Has the Arab Spring now reached its conclusion of replacing the Western backed dictators with Islamic rule? In Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, voters in their millions have clearly expressed their opposition to secular liberal values and their strong desire for Islamic government. Yet the same parties that went to great lengths to demonstrate their Islamic credentials to the masses in their election campaigns, are now going to greater lengths to demonstrate their moderation to the West. Indeed in their rush to placate so called international opinion, they have abandoned all pretence of being Islamic politicians. In doing so, they think they are being pragmatic, smart and politically savvy. Yet all they have shown is their opportunism, their double standards and that they are no more principled than their secular counterparts. When it comes to applying Islamic politics they cite constitutional barriers and the need to keep minorities onside. When it comes to applying Islamic economics, they cite the need to avoid scaring international investors and tourists. When it comes to applying the Islamic foreign policy, they cite the need to show a moderate image and to appease the West. Indeed such is their caution, weakness and desire to please, they have now become Islamic Politicians in name only. The current reality is that the Islamic groups that languished in the torture cells of the likes of Mubarak touting ‘Islam is the solution,’ are now actually holding the Ummah back from Islamic rule. So what has gone wrong with the Islamic groups? The Islamic groups, whether Ennahda in Tunisia or the Muslim Brotherhood’s freedom and Justice party (FJP) in Egypt have made one strategic mistake after the other. The Islamic parties have won elections that were flawed from the outset. The elections where for parliaments which are a relic of everything that was wrong in the Muslim world. These Islamic parties rather than change and replace such a system, they have entered the corrupt system and replaced Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak with themselves in maintaining the corrupt, secular systems. Whilst many of the Islamic groups who are now in power, sacrificed a lot in the past and were on the receiving end of much brutality by the dictator rulers, their political calculations are rooted in myths. They believe that an Islamic system can only be implemented gradually. Whilst the groups who have reached power lacked much in policy development they argue that Islamic solutions aren’t ready to be to deal with problems such as poverty, unemployment and under development. They also falsely believe implementing Islam will scare minorities, scare investors and scare the international community.
The FJP have dropped their ‘Islam is the solution’ slogan and have made contradictory policy statements as they constantly back track in an effort to appease everyone. Saad al-Husseini, a member of Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party executive bureau said in an interview, that tourism is very important for Egypt and stressed that drinking and selling alcohol are forbidden in Islam. However, he then added, "Yet Islamic laws also prohibit spying on private places and this applies to beaches as well...I wish 50 million tourists would travel to Egypt even if they come nude." Their reluctance to implement Islam in its entirety risks giving the impression that the Islamic system cannot solve the problems of the day. The Ummah who elected the Islamic parties in their millions want Islam, Indeed it is patronising to the Ummah, who in there tens of millions voted for Islamic solutions that they aren’t somehow ready to face the consequences of the very solutions they voted for.
This is why the elections were flawed from the outset. Democracy in reality allows for the election of groups and individuals who can make up the rules as they go along. After working for decades for the implementation of Islam, the Islamic groups now in power are on the verge of wasting the opportunity before them.
What is the situation in Syria?
The Muslim Ummah rose up against the brutal rule of Bashar al-Assad in spite of the brutal tactics of suppression used to quell the uprising. With little in the way of weaponry and with massacres being carried out across the country the people of Syria caused a stalemate with the Syrian state. The Assad regime continued with its crackdown in the hope of ending the uprising, whilst the armed resistance lacked the strength, arms and logistics to launch a sustained assault on Damascus. The international community continued to with its rhetoric against the Syrian regime, but did nothing in terms of actions.
