By Asghar Ali Engineer
(Secular Perspective Feb. 16-28, 2011)
The developments in Tunisia and Egypt are indeed breath taking. No one expected such explosive developments in these countries so all of a sudden. But those who keep an eye on the ground situation may not be surprised. There are scholars and analysts who always debunked Islam as anti-democratic and supportive of dictatorial regimes whereas fact is that it is western regimes who supported dictators in the Islamic world for their own interests.
Today when common people are on the streets wanting dictators like Hosni Mubarak to go, these regimes are shaking in their boots. Now Israeli authorities want to prevent democracy in Egypt as democracy, according to them, would mean Brotherhood coming to power. Earlier in Palestine when Hamas came to power through democratic elections, America and Israel refused to recognize elected Hamas Government. So much for democracy Israel and US talk about.
No religion is for or against democracy as religion mainly deals with moral, ethical and spiritual issues and eschatological problems. If anyone weds religion to politics, it is not to serve any religious but for political interests. It is certainly not a Qur’anic doctrine that politics and religion cannot be separated. That was historical and not doctrinal issue. Islam is as much for democracy as any religion. It is nothing but anti-Islamic propaganda that western politicians and media indulges in.
And whenever there are good prospects for democracy in any Islamic country the US rushes in to support dictatorships from Indonesia to the Arab world and then blames Islam for being anti-democratic. Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship was supported by USA and Israel in their own interest and what is worse Israel’s interest is US interest. Today when Obama realized that Hosni Mubarak has totally lost support he is advising him to go to keep its credibility with the people of Egypt. But it will also see that someone is installed who acts in US-Israel interests.
It would be very difficult to find legitimacy for a person who, like Mubarak, is ready to become lackey of US and Israel. It is a new wave in the Arab world. A handful of people led by Osama tried to retaliate against US-Israel violence with violence of their own and saw its disastrous consequences. The Arab youth has realized that violence may not be the answer and that peaceful democratic struggle is far more important for real change than violent methods.
Many Arab rulers are also shaking in their boots. The Yemeni President Ali Abu Saleh has already announced that he may not run again for presidency after 2013 when his term expires. So far there is one thing in common for the three countries i.e. Tunis, Egypt and the Yemen: all three countries are poor and backward and have large number of frustrated unemployed youth. This peaceful uprising of the people may not immediately spread to oil rich Arab countries as the youth do not experience problems as they do in Tunis and Egypt or the Yemen.
Though the economic grievances may not be here in oil rich countries but recent developments, particularly in Egypt are bound to have deep impact on political culture of oil rich countries too. It may take time but will, sooner or later, bound to influence political developments in entire Arab world. All these countries have dictatorship supported by the USA.
The rulers of this region are totally dependent on US support and the US uses them for its own and Israeli interests and that is why the entire Arab world remains silent spectator to developments in the Palestine and inhuman behaviour of Israel against the Palestinians. They dare not to speak out. This is deeply resented by the common people in the region but for lack of democratic freedoms, they feel helpless. They cannot even protest as any protest invites heavy repression. Hosni Mubarak had his own torture chambers.
What makes these rulers, kings, sheikhs and dictators unpopular is the core question of Palestine. Being dependent on America these rulers endorse, although silently, American support to Israel and this is deeply resented by the Arab peoples. The revolt in Cairo is, as of now, not directed at the Palestinian question. It is more about dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak and his high handed rule.
But built in this resentment is the question of Gaza and the way Mubarak regime has helped Israel implement its policy of throwing siege around Gaza and making lives of Palestinians impossible. Also, it is important to note that there is no leader of this people’s uprising. No single leader has given call and no charismatic personality has come to the fore to direct the people for totally peaceful protest.
And yet the protest has remained peaceful and has shown exemplary discipline. Yes, there have been few instances of violence, burning and looting but in such a massive demonstration there is bound to be few such instances. It is purely people’s initiative. It is indeed very important development. A country which has not witnessed democracy during several decades for people to remain so disciplined in their protest, is really amazing. Even in highly developed democracies peaceful protests degenerate into violent demonstrations.
This again clearly shows that there is a great capability among Arab masses for democratic discipline and also shows that Muslims are not averse to democratic ethos, as so often alleged by western political propagandists. If there is no external support to these dictators democracy and democratic polity will easily develop in these countries also. There is very close parallel to what happened in Indonesia. Indonesia was under dictatorship of Suharto for several decades again thanks to the US support. But when US support was withdrawn Suharto regime fell and transition to democracy took place quite smoothly and Indonesia, the biggest Islamic country in the world is having democracy and smooth democratic elections.
However, there is one difference of course. There is no sensitive question like that of Palestine and also there is no oil interests involved. In case of Arab countries dictatorships are crucial for US as this is far more sensitive region because of oil and Israel. Oil is highly crucial for industries and auto culture and Israel is needed to keep Arabs under control.
Thus like in Indonesia, America will not remain neutral as far as the Middle East is concerned. Here its political and economic interests are involved. It will try to maneuver to install, if not a puppet, at least someone who would not severe relations with the West. Will Baradei fit the bill? May be to an extent. He is not unknown to America and has been sympathetic to Obama. But now relationship may not be as simple as that. No new president installed can afford to endorse American Israeli policy. Only one who has independent position on Palestinian question can have some legitimacy in the eyes of Arabs.
So the sustained democratic movement of Egyptian people ultimately compelled Hosni Mubarak to quit and flee to his ancestral place Sharm-al-Sheikh. He resisted for three long weeks but people refused to accept him any longer and asked him to quit, the only acceptable condition to withdraw. The people of Egypt have conclusively shown that they love democracy and non-violence and succeeded in bringing change non-violently. Though there was no leader and guide of Mahatma Gandhi’s stature to show them the way, yet masses found their own way which was peaceful and non-violent.
This behaviour of Egyptian people has broken two myths: that Muslims do not love democracy and that they are violent people. Here is the unique case that masses of Egypt spontaneously demonstrated in thousands very peacefully and sustained their movement for three long weeks without any charismatic leader. Muslims as much want democratic change peacefully as other people of the world.
Also, the Egyptian people have shown way to peoples of various Arab countries like the Yemen, Algeria, Jordan and others how to overthrow corrupt dictators who have ruled over them for decades with the support of US oil interests. Egypt was very crucial among them. The oil rich countries may not feel the impact immediately but time is not far off when they will also be shaken. In fact one of the Saudi princes has warned the Saudi rulers that they should pack up sooner than later.
Nothing can hold back the surge of people in Middle East. Also time has come for Palestinians to liberate themselves. Israel is also shaking. Two events the Turkish Flotila which went to supply essential commodities to Gaza and on which Israel made crucial mistake to fire, and the Egyptian revolution have done for Palestinian cause what their fight could not do for decades. This also shows that peaceful methods of fighting can do in short time what violence cannot achieve even after decades. Bravo for peaceful and non-violent agitation.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org