By Abid Mustafa
The wave of revolt sweeping the Arab world has divided commentators and political pundits alike. Some speculate that this will lead to the democratization of the Arab world and are eager to make comparisons with the demise of the Iron curtain in 1989. Indeed, such commentators cite parallels between the Arab world and the collapse of the communist rule in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania, the Baltic republics of the Soviet Union, etc., to bolster their arguments. They also point to the chants of democracy and freedom amongst the protestors to augment their case. This assessment is in many ways misleading—at best it is simply fictitious.
In the fall of the Iron Curtain, nations abandoned ‘godless socialism’ and embraced free market capitalism. Eastern European countries shifted from Russia’s sphere of influence to American colonization. The super power struggle between the Soviets and the Americans ended with Russia’s defeat and the ascendency of the lone super power America. Charles Krauthammer, a famous American columnist, coined the term ‘the unipolar moment’ to describe America’s newfound position in the world.
In contrast, the domino effect that is toppling autocratic leaders across the Arab world has not ended free market capitalism, nor has it ousted the world’s lone super power. Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt remain staunchly secular, its solutions are capitalistic in nature and the countries are firmly in the grip of Britain and America. Furthermore, the geopolitical struggle is confined between Europe and America over who controls the hydrocarbons and other riches of the Arab world. If change does materialize, then this will merely be the elimination of European hegemony—especially British control—over countries like Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and the Gulf countries. Additionally, the face of the ruling system and apparatus will undergo some modifications to make America’s rule more palatable to the people and stymie further uprisings.
If valuable lessons have to be learnt then there are two noteworthy observations. First, the slogans of freedom and democracy amongst the Arab populace, which the Western media is keen to portray in a favourable light, do not necessarily equate to the West’s understanding of freedom and democracy. Rather to the vast majority of protesters, freedom is associated with freedom from tyranny and not freedom from the laws of Islam. Likewise, democracy is likened to the right of the people to elect their own rulers and is not equated with law making and legislation.
Second, it is quite evident that almost all revolutions in societies that covet change – irrespective of ideological orientations – require domestic partners that can tangibly deliver change and ensure genuine independence from Western interference. These partners are the powerful armies of the Arab and Muslim countries. General Rachid Ammar of Tunisia and General Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sami Hafiz of Egypt could have easily catapulted the revolutions towards real and meaningful change. Instead, they betrayed the pure feelings of their people and chose to stand by the West. Therefore, in such cases, the regimes that were responsible for years of despotism and aggression are still in place and are ever more perceived to be safeguarding the interests of the West.
In fact, it is the last point that is attracting the attention of many Arabs who believe that popular uprisings are not enough to liberate the Arab world from Western interference. This has led some Arabs to liken their situation today with the establishment of the first Islamic state in Madina. Then, the Arab Muslims sought the help of powerful Arab tribes (Al Aws and Al Khazraj) of Madina to conduct a bloodless coup and establish the Islamic state in Madina. Today more and more Arabs are seeking to emulate this by making contacts within the Arab armies.
Hence, what may transpire in the near future are not democratic states based on Western precepts, but an Islamic state born through a military coup. Naturally, this Islamic state will not subscribe to the nation state model, and will endeavour to expand to encompass the whole Arab and Muslim world. Fourteen hundred years ago it took several years for the first Islamic state to overwhelm three continents. Today, it will take considerable less time and will be an eye opener for the world.
Abid Mustafa is a political commentator who specializes in Muslim affairs and global issues. He is a guest writer for new civilisation magazine and can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect New Civilisation’s editorial policy.