As the killings escalated some in Syria turned to international help against the regime and this placed the solution to the crisis in international hands. The international community put forward a number of solutions to the crisis. The US has shifted from publically backing Assad as a ‘potential reformer’ to publicly denouncing the regime — but all the time doing nothing to destabilise their vital interests. The international community is now openly supporting the opposition who continue to fail in unifying and coalescing into a force that can rule Syria in the future. The US under the guise of non-lethal support is utilising other countries and regional surrogates in creating the conditions that will eventually lay the ground for a Syria without al-Assad, but one which continues to serve US interests. The US has recently shifted its attitude with regards to military intervention from calling for negotiations and dismissing calls for intervention to now openly calling for military intervention. In a notable statement in May 2012, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey said: "the Pentagon is ready for the option of military intervention to end the violence in Syria." The US has however failed in constructing an alternative to al-Assad. The Syrian National Councils (SNC) international support has been undermined by internal squabbling and power struggles. The Syrian National Council was created as a coalition of seven opposition groups with the goal of providing a credible alternative to al-Assad's government and of serving as a single point of contact for the international community. Speaking to AFP after Syrian National Council accepted his resignation as leader, Burhan Ghalioun said the chasm in its ranks: "We were not up to the sacrifices of the Syrian people. We did not answer the needs of the revolution enough and quickly enough," Ghalioun told AFP.
The US initially stuck with its position that Assad was a reformer and should be given time to reform, when the European nations called for his removal. As the regimes massacres were beamed around the world this position became untenable and the US attempted to present the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) as alternatives. These groups however had little support from the masses and the uprising continued. The US constantly delayed any transfer of power until it constructed an alternative to al-Assad. The US was able to use Russia and the Arab league observer mission to delay any real power transfer. Using Russia’s support of the Syrian regime the US has presented the European nations and itself on one side calling for al-Assad to go and Russia and China on the other side trying to maintain Assad. The US did this when it was all along keeping al-Assad in power as it tried to construct a post Assad Syria. UN resolution 2042 – The Kofi Annan led ceasefire is the latest attempt to deal with the crisis. This plan has been nominally useless as the ceasefires prior. The task of observers is to inform the international community of unacceptable actions of those they have under observation. The problem was that the international community was fully aware of the violence. The issue in Syria is not that the world is unaware of the violence, but that it is not able or willing to take steps to end it. Bashar al Assad’s regime has shown that it is willing to do whatever it needs to do to defeat the opposition. It has retained the support of the military to suppress the opposition. Philip Gourevitch, the US author and journalist said in a New Yorker blog: “In real life, the UN has effectively run cover for the Syrian regime's bloody campaign by deploying Kofi Annan, the weak and accommodating former secretary general, to Damascus. The peace plan Annan cooked up with Assad in late March is another soap bubble, and the UN military observers who are supposed to monitor it are useless – or worse: when the butchery began in Houla, the regime told the UN monitors to stay away, which they did, bringing back bad memories, from the mid-nineties, of the false promises of protection that were extended, under the UN flag, to the people of Bosnia and Rwanda before they were abandoned to their killers.” The US is now openly calling for military intervention as an option as its interests are being affected. Its interest are at stake as the Ummah of Syria have rejected America’s proxies and are working to replace Assad with a sincere Islamic leadership. The Assad regime has been unable to quell the uprisings in Homs, Hama, Idlib and the stand-off has reached districts on the outskirts of Damascus – the seat of the regime. This has worried the US as well as the al-Assad regime who resorted to massacres such as Qubair and Houla as the people of Syria will replace Assad with a sincere ruler and not another puppet. This recent development has seen not the people of Syria but the US and Europe constantly highlight the prospects of civil war. A civil war if it was the case would be between the Sunni’s and Alawites and would deflect from overthrowing the Assad regime. This would not only give the US further time to construct the post al-Assad regime - a strategy the US utilised in Iraq, but would become the pretext of foreign intervention This can already be seen as the West has accused foreign insurgents supporting the Free Syrian Army, thus tarnishing the FSA with the same brush as the Sunnis of Iraq were i.e. being helped by al Qaeeda. Why has Saudi Arabia, Jordan and most of the Gulf States not witnessed mass uprisings? The relationship between the rulers and the people in these countries are different when compared to the relationships between the rulers and the people in Libya, Syria and Egypt. In Libya, Syria and Egypt the rulers ruled with an iron fist, established what was police states and social cohesion was maintained thought a large secret service. These factors are absent in the Gulf nations, Saudi and Jordan.
