by Mohamed Yehia (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 14 2003-11, Ramadan, 1424)
Since the war on Iraq ardent calls for "change" have become fashionable in Arab countries. These appeals come from various quarters. However, the variety of the demands for change betray the nature and the extent of the power-war currently unfolding in the region. While "change" apparently means all things to all people, three broad stages have emerged: the popular arena, the regimes, and the Americans and their European allies.
For Muslim peoples the events in Iraq and the ongoing struggle in Palestine call for change towards a true and extensive commitment to Islam, highlighted by simultaneous action against the tyrannical, secular regimes and their imperialist American masters who are advancing steadily on the heartland of the Muslim ummah. The Islamic and nationalist movements hoped that the violence of the American onslaught, moving as it does from Afghanistan to Iraq and threatening to invade Iran and other Muslim countries, would jolt the stiflingly static conditions in the Arab dictatorships into movement toward freedom from internal tyranny, external domination, and hegemony by the domestic secular cliques who are eroding the Islamic identity of the peoples, thus facilitating the grip on power by a bunch of corrupt rulers.
Nevertheless those high hopes were not matched by any real power or effectiveness on the ground, as the sad condition of the Muslim peoples of the region after decades of suppression and propaganda left them the weakest link in the chain of the body politic. The popular hopes for change remained wishful thinking that could not survive in the face of the brute reality of power at the disposal of local tyrants and their foreign masters. This fact by itself, coupled with the seeming relentlessness of the Americans’ insatiable lust for domination, should have put an end to any calls for change. Yet these calls continue to be made from other quarters, and here lies the real drama of the matter.
American mouthpieces in the administration and the media, along with the inevitable "think-tanks" and "foundations", were the loudest to call for sweeping changes in the Middle East. As usual for the new "right-wing" America there are two facets to these demands. There is a rosy facade and there is a hidden agenda. On the bright side, America claims to be championing change toward democracy, freedom, economic development, regional cooperation, the achievement of human and minority rights, social advancement, the "emancipation" of women and, of course, "peace" and "stability". The Americans’ newly-boosted propaganda machine is continuously blaring out these promises of change and many initiatives are already in place, ostensibly to work for their fulfillment.
In reality, however, these claims and policies amount to nothing less than a massive and profound redrawing of the political, social, economic and cultural map of the region in the image that American think-tanks ordain; think-tanks that serve the goals and interests of the broad coalition of rightist- fundamentalist Christian-Zionist-militarist-imperialistic forces that presently rule America. Islam is the central target and focus of this hidden, "engineering" agenda, because it is the key and substratum to all the areas that the Americans wish to "change" to make them conform to their vision of a US-Israel-dominated Muslim region. Thus, when the Americans nowadays speak of "change" in the"middle east" this should be taken to mean a process of re-forming, reshaping, remaking, or remoulding of the conditions of Islam in the region, to result in a thoroughly secularized and westernized "Islam" that is totally acquiescent in American and Israeli hegemony disguised as "globalisation" or "regional peace and co-operation".
It should come as no surprise, this being the case, that the plethora of specific American plans and demands touch upon every conceivable facet of Islam. Marriage laws must conform to western norms; religious education should be abolished; the shari’ah should be "developed" or amended to accommodate every sort of "modern" practice; "sex education" must be introduced at all levels and "gay and lesbian" tendencies tolerated and given free rein; politics, and particularly the idea of a distinct Muslim polity, must be removed from the body of Islam, and so forth; the list is almost interminable.
The Americans are also using the idea of change as a stick with which to belabour their agents. By making these repeated demands for change the US spurs its client-regimes to greater diligence in the service of Uncle Sam, on pain of losing their power and being replaced by younger, hungrier and more energetic ruling cliques. The Americans are also floating the idea of political change with an eye to getting rid of some decrepit and senile oligarchies, such as those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for instance, that have become an embarrassment to Washington, because they tend to justify their repressive policies by their "special relationship" with the US.
The most unlikely source for the call for change at present are the propaganda machines of the Arab regimes. It would have been logical to expect the entrenched regimes to be the last quarter to call for change because, unlike the peoples or the Americans, they have everything to lose and nothing to gain. The secret lies in the type of "change" the regimes have in mind, which is naturally diametrically opposed to what the Islamists (or even the Americans) want. To put it in a nutshell, the dictatorships have hit upon a magic formula. To weather the storm of demand for change from their American masters (for rulers seldom heed any plea from their peoples) the rulers not only refrain from rejecting the demands but put themselves forward as ardent advocates of a "change" that is of a special character and enables them to survive. The change that some Arab rulers are now enthusiastically, almost desperately, seeking is change toward the further consolidation of their power, the refinement of their instruments of repression and control, the transformation of the trappings of hegemony from the crude to the subtle, the disguise of dictatorship, and the elaborate creation of a veneer of democracy and plurality in the political arena.
The change that the regimes in several Arab states are now in the process of implementing is geared only to these goals. Old rulers have suddenly discovered that it is necessary to inject new blood in the veins of the government, but (surprise, surprise) the "new blood" means only that their sons or wives take power after they are gone, accompanied by new cliques comprised of the relatives and friends of the present ruler and his present henchmen. The result is perpetuation of the hated regime behind a new face. This sort of change also means that the existing political movements, notably the Islamic movements, should give way to new forms of political organisation and action. The result is a ban on all meaningful political activity and the creation of artificial, bland, apolitical bodies of businessmen, technocrats, bureaucrats and professionals attached to the ruler or to his son ( the heir apparent of the current ruler). Thus national political action and opposition are abolished, to be replaced by organisations that profess no ideology, which means that they adhere surreptitiously to the American "ideology" of pragmatism, secularism and globalisation, in the sense of the imposition of the American and Western "way of life"; political action becomes only the management of the day-to-day running of the economy and of some services within the framework of a secular and Westernized system.
So change means a convenient guise or smokescreen for doing away with all vestiges of Islamic identity, shari’ah, ethics and practices. These elements are being demonised and stigmatised as "outmoded" and "irrelevant"; then "change" is hailed as an effective panacea against such backward-looking remnants of an old culture, and for introducing "modernism" and "progress".
Many observers and Islamic activists fear that the regimes’ concept of change will carry the day. The peoples and their Islamist and nationalist movements are too weak to impose their own vision of change, and the Americans tire too quickly and may be drawn to other preoccupations. The regimes, however, are waging a life-and-death struggle not only against their peoples but probably also against the Americans. They know that the survival of their "republican dynasties" depends on their winning the war over the concept and content of "change". At present they are placing their bets on the weakness of the Muslim peoples after long years of suppression, and also on the fickleness and shortsightedness, as well as impatience, of American politicians and policies.