A Year of Revolts: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya - and the Arab Nation

Article Summary
Talal Salman surveys the Arab world one year on from the beginning of the revolts that have rocked the region. Taking an Arab nationalist perspective, he assesses the rise of political Islam and the regional position of Turkey, as well as the connection between the Arab uprisings and the ongoing struggle for Palestine.

Happiness is missing from this first year anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution, which began mere weeks after the Tunisian regime went up in the flames that devoured Mohamed Bouazizi’s body in his southern hometown.

The mood is that of concern and worry; and the time has come to shoulder grave responsibilities, foremost among them finding an answer to a troublesome question: Where do we go from here?

The “street” has also lost its luster due to the divisions among its crowds over questions of power, their unity having crumbled into a void quickly filled by religion, occupied by states, or bought easily by sources awash with money - or others able to requisition it or accept it in order to help them effectuate change.

In Tunisia, where the revolution succeeded faster than its crowds expected, the haste to rebuild the regime led to the formation of the “Third Republic.” It attempted to break completely with Ben Ali’s oppressive past - only to come face-to-face with a hybrid state that still contained remnants of Bourguiba’s rule.

On the other hand, Libya - whose revolution was too weak to topple the entrenched regime that Qaddafi built in the absence of the [Libyan] people, whose role was completely abrogated - finds herself longing for the [past]. [Libya longs] for the days of the Sinousi monarchy and, through NATO’s firepower, for the colonial era, camouflaged as it may be. Its new “liberators” ask only that she surrenders her oil and strategic position - leaving her tribes and other factions, which even religious slogans have failed to unite, rushing headlong towards a civil war whose spark will ignite in Benghazi, the cradle of the revolution.

While the Islamic banner flies high over these three republics, its use in the capitals and the speeches of the new leaders does not signify that a resolution has been attained and that tomorrow will merely be an extension in time for a political victory backed by ballot boxes or tribal accords as is the case in Libya.

In short, the ray of hope and dreams that the Arab rebellions had engendered has faded faster than envisioned by expectations that assumed that the time of comprehensive revolutionary change had truly arrived, putting an end to the era of backwardness and the state of fragmentation and senselessness that prevailed, for longer than it should, throughout the Arab countries whose oppressive regimes deprived them of their bonds of kinship and unity of interests and destiny.

After the overwhelming joy and the feeling of ecstasy - on a popular level - for the victory achieved over repressive regimes, disappointment began to seep in because each rebellion closed its country’s doors on itself and drowned in its own internal concerns, thus putting off dealing with the outside world - and specifically the Arab world - because of the need to first put its own house in order.

Because the popular uprisings began - for the most part - as civil disobedience movements by the people, whose demands may differ even as they agreed on the need for change, it soon became apparent that the “organized forces” amid the tumultuous sea of rage were the only ones capable of assuming positions of power. And so those who have come to power, or are on the verge of achieving that goal, are those who were effectively willing to push to attain it, and not those who formed part of the millions who took to streets, filled with a desire and a [sense of the] pressing need for change.

Without neglecting the sacrifices made specifically by the Muslim Brotherhood in many countries through imprisonment, oppression and exile, we must not to forget that the “people” in all their different political, ideological and social factions have paid their dues, much like any political party or even moreso, and are entitled to a decent life as part of a state that respects them as citizens and meets their aspirations, while benefiting from their capacities. These people, after all, did not want to seize power, but were demanding that their right to freely choose their rulers be respected, as well as striving to achieve their goals of freedom, social justice, and a status befitting their historical struggles and actual abilities.

We should also praise the abilities and organizational expertise of the deeply-rooted Muslim Brotherhood and their Salafi partners, which has permitted them to achieve unprecedented results in the parliamentary elections. [These elections] have enabled them to become essential partners in the decision making process of the “post-rebellion state,” whether in Tunisia, as has actually occurred, or in Egypt, as indicated by election results. Yet the ballot boxes don’t actually reflect the true level of popular representation possessed by these two Islamic organizations, which have been dogged by many accusations even while proving their mastery of the electoral process and their great and growing tactical and maneuvering skills. [These skills] have enabled them to build alliances with anyone, whenever and however they chose.

On the other hand, these results have exposed the revolutionary youth’s lack of adequate skills in organization and the division of labor, in addition to the necessary expertise and ability to clearly communicate with the crowds who answered their call and came - in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions - to the squares to express their rejection of the ruling regime, only to find that the youth lacked a true vision as to the identity of the replacement regime.

