Oct 27 2011

Arab Spring has shown the way to freedom

Published by at 12:14 pm under Articles,Uncategorized

By Daoud Kuttab

Whatever is going to emerge of the new Arab leadership, in the form of ideology, there is little doubt that Islamists will have a prominent role in Arab politics. As it stands now, this new Islamic power will be moderate and accommodating other opinions. Whether this tolerance of other points of view will last is too early to tell.

Islamists of some form have emerged as front-runners in the first Tunisian elections, they are a major power in the Libyan revolution, are expected to do well in the upcoming Egyptian elections and are among the leading force in the Syrian revolt.

In all these cases, Islamists have shown an unusually high level of willingness to make alliances and work with secular leftists. Many are using the Turkish model as an example of a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist party working fairly within a democratic system without trying to hijack and monopolise power.

International reaction to the current crop of Islamists has been positive. It is not clear why the Western world which rejected Islamic rule in Algeria (France) and rejected it in Palestine (US) has changed its reaction with the emergence of the present generation of Islamists.

Did the West realise that it needs to deal with Islamists, otherwise it will find itself totally outside the Arab Spring? Or does it see in the current Islamists a moderate force that it can live with?

If anyone doubted that the West has changed, former US Republican presidential candidate John McCain made it clear that the leading Western country has no problem with Islamists ruling in the Arab world.

Secular forces in the Arab world are emerging as the second largest group in many Arab countries that are witnessing the Arab Spring.

It is not clear whether these new leftist secular powers are the same that have been around in the Arab world or if they are a reincarnation of liberal forces wishing to separate religion from politics.

For decades, the Arab world was ruled by non-ideological Arab secularists who co-opted various political forces to support their long years in office by presenting themselves as the wall holding off radical Islamists from power.

Western countries, with encouragement from Israel, bought this myth and supported these dictators as long as the oil was flowing and the Israelis were comfortable.

Ironically, the September 11 events brought an end to these very secular dictators as their worn-out goods were exposed for what they were.

The election of an American president whose rhetoric was encouraging, coupled with the IT revolution and the growing unemployment rates among a young Arab population brought an end to these dictators.

Unlike leftists and nationalists (Baathists and others) who were co-opted and supported or ran regimes, Islamists of different colours were always targeted as the enemies of the powers to be and thus had to develop resistance and survival skills. Leading among these skills were organisation and discipline.

So with the relatively short period between the fall of dictators and elections in many Arab countries, it is not surprising that these Islamists (whether moderate or not) arebound to do well in early elections. Organisation and discipline, therefore, will play into Islamists’ hands in early elections.

However, if they do not perform well or cannot turn around economy and jobs (an almost impossible mission) others who will have had time and experience will challenge them the next round of elections. As long as there is another round of elections.

This could be one reason that many people are optimistic.

Now that the Arabs have discovered and tasted freedom and the mechanism of power sharing through elections, no one, including Islamists will be able to take it away from them. And if they try, people power will gang up on them.

The Arab Spring will produce a mix of individuals subscribing to old and new ideologies. But as long as they are committed to power sharing and the voluntary nonviolent transfer of power, the revolution and the sacrifices would have been worth it.

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