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Islam and Politics ( 18 Oct 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Beyond the ‘Arab Spring'

By Madanjeet Singh

AP WHICH WAY? The Arab countries seem to be heading towards a scenario of struggle between fanatics and the more moderate sections of society. Here, a protest at the Tahrir Square in Cairo.

The aborting of the 2011 revolutionary waves of protests has given the Anglo-Americans another opportunity to install Islamists in West Asia.

The ‘Arab Spring' is a misnomer. The media use it to describe the uprising that the self-immolation of Mohammad Bouazizi unleashed in Tunisia on December 18, 2010, against police corruption and ill-treatment. That spark ignited and spread to Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen and to other countries. In January, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, the fountainhead of Islamic fundamentalism.

But it was in Egypt that the computer-literate working class youth and their supporters among middle-class college students, created a veritable revolution, fanned by a whirlwind of rights activists, trade unionists, professors, lawyers, and unemployed youth. The government mobilised the riot police and tried to break it. But the demonstrations continued in Tahrir Square, until President Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign on February 11, after 18 days of protests, ending his 30-year presidency.

The euphoria that chants such as “the people and the Army are united” which reverberated around Egypt's squares created was snuffed out in a week by the Generals, who grabbed power. They had not identified themselves as partners in the revolution, but claimed to be the sole bearers of its legitimacy. The haste with which they discarded the façade of secularism that Mubarak's regime was using against the Muslim Brotherhood, led to the largest demonstration since the uprising, on July 29, by thousands of Islamists calling for the imposition of Shariah law. Many demonstrators carried Saudi Arabian flags, and placards that said: ‘Bin Laden is in Tahrir.' As recently as in 2009, the Brotherhood had called for a ban on a woman or a Christian serving as Egypt's President.

Tahrir Square turned into a battlefield as the Army moved in to disperse the activists, beating and firing at them. Hundreds have been thrown in jail and 12,000 civilians tried in military tribunals. Beatings, electrocution, and even sexual assault by military personnel were reported. The police shot and killed Coptic Christians protesting against Islamists who had set fire to churches. (The Coptic Patriarch, Chenouda III, was awarded the 2000 UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence for encouraging interfaith dialogue.)


The Islamic retrogression is a far cry from the secular flowers that blossomed during the Arab Spring with the establishment of the Baath Party in 1946. It was a movement founded in Damascus by two Syrian intellectuals: Michel Aflaq, a Greek Orthodox Christian (1910-1989), and Salah al-Bitar, a Sunni Muslim (1912-1980). In the early 1930s, they had gone to study at the Sorbonne in Paris and worked together to formulate a doctrine that combined aspects of Arab nationalism and socialism committed to Arab unity and the freedom of the Arab world from Western colonialism.

On their return to Syria in the early 1940s, they became school teachers, and together with a significant number of Christian Arabs they promoted Baathist ideology within a nationalist-secular political framework that rejected faith-based orientation. These ideas of protecting the minority status of non-Muslims found favour with the progressive leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement such as Nasser in Egypt, Nehru in India, Tito in Yugoslavia and Sukarno in Indonesia: the secular ideology helped them stabilise the ethnic and communal conflicts in their newly independent countries. They supported the Baathist concept of socialism that differed from classical Marxism.


These were among the reasons for Baathism growing rapidly, establishing a number of branches in Arab countries. They formed governments in Syria and Iraq, as well as in Egypt briefly when Syria merged with Egypt in 1958, to become the United Arab Republic. There could have been no better interlocutors than Aflaq, representing the Greek civilisation, and Bitar, personifying the Phoenician culture. They conceived their respective religions as a mere appendix attached to the Greek and Phoenician classical antiquity that spread across the Mediterranean region from 1550 BC to 300 BC.

This ‘Fertile Crescent' comprising ancient Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Mesopotamia, was home to the earliest urban communities, spanning some 5000 years.