In any case, the new regime in Tunisia, and the one that will come to rule Egypt, do not fully embody the revolution’s slogans or the street’s aspirations.

This should not be construed as doubting the patriotism of those that the elections have brought to power, for certainly among them are militant activists who have endured imprisonment, exile, and persecution, deserving of our utmost appreciation.

But questions remain as to their ruling agenda, their true leanings and the policies that they will espouse in dealing with internal as well as foreign issues. The revolution’s goal, after all, was not to simply to topple the head of the regime, and God knows the public squares have seen enough bloodshed.

The problem with the rulers that the revolutions toppled was not only that they were corrupt and corrupting of others; they also betrayed what was entrusted to them and falsified their countries’ identities, taking them to the brink of complete incapacitation and the loss of status, role, and the right to decide their own fate, rendering them politically and economically dependent on foreign countries, not to mention educationally and socially dependent too. They also all withdrew from the battle for Palestine, without the slightest justification!

Tunisia was without any identity or role, having been hijacked by a dictator who surrendered its decision making [power] to the American hegemon. Meanwhile he left France, the former colonial power, its share of the pie, and allowed Israel to come and go as it pleased, as if it were an ally; in extreme cases, [Ben Ali] even presented himself as a “mediator” of the Palestinian cause!

On the other hand, Egypt lost her role at the hands of her deposed president, who also relinquished the important part she played in Arab as well as African decisions, as well as international decisions. He made of her a “subject” when she had, in the past, been a “leader” whose importance is well established politically, intellectually and culturally.

He went further and transformed Egypt into a false witness to the Palestinian cause, to the point of backing, in infamous cases, the Israeli enemy at the expense of Palestinian brethren. [He did so] under the pretext of appeasing great friends in Washington and reassuring the old enemy Israel as to his regime’s commitment to the peace agreement and its content - including gas, electricity and trade agreements - in addition to keeping the Sinai undeveloped with the exception of Sharm el-Sheikh. [This location] he transformed into an intimate meeting place with an enemy who was, is, and will always remain an enemy, as proven by its discriminatory policies - culminating in the declaration that historical Palestine is a Jewish State for all the Jews of the world, and the international recognition it received for this racist decision.

The issue, then, is one of identity and role, more than of respect for electoral results and how these results influence the identity of those who would hold the positions of power in the post-revolutionary phase.

Tunisia lacked a specific Arab policy during the oppressive reign of its now fugitive ruler; in practical terms, it distanced itself from all Arab causes, which was a loss for Arabs everywhere as much as it was a loss for Tunisia and a free service to Israel.

Palestine’s presence in the demonstrations, regardless of location, is testament to the revolutionary spirit of those who crowded the streets, and a confirmation of their identity and their aim to change the unacceptable and degrading state of affairs.

Islam cannot be a political identity, and it is greater and more magnificent than to be a slogan for a state. It is the Godly religion of 1.3 billion disciples whose beliefs and political orientations range from the extreme left to the extreme right.

In fact, political Islam could transmute into an agent of division between the sons of the one [Arab] nation, whether they be Muslims of different sects or the followers of one or many different other religions.

The Turkish experiment of Muslim Brotherhood (Justice and Development Party) rule is not a shining example for Arab countries to follow, for it has not led to a change in the foreign and defense policies that were in place before their coming to power. Turkey remains a member of NATO and is still being refused membership to the European Union despite its persistence, which sometimes reached degrading levels. In addition, its relationship with the Israeli enemy continues to be very strong and borders on a “solid alliance,” unshaken even after nine Turkish unarmed volunteers were killed on board the Freedom Flotilla.

If the excuse is that Turkey is not an Arab state, and that there exists no state of enmity between it and Israel, one could then ponder upon the status of Palestine as opposed to Israel according to this brand of Turkish Islamic rule.

The Arab rebellions are not without a nationalist identity, for the flags of Palestine and other Arab states fluttered in the skies throughout the days when masses crowded the squares in rejection of the rule of tyranny, its actions inside those states, on an Arab level primarily and towards Israel in particular, and finally on the international front.
The revolutions cannot end by stripping countries of their identities under the pretext of being preoccupied with the “situation at home” - for “home” encompasses the whole of the Arab region.

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