Many people both in our region and outside it talk about the future of democracy after the “Arab Spring”, despite the fact that what is important for our region is the future and fate of tyranny, rather than the future of democracy.
For us, democracy is an illusion, but tyranny is part of our character. Thus, talking about the future of tyranny is more effective, in the sense of whether tyranny is advancing or receding, in what way, and in what field.
The talk about the future of tyranny, its manifestations, branches, and the extent of its longevity in various forms has not started yet in earnest. This is because our region is still submerged in the euphoria of the revolution and in the stories of the “Arab Spring” that have dazzled the foreigners, and hence the Arabs welcomed them as if they were the truth. This is because for many reasons, some of which we know and others we do not understand, our minds work according to the principle: what the West says about us is the truth, and what we see and do in our own countries is the illusion.
The talk of the Arabs predominantly falls either into the intellectual storm that changes with the turn of the popular tide, or along the lines of sentiments imported from other countries. In the same way, the Arabs at the end of the 1980s and 1990s used to talk about modernization and structure, issues which the Arabs had little insight into. This is because modernism in culture comes as a result of a developed society, and it is inconceivable to talk about this in a pre-modernized society. Nevertheless, the Arabs love glorifying such sentiments even if they do not understand the basic terminology.
The important point in all of this, despite my enthusiasm for change in post-revolutionary Egypt and my presence at the heart of it, is my theory that the “Arab Spring” will not represent a break from tyranny, but rather it will be an extension of it with different characteristics. Tyranny, just like a virus, can go through a mutation process and change to resist its vaccine. We are facing a state of tyranny mutation, rather than democratic change, and there are many reasons for this.
What is the future of the “Arab spring?” This is a question that preoccupies the outside world. Will the “Spring” lead to a new breakthrough, or simply a reproduction of the old status quo? This is the question.
In order to answer this question we have to dismantle the popular conceptions of the “Arab Spring.” One such conception, which is popular in the Arab world and is being analysed with vigorous momentum, relates to the belief that a revolution has occurred. The first intellectual and analytical starting point is the idea that power was previously concentrated in the hands of a dictator who possessed everything in the country, including all forces and means of wealth. This conception is the beginning of the misunderstanding. For instance, it is a misleading oversimplification to claim that a man of the ilk of Mubarak and his family were the only, or even the primary, obstacle hindering the democratic process in Egypt. The exaggerated focus on the dictator, or on the concentration of authoritarian power in the hand of one family, is the primary misconception that damages any sort of thinking to help us understand the future of the “Arab Spring”, or the future of tyranny in our region.
The concept of dictatorship in our countries has not been limited to the acts of an individual as we thought, or the result of concentrating power within the centralised government. Rather, the concept dictatorship in the Middle East is more widespread. It is something similar to water being absorbed by a sponge, represented by a network of existing family relations that are tightening their grip around the neck of society. Only by explaining power or authority as a network that is distributed throughout certain aspects society can we begin to understand. The claim that power is concentrated in one hand is the beginning of our deception and misconception.
The dictatorship in Egypt was a complete system built upon sturdy pillars, from the father at home all the way to the head of the village, the chairman of the district, the governor, up to the head of state. Society became saturated with dictatorship, and entire currents were immersed in it, whether they were Islamic or secular. Former President Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the chairman of the Egyptian Communist Party were all cut from the same cloth. Therefore, in order to become democratic, we need new people, but “from where can I get these people?!” [In reference to a famous ballad about an Egyptian, Adham al-Sharqawi, fighting against the injustice of British colonialism in Egypt, who was executed at the beginning of the 20th Century]
First and foremost, the “Arab Spring” did not begin yesterday, nor is Arab tyranny a sudden phenomenon in our history. The Arabs, even after the arrival of Islam, were never “ideological” people who sought to develop an intellectual vision of ourselves and the outside world. Instead, we are the people of blood relations and family ties, or “Shalal” as we call it in Egypt. Our relationship with intellectual concepts is similar to the relationship between our satellite television channels and outer-space satellites.
Despite the fact that Islam was the greatest intellectual revolution in our history, we, as Arabs, have succeeded in adapting Islam to serve the tribe, the family, and the clan. Islamic history began as an intellectual revolution, and as a history of ideas and countries; however, after the beginning of the Orthodox Caliphate, it was transformed into a somewhat tribal state. The State of Islam became the Umayyad State, and after that the Abbasid, the Fatimid, and so on and so forth. This means that we now have a history of tribes instead of a history of ideas.
Has this tribal history, alongside tribal and family loyalties and the priority of blood relations over intellectual relations gone forever after the “Arab spring?” Of course not; what has happened is that the families and tribes have dressed themselves up in the cloak of revolutions in Yemen and in Libya, and in Egypt the opposition consists of tribes rather than concepts.
Naturally, after the revolution there is talk about ideologies, with reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis and the Islamist groups. Yet all this talk alludes to the manifestation of the subject, and not its origin. If you dismantle the projects of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist groups to their bare bones, you would find specific tribes and families against other tribes and families using Islam as a cover, and this has nothing to do with Islam other than a veneer that covers the ugly face of tribal interests.
This does not mean that tyranny is our fate, but exaggerating the achievements of the “Arab Spring” is something that needs to be reconsidered and dismantled, because whoever came out of the mosque will return to the mosque, and whoever emerged from the tribe will certainly go back to the tribe. Egypt is not exempt from this.