The Arab Spring, Islam and oil wealth

The Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia has learned from the mistakes of its counterpart in Egypt, but elsewhere in the Arab Spring countries, Islamist groups and oil wealth are trying to hijack the revolutions.

al-monitor A poster of Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi adorns the wall of a shop in Cairo's Gamaliya district, where he spent his childhood, Jan. 21, 2014. Three years after the "Arab Spring" toppled Hosni Mubarak, a secretive general with a cult-like following is expected to win Egypt's presidency. .

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oil, islamists, islam, egyptian revolution, egyptian muslim brotherhood, egypt, arab spring, arab revolutions

Feb 9, 2014

Both the western and eastern parts of the Arab world today seem quite different than three years ago, when the so-called Arab Spring started. Several regimes are gone and have been replaced by new forces that are trying to reformulate their countries’ “regimes” with varying degrees of success.

The process of change is not always easy, and where change did take place it didn’t happen in accordance with the standards of a classical revolution. This change has yet to succeed in establishing a “new system.” It didn’t completely break with the past, nor did it provide a clear picture of the future.

Everybody has attributed what happened to the “Arab Spring” — a highly ambiguous term — to the fact it had no specific path and no ultimate goal. How could one draw the future based on a vague characterization of a change movement with no clear leadership, no clear doctrine, and no declared program by someone who can implement it with the support of a free people?

The label “Arab Spring” is not of Arab origin. It was coined elsewhere and translated into Arabic. The uprisings, which have brought down oppressive and backward Arab regimes, were not united. Their pioneers had different identities. The goals of those who tried to hijack the uprisings, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, were also different. What happened to the uprising in Egypt is an example.

What happened to and in Syria is very different from what happened to and in Tunisia, and extremely different from what happened to and in Libya. In contrast, what happened to and in Egypt may constitute a radical shift in the course of events in the region in general.

In any case, in this tidal wave of transformations in the region, we cannot separate between the Islamic surge, which tried to hijack the popular uprisings in several Arab countries (with the power of arms sometimes) and the forces in the city “squares” that worked hard to protect the “revolution” with their chests by staying in the squares in order to protect their right to a “nation-state” that would allow for a better future.

If we assume that Syria saw the first blowup of public anger against the regime’s violence and tyranny, the uprising’s transformation turned it from a revolution into a civil-international war that may spread to outside Syria because Islamic Salafism recognizes no borders.

Islam is internationalist and its message is for all people. Thus Chechens, Turkmens and arrivals from the Arabian peninsula and the Gulf joined the Syrian war, under the caliphate banner, to “re-Islamize” Muslims who have “drifted away” from their religion!

But this “jihad” doesn’t mind getting aid from American, French or British “infidels,” or their brothers in religion, the Turks. It doesn’t mind that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) expands to include both Iraq and Syria. And it doesn’t mind the torrent of bombings and suicide bombers (for the sake of Allah) that may spread to Lebanon under the pretext of responding to Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian regime’s war.

Iraq is on the brink of breakup amid a civil war aimed at the Muslims’ unity, dividing them into Sunnis and Shiites (who often belong to the same tribes and clans).

The Lebanese are living in fear of suicide bombers who blow themselves up in crowded places, thus fanning religious extremism, while the suicide bombers think that they will “reach heaven.”

In North Africa, we see Libya soaked in the blood of its sons, all of whom are Sunni Muslims and overwhelmingly from the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence. Despite that, there are clashes between the people (mainly over whether Libya should be a true state or a collection of tribes). Extremist Islamic banners are being raised in the face of Muslims. The image of the “new state” is under pressure from secessionist attempts in the east, west, and south, as if each province has its own Islam.

In Tunisia, it seems that the Muslim Brotherhood has accepted, after a long resistance, partnership with the national forces and the adoption of a new draft constitution. A unity government was formed after the Brotherhood fought a long struggle to have the biggest share.

Certainly, the second uprising in Egypt, which toppled the rule of the Brotherhood in a knockout blow and mobilized most Egyptians against this organization, which is backward in thought and practice, has alerted the Brotherhood in Tunisia to what awaits it if it continues with its attempts to monopolize power as if the revolution that started without it and in its absence is its revolution alone.

The Brotherhood government in Tunisia didn’t act like the Egyptian Brotherhood, which resorted to violence, nor like ISIS and other extremist Islamic groups in Syria, which started destroying infrastructure, including factories, hospitals, university buildings and government departments and institutions.

In Egypt, salvaging the state and its institutions happened thanks to the second uprising in June 2013 and to the unprecedented millions of angry demonstrators who filled the streets of Egyptian cities to reject the rule of the Brotherhood.

Although Brotherhood supporters still gather on Friday mornings with limited demonstrations calling for the release of “the legitimate president and his comrades” from prison and to block his trial, they still arrogantly refuse to recognize reality. They still dream of getting back into power. But it seems that Egypt has chosen its way and is moving forward amid the difficulties.

Certainly, whoever rules Egypt after the end of the transitional period, which produced a new constitution supported by a popular referendum, will face very difficult issues, mostly economic, then political, in addition to the security chaos.

There have been random killings and continuous attacks on the army and security forces, in addition to a lot of property destruction and looting, which have caused confusion and panic.

All Arabs — the right, who are enormously wealthy and have great capabilities, and the left and center — are very concerned about the situation in Egypt and about the lively debate about Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s march toward the presidency.

They are concerned not just about the difficult situation in Egypt today but also about the loans and commitments that will be inherited by the “new rule.” The most serious of those commitments is the relationship with the United States, which includes military aid and training for the Egyptian army. Another issue is the fate of the relationship with the Israeli enemy, in all its painful chapters.

Many observers are curious about the great enthusiasm shown ​​by Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries (except Qatar) toward the new regime in Egypt.

Experience has shown that revolution and wealth do not meet, and that change and oil cannot coexist in one context. And everyone also knows Egypt’s revolution is not for sale and that the rich people’s wealth cannot buy the will for change nor its popular forces. But the clear attempts at containment are worrisome and require a degree of caution.

The process of change will take a very long time and we are still in its beginnings. What’s important is for the Arabs to make their own spring — not that it comes to them prepackaged — and that they follow their own path.

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More from  Talal Salman