Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Taking stock of 2011’s revolutions and developments | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The year 2011 ravaged the Arab world like a monster straight out of a Hollywood movie; regimes were ousted, political axes were shaken, and political analysts and observes were utterly divided. Distractions and chaos prevailed, while only a few were conscious of what was really going on.

There was much talk; opinions were written and sayings were circulated at the beginning of the year, all expressing deep concern and mindful cautiousness about what was happening at a turbulent moment in history. However, such talk and opinions were met with strong criticism, suspicion and accusations of treason under the slogans of glory, dignity, freedom and honor, or at the very least, they were met with mockery and indifference.

Any political opinion that was opposed to the revolutions and skeptical of their slogans, or opinions that consisted of calm and rational attempts to perceive the revolutions away from their clamor, were all regarded as morally dubious. Hence, anyone who dared to criticize the revolutions was deemed a traitor, and anyone who warned that political Islam would reap the harvest was accused of using the same “scarecrow” as the former regimes. Similarly, anyone who expressed genuine fears of economic decline in the uprising countries was seen as a pessimist, and anyone who put forth democracy as a comprehensive concept, highlighting that elections were merely a small part of this process, was cast as a doubter.

Today’s events, analysis and facts clearly indicate that many of the fears that haunted people during such a strange and hazy scene were justified, and have come to fruition over the general course of events.

A quick glance over a full year reveals that the initial revolutionary slogans continue to be adopted until today, but they are now a source of dispute, and there are now sharp differences and divisions between those who first adopted them. Many of those who were once skeptical regarding the revolutions’ critics have moved to a position where they now criticize the revolutions and the rebels themselves, for now they can see what they could not at the beginning. Those who accused others of using political Islam as a “scarecrow” now see it as the reality of political life. They see it on the ground and in the squares; they witnessed it during Shariaa Friday, and prior to it, the Qaradawi Friday demonstrations [in Cairo]. In the new parliament in Egypt, it was remarkable that the “revolutionary youth” achieved barely any representation, although during some irrational and emotional moments of the revolution, some believed that this group would be the saviors who could solve all the complexities of the backward Arabs.

Today talk focusses on the economies of the revolutionary states, which are now experiencing critical stages and are suffering greatly to restore what they have lost, seeking alternative economic resources. Yet, unfortunately, all solutions seem unattainable and the results cannot be guaranteed.

One of the major questions to be raised about what happened in 2011 is: Can these protests be regarded as revolutions in the modern sense of the word? The fairest answer is that they cannot be at this moment, and that there is still a long way to go. Another question is whether the revolutionary masses actually represented the general public, or were they a mere active minority? Do they have the right to represent the people now or not?

It is clear today that our elements and indicators of underdevelopment are far numerous than our elements of enlightenment and civilization, and that tribalism and religious ideologies are much stronger than the principles of freedom, civility, tolerance, justice and equality. It is clear that such modern concepts can be hijacked extremely easily in our Arab cultures and societies; Islamic parties carry the names of “Freedom and Justice” and “Development” as well as other attributes that denote enlightenment, yet such names have been hijacked and modified in a manner that reflects completely contradictory ideological discourses.

In Tunisia, there is an ailing economy, widespread unemployment and contradictory demands. Likewise Egypt is suffering from the same hardships – plus the fact that the people and the army there are no longer unified, unlike the slogans adopted last year would suggest. In Libya, signs of internal fighting have begun to appear. In all situations, the Islamists are no longer a scarecrow; they have become a reality in accordance with their electoral results and their strength on the ground.

Much has been said in this context, but what has remained unsaid is that the major protests or revolutions, intentionally or otherwise, have often failed to present a true reading of the nature and history of the regimes that they rose against. As a result, the desire for revenge and vengeance now overlaps with the zeal of victory and dignity. In turn, this blinds the new elite and the masses, failing to see the previous scene as it appeared in reality, rather than as they want to remember it. By demonizing the former regime in political and media discourse, and publicly in general, the new political elite have a convenient reason for their failure to rebuild the country.

In modern Arabic history, military coups have been portrayed as revolutions, and historically the military has tended to distort the image of the regimes that it rose against. Decades later however, numerous historians and elites, who distanced themselves from the clamor of the coups and the revolutions, succeeded in portraying the scene accurately, with all its pros and cons, after the military had rose against the ruling regimes and deliberately distorted them.

Furthermore, throughout history, many genuine developments and major reforms have in fact been the product of successful attempts to promote and strengthen the ruling regime. For example, the US fought against colonialism and never staged a revolution against its ruling regime. Britain, the old and wise man of Europe, never participated in the sweep of Europe’s modern revolutions because it had already carried out reforms and developments, in what was known as the Victorian development.

Similarly we can consider the examples of India and South Africa. If we contemplate India’s historical experience with Gandhi, this was not a revolution in the modern sense of the word. The people there were determined to continue with resistance and reform until the departure of the British occupation, but they then went on to promote the political system. Perhaps, South Africa’s experience under its great symbol Nelson Mandela is a clearer illustration. Mandela led prolonged reform and gradual improvements that took place over several decades. However, as soon as he assumed power, he succeeded in laying the foundations of the state so as to shield it from possible collapse, and embarked upon a comprehensive reform plan across the country.

In Britain and the US, along the lines of India and South Africa, reforms and development – without the need for a revolution – have led to the establishment of the state’s political foundations, together with continual and comprehensive development. This in turn has shielded these countries from all the hardships of a revolution. These countries achieved all the hopes and dreams of a revolution but in a better and less costly manner, and with a more effective and sustainable impact. In other words, these experiences can be compared to the communist revolutions that were widespread in the second half of the 20th century, most of which have led to calamities, atrocities and abject failure across the world, not in the Arab region alone. In the present-day Arab world, we saw what happened to the Arab states that witnessed uprisings, and we also saw the countries that undertook real development, as is the case with Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain and the rest of Gulf states, although to varying degrees.

Numerous intellectuals adopted skeptical stances towards the revolutions – whether before, during or after they were staged – and so did senior politicians as well. They offered distinguished views about the revolutions’ shortcomings, highlighting their dislike for revolutionary prejudices; the influence of extremists of every shape and color, and their utter disdain for the mass demagogy. In fact, I do not know why so many other Arab intellectuals believe that what happened and is happening in the Arab world will be in some way different and exceptional to what has happened in the rest of the world.