By S. Nihal Singh
Dec 27, 2011
Of all the events in the year 2011, the pride of place must go to the Arab Spring. Revolutions never take a straight course and the spring has seen a harsh winter. As events in Egypt have proved, the old order is still fighting to retain its privileges. But there can be no doubt that the fruit vendor in Tunisia who lit the spark that spread like a prairie fire will not be doused by palliatives and the Arab world can never be the same again.
Tunisia was the first and thus far the most successful experiment, but the future course will be decided by what happens in Egypt.
The privileged military is trying all tricks in its bag to present the façade of change while retaining its lucrative economic interests and a bumper US-supported budget outside the scrutiny of civilian rulers.
Time and again protesters are returning to Tahrir Square to make their point and the military regime is showing the mailed fist each time, often overplaying its hand as in stripping and kicking a prone female protester.
It is an elemental battle because Gamal Abdel Nasser had once galvanised the Arab world, but his idea of nationalism failed and was transformed into a more or less secular model of the dictator propped up by the military or of it. He ruled by decrees and slogans. For decades, the supposedly docile populations took what was on offer and dictators became arrogant and insolent. Israel was a pernicious factor not merely because of its occupation of Palestinian land and eating up East Jerusalem and illegally building settlements under American patronage but by buttressing the dictatorships.
Egypt got a bumper annual subvention from Washington for its military for making peace with Israel and Israel's security and interests were a central factor in determining US policies in the region leading, in a sense, to the American invasion of Iraq.
It is ironical that a country that swears by the credo of spreading democracy around the world should have propped up so many dictators in the Arab world for so long.
The significance of the Arab Spring is that the facade of military-supported dictatorships has been blown sky high. For decades dictators like Hosni Mubarak have played on the fear of Muslim resurgence and extremists as an alibi for ruling with a strong hand.
But when the end came, it came surprisingly quickly.
This has not been the case in every country. In Libya's case, it needed Western air intervention to tilt the scales against Col.
Muammar Gaddafi. In Yemen, the wily Ali Abdullah Saleh is continuing to play a cat and mouse game in a quilt of tribal and ethnic loyalties.
In Syria, the tragedy is being compounded by President Bashar Assad and his minority Alawite regime stringing along the Arab League, among others, to prolong what has become a virtual civil war in order to hope to ride out the storm. The President and his tight family and community inner circle feel that they have nowhere to go if they lose power. To suggest that months of unrest and powerful demonstrations are the work of armed bandits and outside malevolent forces is to insult the intelligence of the world.
Bahrain, on the other hand, is a cut and dried case. It is ruled by a minority Sunni regime over a Shia-majority population but is protected by Saudi interests and those of the larger Gulf Cooperation Council and enjoys American immunity because it hosts the US Fifth Fleet. Iran, we must remember, serves as a scarecrow not only for Israel but also for the predominantly Sunni regimes in the region, the United States having changed the Sunni-Shia equation by its invasion of Iraq, making the new Iraqi dispensation prone to Iran's influence.
There can be no doubt that the future shape of the Arab world will be more Islamist-oriented. Turkey is trying to present itself as a model modern Islamistoriented state, but each country will find its own mix and there seems little stomach for the extremist varieties of dispensations.
For a time, the region will be less stable than it was but that is in the nature of change as democratic forces seek their own accommodations.
Many struggles lie ahead.
Ironically, the Egyptian military is trying to emulate what Mustafa Kemal Ataturk accomplished in building the modern Turkish state on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.
Because in recent years the highly successful Justice and Development Party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demolished bit by bit that privileged military position in the functioning of the state. Not only does the Egyptian military want to enshrine its privileges in a future constitution but it also wants to write it.
Despite the nature of the challenges that will confront the people of the Arab world, there can be no doubt about the outcome, however long it takes. The traditional structure of the Arab dictator has been decoded by the people and even as Arab populations are being democratised, the Israeli state is becoming more rigid and less democratic. Recent Israeli protests about their living conditions and economic woes were selective and did not touch on the basic contradiction of ruling over an alien people and gobbling up more and more of their land.
To a Western world that has seen Arabs in black and white terms as terrorists and the good guys (those with the West), it has come as something of a surprise that masses of people can face bullets, repression and torture to demand their rights as human beings and free citizens of a free country. Although the Tunisian messiah came just before 2011 crept into view, the fruit vendor's self-immolation marks the year that made the Arab people conscious of their rights and to resolve that they shall not march to the tune of dictators even though the latter dress themselves up in wondrous military and exotic robes and mouth high-sounding slogans in Arabic, a language that lends itself to flights of fancy. Arab masses have proved more effective in their full-throated chants.
The writer can be contacted at email@example.com
Source: The Asian Age, New Delhi