In Jordan protests have been restricted to calls for the removal of the Prime Minister. King Abdullah has dismissed various governments on account of the street protests. Since Jordan's independence in 1946, the palace has appointed more than 60 prime ministers, including three since the Arab unrest broke out in 2011. King Abdullah dissolved the government of Prime Minister Samir Rifai and then put Marouf al-Bakhit, a former army general, in charge of forming a new Cabinet and instituting reforms. Protests still continued, which led to King Abdullah to sack Bakhit and his cabinet, naming Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh to head the new government and institute new reforms. King Abdullah has for the moment successfully contained the protests by constantly dissolving the government and this has placated the people. Saudi Arabia has been able to present the protests in its territories as a Shi’ah uprising and this has caused the bulk of the population to support the clamp down in cities such as Qatif, al-Awamiyah, and Hofuf. In order to contain the uprising the monarchy announced a series of benefits for citizens amounting to $10.7 billion. These included funding to offset high inflation and to aid young unemployed people and Saudi citizens studying abroad, as well the writing off some loans. As part of the Saudi scheme, state employees saw a pay increase of 15%, and cash was made available for housing loans. No political reforms were announced as part of the package. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia also issued a fatwa opposing petitions and demonstrations, the fatwa included a “severe threat against internal dissent.” The Gulf States did not see many protests apart from Bahrain and Oman. Such states city states placated the uprisings through making some reforms, changing cabinets and economic hand-outs. Whilst many of them have monarchies they do not rule with an iron fist. Whilst Bahrain continues to clamp down on its Shi’ah majority population Oman was the only other Gulf nation to see significant protests. The Sultan continued with his reform campaign by dissolving some ministries, setting up some new ones, granting student and unemployed benefits, dismissing scores of ministers, and reshuffling his cabinet three times. In addition, nearly 50,000 jobs were created in the public sector, including 10,000 new jobs in the Royal Oman Police. The government’s efforts have largely placated protesters, and Oman has not seen significant demonstrations since May 2011, when increasingly violent protests in Salalah were subdued.
Is the uprising in Bahrain a sectarian struggle? The majority of Bahrain’s population is Shia – over 70%, but its government is Sunni and heavily linked to Saudi Arabia. The Shi’ah population has not fared as well economically as the Shia’ah in other countries in the region and tensions between the government and the public have long existed.
The crisis in Bahrain is between the monarchy and the Shi’ah. It is due to the neglect and oppression by the monarchy that has oppressed the Muslims which has forced many to take to the streets. Colonial strategy historically was to put a minority in power over the majority, so they would always need foreign help. Britain left a minority Sunni in power over a majority Shi’ah in Iraq, similarly in Syria the minority Alawi’s were put in power over a majority Sunni.
The problem in Bahrain is foreign interference and insincere rulers, sectarianism in some cases has been stoked to maintain the status quo. Why have we not seen an uprising in Pakistan? Pakistan has not been a brutal dictatorship as has been the case with Libya, Syria and Egypt. Since Musharraf’s era Pakistan has moved in such a direction, as can be seen with the disappearance of many people apparently linked to terrorism, this is however a relatively recent phenomena. The rule in Libya, Egypt and Syria was in the hands of brutal dictators and the only way to change this was through an uprising. In Pakistan unlike Libya, Egypt and Syria the political system is not controlled by a single clan, their exists different centres of power, with two families who have historically dominated the political system. Feudal land owners, industrialists, rich families and the army are all centres of power who maintain Pakistan’s political architecture. Alongside this opportunists, factions and Islamic individuals and groups have entered the political process for their personal interests. The political process in Pakistan has the involvement of a much wider segment of the population compared to Libya, Egypt and Syria and this has acted as its lifeline.
For the moment in Pakistan change is either making this political system, which is the parliament more democratic or getting some Islamic laws passed. This is why there has been not been an uprising in the country even though the economy continues to teeter on the brink and electricity black outs have become the norm. What is the current situation in Egypt? The military since Nasser took power in 1952 constructed the political architecture in Egypt. This system kept the army in charge of key strategic issues such as Foreign policy, and Defence. On some occasions some aspects of domestic policy was left to parliament to deal with however Nasser, Sadat and Hosni Mubarak remained firmly in charge. The parliamentary elections that have taken place since the 1950’s in realty have been a façade as all power has remained with the military, who have taken the presidential post in most of Egypt recent history.