It was in ancient Iraq that the first literate societies developed in the Fourth Millennium BC. They developed the first cities and complex state bureaucracies, using a sophisticated writing system. Their scholars compiled historical, juridical, economical, mathematical, astronomical, lexical, grammatical and epistolary treatises. They invented two-wheeled carts and built roads, earlier than 3000 BC. It was this cradle of civilisation that the illegal Anglo-American invasion destroyed. The invaders installed Bin Laden's jihadists to promote their Islamic agenda.

Taha Hussein (1889-1973) was the senior mentor of Aflaq and Bitar. He was one of the most influential 20th century Egyptian writers and intellectuals, known as the pioneer of the Arab Renaissance and the modernist movement in the Arab world. An admirer of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, he was a nationalist. His vision of Egyptian secular culture was embedded in what he called “Pharaonism.” He believed that “Egypt could only progress without reclaiming its ancient pre-Islamic roots.” He opposed Saudi Arabia's Stone-Age Islamic culture that was alien to the rich Arab cultures of the Fertile Crescent.

Taha Hussein was prosecuted for his views and lived in exile for years. In the 1950s he was rehabilitated, on the eve of Egypt becoming a republic, and appointed Minister of Knowledge. This gave him the opportunity to initiate educational reforms, such as free education for children. He strived to make education secular. He transformed Koranic schools into secular primary schools and secularised not only the Al-Azhar but also a number of scientific universities that he established.


As the U.S. alliance with bin Laden's Mujahideen destroyed the secular Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in 1989, and dismantled the secular Baath administrations in Iraq for the benefit of Al-Qaeda jihadists, the abortion of the 2011 Arab Spring has given the Anglo-Americans another opportunity to install Islamists in the Arab world. These vultures are now hovering over Syria, the last bastion of Baathism, under the pretext of democracy, to tear apart the Muslim and Christian communities. So far they have found no ruse to directly attack Syria, as President Bashar al-Assad could not be accused of “possessing weapons of mass destruction capable of destroying Western civilisations within 45 minutes.” So the Arab Spring has become the Trojan horse to supply arms to dissidents and escalate the conflict into an emergency to isolate Syria by imposing U.N. sanctions.

Those who had initiated the protests are naturally baffled. The Arab countries seem to be heading towards a scenario similar to that in Pakistan where a struggle between Muslim fanatics and the more moderate sections of society is on.

The Ennahda Party of the Islamist Rachid Ghannouchi is expected to win elections in Tunisia next month and choose an Assembly to draft a Constitution. His biographer Azzam Tamimi wrote: “The real struggle of the future will be about who is capable of fulfilling the desires of a devout Muslim. It's going to be about who is Islamist and who is more Islamist, rather than about the secularists and the Islamists.” During a recent debate with a secular critic, Ghannouchi asked: “If the Islamic spectrum goes from Bin Laden to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which of them is Islam?”

Ghannouchi seems unaware of Prime Minister Erdogan's antecedents. As Mayor of Istanbul in 1995, he declared that “the New Year's Day is a Christian holiday and not a legitimate cause for celebration by Muslims,” and that “shaking hands with the opposite sex is prohibited by Islam.”

The Arab Springers seem well on their way towards subscribing to the Sunni majoritarian culture and becoming another “epicentre of terrorism” like Pakistan, where even the moderate civilians are throwing rose petals on the assassin of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, hit for defending a Christian woman condemned to die for insulting Islam. The judge who sentenced Mumtaz Qadri to death has gone into hiding after a spate of protests and death threats. Mobs in Lahore, Rawalpindi and other cities are “saluting Qadiri's glory,” and some fundamentalist organisations have announced huge rewards for anyone who would kill the judge.

“Pakistan once had a violent, rabidly religious lunatic fringe. This fringe has morphed into a majority. The liberals are now the fringe. We are now a nation of butchers and primitive savages. Europe's Dark Ages have descended upon us,” said Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, at the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

Madanjeet Singh, founder of the South Asia Foundation, is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. This article has been adapted from a chapter in his forthcoming book, Cultures and Vultures.

Source: The Hindu