Democracy and the world of Islam - Ayaz Amir - Friday, February 04, 2011

Source :

The Muslim world has produced some of the world’s most ossified dictators. The patriarch of Tunisia, Ben Ali, now in terrified refuge in that last refuge of departing dictators, Saudi Arabia, in power for 23 years. Makes you think, doesn’t it? And supported throughout his rule by the supreme protector of Muslim despotisms, the godfather of Arab and Muslim stagnation, the United States.

And if Ben Ali sounded like a tribute to longevity, there is the latter-day Pharaoh of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, in power – can you believe it? – for 30 years. Don’t they get tired of their own images? And until Tunisia set an example and Cairo’s Tahrir Square became the focus of resistance, he wanted to pass on the mantle to his son, Gamal, now wisely having decamped to Britain.

It’s the same all over the Middle East and much of the world of Islam. We are not very happy with democracy and the idea of representative rule is only a fig-leaf to cover a whole line of monarchies and emirates sustained by police rule as in the case of Morocco, Algeria and Jordan, and by oil and US protection as in the case of the Gulf Emirates and the mightiest monarchy of all, Saudi Arabia. Oil and US protection, the common theme running through them all.

So America is right to be worried about the popular uprising in Egypt – although we still don’t know how it will end. Its Middle East world is falling apart. Egypt was the centrepiece of the design the US had woven for this region since the Camp David Accords...which led to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and cemented Egypt’s status as leading US client in the region. Israel does things in its national interest. Arab and Muslim brothers have made a cult of dancing to American wishes.

Colonialism died its formal death long ago. But the servitude of mind it engendered lives on in the world of Islam. Formally free but informally tied to habits of mind which make a most amusing mockery of independence. The American arms industry, the so-called military-industrial complex, would have a hard time surviving without the Arab arms bazaar. The fanciest and most expensive weapons our Arab brothers buy. But what are they afraid of?

Perhaps their own shadows and the fear within their hearts. As the Emir of Qatar, who has a sharp sense of humour, put it most aptly, if he threw the Americans off their vast airbase in Doha, “his Arab brothers would invade Qatar”.

And the Arab brothers are afraid of Iran, the Wikileak cables revealing this fear in all its naked glory: the Saudi monarch urging the US to attack Iran and crush the head of the snake and a prince of the UAE urging much the same. When people in the Arab street, or the larger Muslim community, read this, when Palestinians are told – again by Wikileaks – what a shameful path of compromise with Israel their leadership has pursued, should we be surprised at the frustration and anger seething in the world of Islam?

Some of this anger has exploded in Tunisia. In most spectacular fashion it has broken out in Egypt. Its tremors are being felt in Jordan and distant Yemen. This is not about prices or economic hardships although such factors are always catalysts when great movements take place.

This is a revolt against the humiliation and despair brought on by the never-ending rule of such satraps as the Pharaoh of Egypt. The world has moved on, the world of Islam, much of it, remains trapped in the past. The Arab revolt we are witnessing is an attempt to resolve this contradiction.

We should not be taken in by all the talk out of Washington about change and transition. For the Americans, Mubarak once their convenient tool is now a dangerous embarrassment. They want him out not for love of the Egyptian people or the sake of democracy but to contain the unrest and see that it doesn’t get out of hand.

A participant in a Fox News talk-show I heard put it best: Israeli security depends upon Arab tyranny. In other words, Israel’s best guarantee of security are the Mubaraks of the Arab world. So one would have to be mad to think that real democracy leading to free elections – who could predict their outcome? – is what the US is interested in. No, the US is not as naïve as all that.

Already the Muslim Brotherhood threat is being played up by western news channels. Do you want them with their Sharia law – the whipping of women, etc – to come in? The fear bogey is being fanned and behind the scenes, we should have no doubt, the army is being encouraged to step in and restore order. Mubarak may become the sacrificial goat but in the end it’s all about preserving the status quo and containing the winds of change.

We saw the same happening in Pakistan. When Musharraf became an embarrassment the Americans wanted him out, to be replaced by a ‘democratic’ face to mollify public opinion but ensure that Pakistan’s vital role in America’s continuing war in Afghanistan remained unchanged. The Americans got what they wanted, their Pakistani transition turning out to be a slick operation. From their point of view nothing could be safer than Zardari and Gilani.

Or indeed, Gen Kayani for that matter. Despite differences on some matters of detail – not, heaven forbid, anything of far-reaching substance – he has done little to alarm the Americans.

The unrest against Musharraf in the shape of the lawyers’ movement was peanuts compared to the upheaval in Egypt. But America’s aim would be the same: to choreograph, as rapidly as possible, a safe transition, with a suitably conservative figure replacing Mubarak and promising free elections. Mubarak’s departure thus – and it is hard to figure out how, short of bloodshed, he could remain in power any longer – would lead not to a Jacobin solution but to something well short of a true revolution. Iran is where the Americans faltered but otherwise they are very good at managing this sort of a thing.

Divisions in the army, a split in the military, are necessary preconditions for the success of a revolutionary movement. The Egyptian military, regardless of some of the bonhomie between protesters and soldiers in Tahrir Square, is very much united. The clashes between pro and anti-Mubarak protesters throughout Wednesday and much of the subsequent night were ominous because they showed that there was still fight left in the Mubarak camp, which brings the army that much closer to stepping in on the plea of restoring order.

But the larger question remains. Why must most of the world of Islam still be swathed in the clothes of autocracy and despotism. Why aren’t we all that good with democracy? Why are we still so confused about the nature and requirements of a modern state?

Turkey is the only complete democracy across the Islamic firmament but then Turkey with its Kemalist revolution and overt secularism is a thing apart, not really fitting into the Islamic module as we understand it. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, for various reasons and it would take too long to go into them here, are imperfect democracies. Iranian democracy with its monitoring ayatollahs is an example mercifully incapable of emulation anywhere else. Other Muslim countries, most of them, are variations on the theme of repression and the absence of democracy.

This is the real challenge before the world of Islam...trying to catch up with the times. But scan the skies for any sign of rising to this challenge and we are likely to be disappointed. So why blame anyone if we remain a doormat of history?


No comments:

Post a Comment