By Dr. Abdul Wahid
The world’s media is buzzing with news of the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo and the subsequent state of alert declared within Egypt.
This is a hugely significant event that tells us a a lot about the Arab people, as well as about Israel’s security.
We are continually told by the western media that the Arab uprisings are a call for western style secular liberal government. However, as I explained in my article some weeks ago, this is a revolution in progress – and whilst some of the secular groups achieved great prominence in the early part of 2011 including being promoted in Western mainstream press, it would be inaccurate to suggest their vision for the future represents mainstream opinion on the street; or to suggest that they alone have led opposition to the brutal and authoritarian regimes in the region.
People of all persuasions have undoubtedly been united in opposing the regimes and wanting real change, but there is a real debate emerging about the future of the region – and the Islamic beliefs, values and history of the people are already playing a dominating part in defining the future – as exemplified by discussions over the new constitution of Libya.
Egypt enjoyed the removal from power of Mubarak and some of his cronies, but has not achieved a comprehensive regime change. The currently military government is largely composed of members of former regime and maintains a strong relationship with Washington and Tel Aviv. Indeed, Omar Suleiman, the former security chief who was the mainstay of relations with Israel for so long, was an army man; and Egypt’s army leadership colluded with Israel in maintaining the siege upon Gaza for so long.
But – just as in Tunisia – this new set up, within an old regime, has something new to consider in addition to its own interests and those of the United States, Britain and France. It now has to deal with public opinion, which was until recently brutally constrained.
What have we learned about Arab public opinion?
The nature of the sentiments of the Arab public are becoming ever more apparent. Only a few weeks ago one million people gathered in Tahrir Square calling for a greater role for Islam in the future of Egypt, with slogans for an Islamic State at the forefront. Similarly, we have seen the deeply Islamic nature of the population in Libya and Syria, who like their predecessors rising up openly chant their spiritual motivation.
Now, inevitably, the focus has fallen onto Israel. This should not be a surprise given that despite a lack of attention from mainstream media, the issue of Palestine and its liberation has been one of the central grievances articulated by protestors against regimes seen as collaborators.
We are now beginning to see the public display its true feelings about the Israeli occupation of Palestine in a manner that can no longer be downplayed by commentators. Only a few weeks ago, protests outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo led to the removal of the Israeli flag, in response to Israel’s killing of Egyptian security personal. I do not believe that this is, in any way, the kind of crude anti-semitism portrayed in some sections of the media – even if some Arab sentiment about Israel has been expressed as such in the media. One must remember that Israel portrays itself with a singular national identity – as ‘the Jewish State’ – and not as a pluralistic democracy that its supporters portray in the west. Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni once even suggested that ‘Arab Israelis’ should go to a Palestinian state if one were established in the future.
I believe for the most part public opinion opposes the occupation [meaning those from 1948 – or even since the British occupation in 1917] for two reasons.
Firstly, Islam – like every other political philosophy – rejects the usurpation and occupation of land. People know this, and decades of occupation has not erased this viewpoint.
This has proven the case elsewhere in the world – Kashmir and Chechnya for example. But it is even more significant when one considers the status of Jerusalem and its surroundings, as defined in the Quran, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the early Caliphs. Though over time there have been attempts to reduce the liberation of Palestine to a purely Arab issue, and then a Palestinian national issue, it remains at heart an Islamic issue tied closely to the beliefs of Muslims across the Middle East and beyond.
Secondly, despite attempts to normalise this occupation – nowhere greater than in Egypt, which benefited from trade with Israel and aid from abroad – the people have seen it for what it is: a cruel, brutal, expansionist, racist authority. This has meant that Christians and secular Arabs also oppose Israel as well.
What does this mean for the current governments in the region?
People, as ever, are ahead of the regime. The regime was forced to respond to public opinion after the deaths of Egyptian security forces – just as Turkey’s AKP government has to placate its own population after the Marvi Marmara massacre.
These Arab regimes, who spent so long using expensive military hardware sold to them by western countries in order to secure themselves first and Israel second, have to deal with a new phenomenon.
If these regimes are threatened, it removes the single biggest defence of Israel. For, as much as the resistance movements may have been given some semblance of cover by some of these regimes [for example Hamas in Syria], the regimes never did what only they were capable of – and that was to halt the killing, bloodshed and massacres in Gaza and Lebanon.
Their confinement of troops to barracks gave Israel a free reign to do what it wanted – and public opinion is giving full vent to that.
What does it mean for Western interests?
Just as Arab regimes have been supported by western governments to suppress Islamic revival and maintain material interests in the region, they have also been the mainstay of security for Israel.
Many in the west know this, which is why is has pushed Israel to accept peace deals in the past. Much of the talk of a so-called Palestinian state comes from this view point – not justice for the Palestinians [for how could such a small, divided land, without its own security force ever be called a ‘state’], but security and recognition for Israel. Several commentators in the West have pointed this out.
Even supporters of Israel know that Mubarak, Assad and others provide their best hope of security. However, they are divided as to what to do if this real ‘Israel Defence Force’, is swept away by the on-going political Tsunami sweeping the region. The ‘hawks’ may accept a Palestinian state – subjugated, dependent, and neutered in security terms – in the hope of recognition and normalisation. But this would not be justice for the people of Palestine – more an institutionalisation of their current weakness. Nor would it satisfy the aspirations of the Muslims outside of the occupied territories who remain committed to the idea that the land must ultimately be liberated. The ‘ultra-hawks’ believe force is their only hope of survival, but have to contend with a hostile international public opinion, plus a diminution of economic and political power in the United States.
What about the future for the region?
Anyone who recognises the facts on the ground should recognise that the Israel project is and always was unsustainable. The only options on the table from Washington, the Quartet or Tel Aviv would either result in an extremely unjust solution, or an extremely brutal one. With the uprisings in the region still far from resolved, the future will show that such options will not be tenable.
Which is why the the most important question should be: What can work in the region in order to bring much needed stability and peace for all people?
Those who exclude an Islamic solution thereby ignoring Islam’s jurisprudence and history are doing a great disservice. The only period in which the region know as the ‘Holy Land’ has seen prolonged periods of peace and harmony was under the Islamic system, a far cry from the contemporary failed apartheid regime imposed upon the region by colonial design whose history has shown only oppression for the “other”. Moreover, the Islamic rules on how non Muslim citizens are to be protected and given rights are very clear. Indeed, it is a well recognised fact of history that many Jews who were persecuted over the centuries were given refuge in the Ottoman Caliphate, and some migrated within the borders of that state to find their way to their historic holy city.
If it is peace people want regardless of religion and race, then the status quo is not merely unsustainable – it is undesirable. And if it is justice and security and security that is needed, then no solution should be ignored, caricatured or demonised – no matter how radical they sound.
That maybe an uncomfortable situation for Zionists, but for everyone else it should be the starting point when looking at an alternative future.
Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @abdulwahidht or emailed at [email protected]