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Can History repeat itself Across the Arab World?

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Everybody wants the discredited Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is still tenaciously sticking to power, to go.

But nobody knows who can command the respect and confidence of the street protesters after he goes. The faces of the real leaders of the revolt are still hidden.

What are the characteristics of the revolution now sweeping across the Arab world?

Is it a genuinely democratic revolution? Many of us, including me, thought it was and still hope it is, but we — at least I — are no longer certain it is.

Is it an Islamic Revolution with a democratic mask?

Many of us, including me, thought it was not and still hope it is not, but we — at least I — are no longer certain it is not.

Particularly after seeing the welcome that was accorded to the 69-year-old Rachid Ghannouchi, the Islamist leader of Tunisia, who returned to Tunisia this week-end after having lived in political exile in Europe for nearly 22 years. Thousands of people — it is a large number for Tunisia — welcomed him at the Tunis airport. No political ambition, he proclaimed, but nobody in Tunisia takes his proclamation seriously.

The democrats and secularists in Tunisia, who are concerned over his return, were also at the airport to caution him to behave and not to try to hijack the Jasmine revolution after it has succeeded and turn its white colour into green.

They shouted: “No Islamism, no theocracy, no Sharia and no stupidity! ” The number of people whom they could mobilise was very small. Some reports say less than a hundred.

Is it a harbinger of an emerging struggle between democrats and Islamists — with the Islamists ultimately expropriating the gains of the revolution and imposing an Islamic rule instead of the democratic rule hoped for by the protesters and for which many of them sacrificed their lives?

This is not a far-fetched scenario. It happened in Iran post-1979. The children of what seemed a democratic revolution in the beginning were devoured by the Islamists after they came to power with their help and an Islamic rule was imposed on Iran.

As the cliche goes, every revolution begins with noble intentions and ends up by devouring its own children.

What happened in Iran post-1979 could happen in Tunisia, Egypt and the rest of the Arab world in the months to come.

Irrespective of whether Mubarak lasts in power for a few more hours, a few more days or a few more months, he is already passee. He is already on his way to the dustbin of history.

How to ensure that it is democracy and religious and political moderation that will emerge as the ultimate victor? That is a question to be tackled by the people of these countries. The international community will have little role in deciding the future shape of things to come in these countries. Its options are very limited. One thing it can and should do is to refrain from supporting elements which stand discredited and which have become the anathema of the people. And hope for the best, while mentally preparing itself for less than the best.

B. Raman

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

One thought on “Can History repeat itself Across the Arab World?

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    February 20, 2011 at 12:35 am
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    “…every revolution begins with noble intentions and ends up by devouring its own children…”

    These words ought to be written in bold capitals clear across every commentary being made on the current series of revolutions sweeping across the Arabic world.
    A review of historical revolutions will show that most revolutions eventually get “hijacked” by vested interest groups who rapidly engineer covert schemes to seize power. Three cases in point: The French revolution rapidly degenerated into a demagoguey (under Robespierre) then into a military junta, followed by an imperium under Napoleon. The Russian revolution of 1917 degenerated not into the vaunted “dictatorship of the proleteriat” but a dictatorship of Lenin and Stalin.
    Need we mention Hitler?
    In every case, cited or otherwise, every revolution needs to hold up a “threat to the revolution” to re-direct the fervour of the ignorant masses so that the backroom schemers can consolidate and expand their power.
    What “threat” will these Arabic revolutionaries present to their peoples once the initial furore has dissipated?
    When these new Arabic republics find themselves scampering frantically to ensure supply of fuel, food and finance to their people they will need to justify some predictably arbitrary and despotic actions. They will look for an “enemy” – a scapegoat…
    Who else serves as a best-candidate scapegoat for the Islamic world?
    You got it.
    The Jews.
    Prepare to hear a host of New Arab Republic anti-Israel and anti-Jew rhetoric – all the old canards and conspiracy theories spouting from every minaret, school room and official government press release and publication.
    No wonder Israel is so wary of these revolutions. Israel loves democracy and has struggled for over 60 years to keep hers alive.
    While we all hope that the Arabic people will remember and cherish the core truths that vitalise Democrac (All men are created equal; All people deserve love and respect) the world must not forget that centuries of Jew-hate has yet to be expunged from the Islamic mind.

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