The Arab spring however challenged this architecture and the army seeing their interests about to evaporate, essentially removed Mubarak from power. The SCAF - Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – Egypt’s military leadership, have overseen the transition ever since. The election of president and the election in November 2011for the parliament were for the same system Nasser constructed in the 1950’s. However on this occasion the faces were civilian. What has taken place in Egypt is the continuation of old system with new faces. These elections took place in an environment, where the powers of the president were not defined and the nation’s constitution had also not been written. Thus the result was useless as what the winning parties powers would be were not even been defined. This scenario has not been an accident. The SCAF has delayed the writing of a constitution for the country to ensure its interests always remain protected.
The actions by the SCAF on the eve of the presidential elections of issuing a constitutional decree giving themselves wide ranging powers over the future constitution, government budget, foreign policy and the right to veto any law, clearly shows the generals have no intention of giving up power any time soon. They even got the judiciary, heavily influenced by the army to dissolve parliament. The SCAF ousted Hosni Mubarak and still maintains power. It is working to ensure its power is not diluted, through severely curtailing any power the president. Egypt still has a dominating army in power and now a president – they only change that has taken place is Hosni Mubarak is no longer in power. The new president Muhaamed Mursi, will need to cut deals with the army to remain in power, whilst placate the people of Egypt who voted for him on an Islamic ticket. A stand – off between the army and the people is the likely outcome. What is the current situation in Tunisia? Since the October 2011 elections that Ennahda won with 38% of the total vote, not enough for a majority. The Constituent Assembly has a one-year mandate to draft a constitution. Ennahda has ever since laid the ground work for their back tracking on Islam. It has stated it will not support making shari’ah as the main source of legislation in the new constitution and will maintain the secular nature of the state. Ennahda's stance on an issue has polarised the country since the uprisings began.
Ennahda, which emerged as the biggest party in Tunisia's first democratic elections has stated it would keep the first article of the 1956 constitution in the new basic law now being drafted. The article enshrines the separation of religion and state, stating that: “Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign state, its religion is Islam, its language is Arabic and it is a republic.” “We are not going to use the law to impose religion," Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi told journalists after the party's constituent committee voted to maintain the constitutional article by 52 votes to 12. The article, he added, "is the object of consensus among all sectors of society; preserving Tunisia's Arab-Muslim identity while also guaranteeing the principles of a democratic and secular state." Islam is Tunisia's official religion and while the constitution stipulates the president should be a Muslim, the state is mostly secular.
What is the current situation in Libya? Currently Libya does not have a fully established army. In the aftermath of the downfall of Gaddafi and his regime, Libya still lacks any centralized political authority. The country is still struggling to recover from the month’s long war against Gaddafi, and neither the NTC nor the transitional government it formed in November 2011 constitutes a true, legitimized authority. Power remains in the hands of the armed militias, and none of those are strong enough on their own to begin acting as a national military force. The international community has long viewed the NTC as the embryo of the future Libyan state. Media reports have described how the technocratic interim administration is currently negotiating contracts with western companies. Yet at the moment, the NTC counts among its challenges the most basic task of state formation: establishing internal security. The on-going formation of the Libyan National Army is the centrepiece of the NTC’s push to accomplish this task, but so far, all attempts at threatening the militias into subservience have accomplished next to nothing. Elections due in June 2012 have been delayed due to the NTC having little authority. Libya is now
controlled by a network of armed militias, with many representing powerful tribes. The weakness of central government means they can and do operate with impunity. Several towns and cities have already forged ahead with their own political experiments. In February 2012, the city of Misrata unilaterally held its own elections. Libya is very quickly descending into what Iraq became when the US invaded. Conclusions
The Arab spring on its 18 month anniversary is on the verge of being hijacked by the Islamic parties for their own interests. After many sacrificed on the streets against brutal dictators, the Ummah of the region voted in their millions for Islamic parties as they represented Islam. The Islamic parties appear to now have doubts over Islam’s applicability and have found every excuse possible; to not implement Islam.
As the Ummah overthrew the dictator rulers, such groups should remember that they can also be easily over thrown. Such groups now find themselves in positions of power and now have to develop policies for the regions problems such as unemployment, development and poverty – This will be their real test, winning the elections was just the beginning.