Beyond the Arab Spring
If the new ‘democracies’ fail to fill the political void, and address the grievances of the masses, the region is likely to witness two trends side by side: emboldened political expression on tribal, fragmented lines, and growing calls for transnational unity enroute an Islamic State. And both essentially negate unity along the line of nation-states, writes Sharique Naeem
As the Arab spring continues to unfold, each event is being analyzed closely by politicians, journalists, and intellectuals both in the west and the east.
The developments which commenced with the events in Tunisia, and later gripped the entire region, brought a significant potential for change, as it has shaken the political construct of the region. It is historic to witness the way the masses have stood up to account and remove long standing dictatorships.
In the immediate aftermath of some of these revolutions, a move towards democracy has taken place. However, the litmus test for its sustainability is yet to produce results. Now the key questions are, will the new fragile democracies be able to deliver and adequately fill the void? Or even gain mass acceptance?
It is important to note that the uprisings initiated and acquired appeal due to a number of key ingredients. Lack of political expression, iron first dictatorships, sheer economic marginalization of the poor, corruption and exploitation by the ruling class (which was essential to the dictator’s extended family) and unpopular foreign policies were among the variables which had propelled the masses to stand up. The new ‘democratic’ governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt for now only address a fraction of the many underlying reasons. Expectations for real change run high, and any new government will be expected to deliver fast for the masses, which are politically more awakened and active. While few problems have been addressed, other key variables remain, and have in fact worsened. The fulfillment of a part of one variable, e.g. more rights for political expression, does not resolve the other issues such as economic problems, which have worsened over the last year. The ability, or the lack of it, of the new democracies, is the litmus test for the region’s political construct. The credibility of the new governments will erode fast if they are unable to address the core issues, and this may create more acceptances for alternative political models such as the Caliphate, which appears to be gaining some limelight. The extent to which this idea of the Caliphate carries appeal can be observed by following the news from the Arab world. A key senior politician from Nahda Party, during campaign in Tunisia, had stated of his hope to see a ‘Sixth Caliphate’, and at a rally of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Egyptian Cleric Safwat Higazi had expressed the hopes of a ‘Caliphate’ uniting everyone. Moreover, at the start of the Syrian uprising, Bashar Al-Assad had tried to garner support from the west by framing the uprising as a move for establishing a Caliphate, and blaming the ‘Libration Party’, a group of Palestinian origin, for it.
During the post-Arab Spring period, countries like Libya are also facing the issue of growing political voices, which pose the possibility of fragmenting the nation and weakening the grip of the central government. For instance, a few months back, some circles in Eastern Libya had made calls to declare independence. The government in Yemen too is facing a host of issues, and the constant streams of drone attacks continue to weaken the credibility of the government. The recent border tensions, in Egypt, and the air raids carried on in Sinai will also fan more issues.
These internal divisions undermine the authority of the central government, as well as the integrity of the existing nation states. However, a historical perspective of the region can give us some insight into these trends. For centuries, the political construct that unified these regions was the Caliphate. It was the demise of the Caliphate that fragmented the region. The transition from the Caliphate to the model of nation-states was not a natural outcome of a struggle of the host population. Foreign intervention, directly and indirectly, along with other factors had led to the fracture of the region. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 is one such example. The nation-state model, that took shape when the foreign intervention was rolled back, required dictators to remain in place. An important observation in this regard, is also noted by Samuel P. Huntington in his book ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ (1996) where he states, ‘The structure of political loyalty among Arab and Muslims generally has been the opposite of that in the modern West. For the latter the nation state has been the apex of political loyalty.’ He further explained, ‘Throughout Islam, the small group and the great faith, the tribe and the Ummah have been the principal foci of loyalty and commitment. And the nation state has been less significant…In the Arab world, existing states have legitimacy problems because they are, for the most part, the arbitrary, if not capricious, products of European Imperialism.’
Therefore, today, it’s not just the sustainability of democratic governments that is in question, but also the political construct of nation-states. In the scenario today, we again find foreign intervention to support and sustain the political model of democracy, as a replacement of the political model of dictatorship which was propped up decades earlier.
If the new ‘democracies’ fail to fill the political void, and address the grievances of the masses, the region is likely to witness two trends side by side: emboldened political expression on tribal, fragmented lines, and growing calls for transnational unity enroute an Islamic State. And both essentially negate unity along the line of nation-states.
The overall trend of the rise of political Islam is evident. We could see this in an objective evaluation of various news from the Muslim world, for instance the videos coming from Syria that show how central Islam is to the revolution, and the growing calls for Islamic law in post-revolution Arab states. Furthermore, Morsi’s victory in Egypt manifests this growing desire of people to see a greater role of Islam in politics.
Before the advent of the Arab spring (or Islamic awakening as some refer to it), the regional ‘domino effect’ of the emergence of an Islamic state was a hypothesis. However, the events in the Middle East have added sound credibility to it. Just like the immediate and profound domino effect of the sheer negation of an existing political setup having reached its zenith started from Tunisia and then moved to Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen etc, the affirmation of a new political construct in any one place has the ability to spread far quicker. Especially, if this political construct, which emanates from the ideology of the masses and has a historic significance, is able to show instant results in addressing some of the core issues of the people, and exhibit the potential to solve other various standing issues. And although some friction may be expected when the existing states begin to merge, by large the Caliphate may well be able to galvanize a significant portion of the region by channeling popular support from the mass, without the need of a series of regional wars.
Today, a number of countries including Tunisia, Egypt and Pakistan may be speculated to be a potential launch pad for the Caliphate. Some key factors that would be necessary for such a leadership are the geo-strategic location of the country, the strength of its army, its population count, the extent of its integration with neighboring nation states etc, since such a leadership would require the ability to immediately muster internal as well as regional support.
Syria, where the revolution has entered its 2nd year, may well provide that leadership. The news coming from Syria evidently shows the uniqueness of the revolution, that is, the centrality of Islam, as a driving force and an objective, which is evident from slogans, titles of Friday demonstrations and speeches of defected soldiers. Syria’s chances are also boosted by the fact that other revolutions have, at present, culminated into democracies with no real change on a grassroots level other than acquiring more rights of political expression and voting. These rights gained, too, are limited as is evident from what the protestors continue to face in Cairo, the ban in Libya on parties based on religion, and inflation and price hikes in Tunisia. This may well serve as a lesson to those spearheading the revolution in Syria to not opt for futile democracy.
Quite clearly, beyond the Arab spring is an Islamic awakening, the Caliphate, that may well materialise into a political model which once unified the region for centuries.
The author writes from Pakistan on issues of politics and current affairs of the Muslim world. His writings have been published in various Asian newspapers.
comments powered by Disqus