Post-revolutionary blues |
Arab News - 20 June, 2012
Author: Fawaz Turki
Ah, the challenges of modernity! Arabs have struggled, and then struggled some more, over the last six decades to catch up with the rest of the world and to find for themselves a dignified place in the global dialogue of cultures. And it’s been an uphill battle ever since.
From the early 1950s to the late 1960s, the hope was “Arab nationalism,” a movement that sought to unite the Arab world by one ideology within a single territorial homeland. Its putative leader, Jamal Abdul Nasser, did not, like Martin Luther, nail his reformist theses to the door of a cathedral, but he did build on a catchy slogan responsive to the Arab people’s sensibility and that had the trumpet blast of a call to arms: One united nation with one eternal message. That, sadly, was left by the wayside after the defeat Arabs suffered in the June War of 1967.
Then this was followed by the Islamist revival, a movement whose leaders, leaving hollow and worthless secular ideologies behind, sought a return to the one faith that had grown out of the very bosom of the Arab people’s culture and history, where no question remains unanswered and no answer is in doubt. Except these Islamists, who went on the rampage killing civilians all the way from New York to Madrid, and from Bali to London, either did not understand Islam, or for some perverse reason, were not above subverting it. Arabs again turned away in bleak despair.
Then came the Arab Spring, a moment of awakening whose goal was to bring the common man and woman in society their dues as free citizens, with their leaders subject to a social contract between ruler and ruled, checks and balances, accountability. Well over a year after its advent as a popular movement across much of the Arab world — a movement that Arabs felt collectively imbued with and exhilarated by — the Arab Sprng is now teetering and hope for its future has sharply diminished.
There’s chaos and political polarization in Tunisia that are threatening the country’s democratic transition. In Libya, rival militants, armed with heavy weapons, continue to fight each other in pitched battles months after the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi. In Yemen, government forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Hadi, are simultaneously in confrontation with militants linked to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the southern regions, and in the capital with portions of the military still loyal to the family of the ousted head of state Ali Abdullah Saleh. In Syria, where the regime has ratcheted up its brutal crackdown on the opposition by using Russian-supplied helicopter gunships to fire on rebel-held enclaves, the conflict is showing clear signs that it is mutating into a full-fledged civil war. In Iraq, sectarian mayhem continues to occur daily (in one day alone last week 66 Iraqi civilians were slain, and more than 200 wounded, in car bombings across the country) against a backdrop of political divisions that remain in place long after US troops withdrew in December.
And in Egypt, a pivotal state in the Arab world, advocates of a return to the status quo ante, who are loyal to the ousted octogenarian autocrat Hosni Mubarak, appear to have had their day, and the reformers their eclipse, after the military establishment last week dissolved Parliament and, in the wake of the victory that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate scored in the presidential elections, gave the armed forces sweeping powers and degraded the presidency to a subservient role — in effect, mounting a counterrevolution.
And so it goes. For who said that the Arab Spring would not falter, decline and die? History tells us otherwise.
The movement that we have come to call the Arab Spring is not unique. A movement almost identical to it, in ambition and in name, emerged as equally spontaneously in Europe 164 years ago, only to die on the vine.
The European revolutions of 1848, known to contemporary historians and to those who participated in them as the Spring of Nations or the Spring of the People, were a series of political upheavals throughout the continent that began in France, in February that year, and immediately spread to most of Europe. As happened at the outset of the Arab Spring, no coordination or cooperation existed among the revolutionaries in the Spring of Nations, but all appeared to share the same widespread dissatisfaction with the political leadership, the same demand for more equitable government, and the same craving for individual freedoms.
The uprisings in each country were led by shaky coalitions of reformers, the middle classes and workers. They did not, however, hold together. That’s when the reactionary forces, allied with the existing ruling elite, land owners and the aristocracy — forces too entrenched to topple — regrouped and mounted a counterrevolution. The uprisings finally collapsed. They failed uniformly everywhere, except in France. In some countries, the old guard introduced cosmetic changes and stole the liberals’ thunder, but in the post-revolutionary decade after 1948, little had visibly changed. (The uprisings never reached Britain, Spain, Sweden and Portugal, that for some reason remained immune to the revolutionary contagion.)
The Spring of Nations, a cautionary tale about what might await the Arab Spring and a morbid thought about its future, cost those communities that participate in it tens of thousands of lives. Sound familiar?
n This article is exclusive to Arab News