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Did Ibn Khaldoun predict the Arab Spring? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Over 600 years ago the sociologist Ibn Khaldoun established new theories in the sciences of history and sociology. In his famous work entitled ‘Muqaddimah,’ he revealed models of tyranny, and political and economic oppression. He also presented models for the advancement of nations, citing the reasons for this advancement, and also how the nation could collapse. Perhaps those following what has happened and is still happening in the Arab states where regimes fell (such as Tunisia and Egypt), are close to collapsing (such as Libya), or are waiting to be put out of their misery (like Yemen and Syria), cannot ignore the real reasons for these revolutions and merely link it to the sparks that burnt the young Tunisian Bouazizi.

Ibn Khaldoun said: “If the ruler uses force and is ready to mete out punishment and eager to expose the faults of people and to count their sins, (his subjects) become fearful and depressed and seek to protect themselves against him through lies, ruses, and deceit. This becomes a character trait of theirs.” Ibn Khaldoun went on to describe with accuracy how nations transform into police or security states, and how the citizen reacts to being repressed by the state. He said: “The subjects often conspire to kill the ruler.” But how do the people deal with their regimes if they are respected and treated well? Ibn Khaldoun explained: “if the ruler is mild and overlooks the bad sides of his subjects, they will trust him and take refuge with him. They (then) love him heartily and are willing to die for him in battle against his enemies. Everything is then in order in the state.”

If Bouazizi had not sparked the Arab Spring then a Syrian or Yemeni equivalent would have. The end outcome was inevitable, whether from the east or the west, as the tools of the revolution had been ready for a long time and the sparks were due to ignite at any moment, be it a year ago or even before, or in a year’s time or even after. Perhaps the Arab Spring resembles, to some degree, the revolutions witnessed by Eastern European countries in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the difference being an ambiguous ending, so far at least, in the Arabic version of this spring, if the season continues.

Ibn Khaldoun presented a formula for popular revolution against a regime; it is simple in its form and dangerous in its outcome. The regimes of the countries affected were wrong to think that their case would be any different, forgetting that the outcome that they will reach is inevitable in light of the deteriorating situation. Ibn Khaldoun was not exaggerating when he described it as political and economic tyranny, and on this basis we can determine what countries will be in the sphere of these revolutions, whilst we can say that the countries that are “mild” towards their people, in the words of Ibn Khaldoun, might be safe from the uprisings.

In the recently-published book called ‘Al Sharara’ [The Spark], the Moroccan writer Taher Bin Jelloun analyses the Arab revolutions in a detailed and comprehensive manner. However his most important sentiment comes at the end of the book, and it reads “these revolutions have taught us something simple that has been repeated by our poets a number of times: sooner or later, people will rise up against degradation and demand freedom and dignity even at the cost of life. This is the whole truth. It is good to see in this spring that the Arab peoples are the ones reminding the world of this.”

Of course it is too late for officials of Arab regimes to read history comprehensively, but wouldn’t it be better for them to read Ibn Khaldoun’s Muqaddimah than to listen in on what is being said in the streets? If they read it then perhaps “sufficient was Allah for the believers in battle.” The problem is that there are those who read but do not understand and those who read but do not want to understand. Yet the most dangerous of them all are those who do not read, nor understand.