By Dr Ahmad M Zaidan
July 8, 2014
The Ottoman Sultanate broke up in 1923 and this was followed by events that included the division of the Arab Levant and the fall of the old system that ruled Arab countries, which had been imposed upon them. The revolt against the Ottoman Sultanate happened with the cooperation of Western powers, who promised the establishment of one Arab Sultanate to the pioneers of the Arab revolution. However, later on, the Western powers reneged on their promises and enforced their own system, which basically amounted to fully ensuring minority rights, but at the expense of the majority population.
The colonial powers and their stooges, who are still influential in the region, had two objectives: to suppress the Sunni majority, which was regarded as a remnant of the Ottoman empire and, therefore, liable to be punished and declared rogue; and the vacuum created by the abolition of the old system to be filled by a new elite loyal to the new system and its masters.
This preface is important in order to understand the current Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia and had a snowball effect, which is still being felt. This can be blamed on the dysfunctional system imposed on the Arab people. The Arab Spring was not a conspiracy as some naive people often assert. When you see hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in Syria and other cities of the Arab world, asking for their basic right to choose their leaders, it is quite clear that this is something far from a conspiracy. Leaders in the Arab world have remained in power for decades; rarely has any leader quit office while keeping his head on his shoulders.
The Arab people have borne this rotten situation and their corrupt regimes for too long, where the likes of Mu’ammar Qaddafi called his people rats and Bashar al Assad called them germs. They believe that their people have no right to say no to them. However, the darkest side of the story is the steadfast stand of the West in favour of the current regimes. This becomes clear when the sons of Hosni Mubarak are brought back to Egypt after Mohamed Morsi was dislodged. There are naïve voices, which do not blame the Western powers for the doings of Arab tyrants; however, we all saw how Mubarak and Ali Abdullah al Saleh of Yemen quit when the West withdrew its support for them. The same happened in case of Assad: when the West threatened air strikes against him, he promptly surrendered all his chemical weapons that have only been used against his own people. On the other hand, he was firm in not accepting any demands of his own people, with hundreds of thousands of citizens killed, millions missing or displaced and entire cities demolished, through the use of jet fighters, chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. Despite all this, there are those who still believe that he is against Israel and is resisting Western powers for some supposedly legitimate cause.
When Iraq’s Nuri al Maliki declared heightened sectarian tensions through highly provocative statements, he ended up being only seen as a leader of Shias rather than a head of a state where multiple sects and ethnicities resided. With his army running away in the face of an attack by a few hundred fighters and with his call for jihad, it is clear that the old framework is not working anymore and the region at large needs a new social contract. We shouldn’t forget that Western countries are solely responsible for this state of affairs that has resulted from the invasion of Iraq, as well as from the political process that didn’t cater to all strata of Iraqi society.
The whole world is to be blamed for remaining silent for the last three years while a massacre was going on in Syria at the hands of a brutal regime with support from sectarian militias belonging to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries. The irony is that the same world, which is talking about peace, security and the international system, allowed Iranian troops to cross the international border into Syria and Iraq to fight besides Assad, and at the same time, it is silent when Assad bombs Syrian refugees, who fled to Lebanon. Despite all this, the West now cries about the failing of the system.
Interestingly, Barack Obama asked recently for consultations with Iran about Iraq over superseding Maliki, who is a product of the American invasion of Iraq. This makes it clear that state sovereignty in Iraq is over, even from the American point of view. If that is the case, one wonders why the Americans and the West are asking ISIS and other militants to respect colonial borders between artificial states that are products of the colonial system.
The international and regional failure in tackling the impasse in some Arab countries exhibits the dysfunctionality of the international system and has pushed people and non-state actors to go their own way and only protect their own interests. Let me conclude by saying that Arabs have endured almost a century of Western imposition upon them; the time has now come to let the Arab people decide their own destiny and future. This can be achieved only by putting an end to invasions and occupations of Arab land from all corrupt and dictatorial external and internal forces.
Dr Ahmad M Zaidan is Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Pakistan