing the same fate as the Ikhwan.
Egypt is not the only country where people’s aspirations have been subverted. In Tunisia, remnants of the Ben Ali regime are still running the show despite the Islamic movement having played a large role in getting rid of the dictator. Tunisia and Egypt could still be considered relatively better off compared to what is underway in Libya, Iraq, and Syria. Add to that Bahrain and Yemen, which have been invaded by Saudi forces, and we begin to see a clearer picture of what is wrong in the region.
Iraq was invaded by American forces and occupied in March 2003. The reason advanced was Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction that in the infamous words of then US National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice could cause a “mushroom cloud” over New York in 45 minutes! The ground for this lie was prepared much earlier — August 2002 — through a series of deliberately planted lies in the New York Times. The source of these lies was the office of US Vice President Dick Cheney who used the paper’s reporter Judith Miller to peddle the regime’s propaganda. True, Iraq was rid of a nasty dictator but the country has been effectively partitioned into three separate enclaves with the Kurds enjoying de facto independence. This was the plan all along. The country is in the grip of mayhem with sectarianism running rampant.
In Libya, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s regime was overthrown by the US and NATO launching air strikes under the guise of enforcing a no-fly zone to protect civilians that were allegedly being bombed by Qaddafi’s air force. The UN Security Council was roped into this diabolical plot to pass resolution 1973 to impose a no-fly zone. The US and its NATO allies then used this resolution to launch a war on Libya with the specific aim of overthrowing the regime. Qaddafi was overthrown and publicly lynched in October 2011 but the people of Libya have been left at the non-existent mercies of terrorists who kill anybody that does not agree with their obscurantist ideas.
Only in Syria has the West’s diabolical plot not succeeded, largely because the government of Bashar al-Asad enjoys broad public support. Equally important, Syria’s allies — Russia and Iran — have refused to allow it to be destroyed. It has not been for lack of trying on the part of the imperialist-Zionist-Saudi-Turkish conspirators but the stakes for Russia and Iran as well as the broader region are much higher. They are not prepared to allow another government to be overthrown although five years of foreign-inspired mayhem has reduced much of the country to rubble. As long as the Syrian establishment and military remain intact — there have been no large-scale defections despite enticing offers from the Saudi regime — the country can be rebuilt. Further, the imperialist-Zionist-Saudi-Turkish plot has been frustrated giving hope to the people of Syria as well as other resistance movements that they can overcome foreign conspiracies.
This brings us to Bahrain and Yemen. The first is a tiny country but occupies an important position on the western shores of the Persian Gulf. Yemen is the poorest country in the region but its people are brave and dignified. They have shown they can withstand the onslaught of large predatory powers and despite shortage of weapons they have given a good account of themselves. Yemen may yet prove the undoing of the Bani Saud regime in the Arabian Peninsula. That may be the first positive change the Muslims would witness in the region. It is long overdue.
So what lessons can Muslims and Islamic movements draw from the experiences of the last five years? First, genuine Islamic movements cannot be agents of the imperialists and Zionists or of their puppets. Movements for change must have muttaqi leadership that does not pursue narrow parochial, class, or sectarian interests. For meaningful change, they cannot play within or according to the rules of the entrenched system, which has its own interests. Finally, it must be understood that no amount of concessions to the old guard or their imperialist-Zionist masters will appease them. If Islamic movements are serious about change, it has to be total. Half measures will not do because they have proven to exact a very heavy price from the needless suffering that attends accommodating oppressors and their agents who would rather not give up their power in favor of participatory representation and a just redress of grievances.