Arab spring of revolutions: Waiting for 'The Real Thing!' A view from the cleavages of history. A riposte on why today revolutionary forces are marching against Morsi, as they did against Mubarak. Why and what made this great revolution a crippled still born?
As Egypt's tryst with its destiny enters a new phase with the results of a controversial constitutional referendum looming over the horizon, I cannot overlook to underplay the tragedy of sorts and the choices Egyptians face. Two choices are available for Akhwans and Mursi : a secular, freedom-oriented society or the road that leads the 'sovereignty of Allah' through 'Syed Qutub/ HasanBanna/Qaradawi alley! '
Egypt does not have to look too far out for lessons from contemporary history. A whole nation of 40 million in 1979 traversed a similar failed dream through the dominion of Velayat al Faqih under the leadership of Imam Khomeini. Velayat-i-faqih a post-Age-of-Occultation theory in Shi'a Islam holds that Islam gives a faqih (Islamic jurist) or fuqaha (jurists) custodianship, divine providence or dictatorship over people. Islamic jurist dictatorship over people terribly failed and Egypt should know that a similar fate awaits them. Arab spring needs to learn from the rich Iranian experience of the only extraordinary Middle Eastern revolution of 1979, the Enghelābe Eslāmi, which was unique in the sense that it defied the customary causes of revolution defeat at war, a financial crisis, peasant rebellion, or disgruntled military! If you deny your history, you will deny your existence. 'History and past' is convenient to envisage an opportunity and sketch plans to shun mistakes committed in the past. Egyptians need a quick reality check!
Today Egypt stands at the same crossroads. Either Egyptians can decide to waste 30 years in pursuit of another failed revolution and end up in chains like Ayatollah Iran in the hands of another Mufti, or adopt a freedom-based system reflective of the 5,000-year-old civilization they represent. Egyptians may not have the luxury of oil, but they have lush fertile land. To get the best out of the Nile, Egypt needs peace and conformity with secular ideology.
To pursue another 35 years of deterioration in vainglory of an 'Islamic revolution,' Egypt will bound to fail, a calamitous scenario unfolding before us. Egyptians everywhere should ask just one question: 'Why all the ideological Islamic republics sit at the bottom of global Human Development Index? To name a few Afghanistan, Sudan and Pakistan, add Iran as a bonus.'
A revolution that started with the fifth generation of freedom organ 'Google' should not end up with an “archaic ideology” that is obsolete and outmoded in modern times. The only way to gain proper freedom is to liberate oneself from the yokes of doctrine; otherwise Egyptians will be looking at another revolution in a few years, like Iran today. The romance with the Islamic Republic has fallen and is maintained by the terror of state oppression, so will Egyptian romance with the Salafis and Akhwans.
The 'Arab Spring' intelligentsia needs to study the Iranian historical contributions and 1979 contemporary revolution. They should not forget that it was the rich culture of the conquered territories of Pharaohs, Yezdegerd and Hellenistic lands that embellished the desert Arabs and not the other way round. A slight detour here of the past will help understand the background of these treacherous Middle Eastern lands and will help chart the course of future better:
Two battle changed the course of Islam The Battle of Yarmouk and The Battle of al-Qādisiyyah:
The Battle of Yarmouk was a major battle between the Muslim Arab forces and the armies of the East Roman-Byzantine Empire. Emperor Heraclius had sent a massive expedition to the Levant in May 636. As the Byzantine army approached, the Muslims retreated from Syria and regrouped all their forces at the Yarmouk plains close to Arabia where, after being reinforced, they defeated the numerically superior Byzantine army. The Battle of Yarmouk is regarded as one of the most decisive battles in military history, and it marked the first great wave of Islamic conquests after the death of Muhammad, heralding the rapid advance of Islam into the then Christian Levant. The battle is also considered to be one of Khalid ibn al-Walid's greatest military victories. It cemented his reputation as one of the greatest tacticians and cavalry commanders in history. The conquest over Byzantine left the spirit of Greek science, literature and philosophy into the hands of Muslims.
Muslims invaded Iran in the time of Caliph Umar (637) and conquered it after several great battles. Yazdegerd III fled from one district to another until a local miller killed him for his purse at Merv in 651. By 674, Muslims had conquered Greater Khorasan. Iranian fuqaha see these events as a blessing i.e. 'the advent of the true faith, the end of the age of ignorance;' the liberals today view it differently 'as a humiliating national defeat, the conquest and subjugation of the country by foreign invaders.'
Iran was never an easy conquest after the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah 637, Caliph Umar is reported to have said: "I wish there were a mountain of fire between us and the Persians, so that neither they could get to us, nor we to them."
The pride of the imperial Sassanid's hurt by the conquest of Iraq by the Arabs continued the struggle to regain the lost territory; a major Persian counter attack was launched and subsequently repulsed at the Battle of Nihawand fought in December 641. This led to a whole-scale invasion of the Sassanid Persian empire that was planned by Umar to conquer their arch-rival entirely. The last Persian emperor was Yazdgerd III, who was killed in 653 during the reign of the Caliph Uthman. His death officially marks the end of the Sassanid Royal lineage and empire.
With the conquest of Persia, the treasure chest of knowledge of old twin civilisations—Byzantines and the Sassanids—had fallen in the hands of the Arab armies. They made these treasures the mainstay of their governance.
Though it is generally believed that Greco-Rome is the derivation of civilization, the fact is it was the Iranian civilization that was much older than that of Rome and was at par with Greece in its richness, and that Iran made no less contribution to the historical and cultural progress of the entire world. It was the Arabs' integration of cradles of eastern civilisations that spewed elite luminaries responsible for the enlightenment of an era. Post Islam conquest, the history of Iran's political, social, economic and cultural developments during the Samanids cannot be ignored. The role of Samanids in the Islamic Iran's civilization and culture was significant.
The following from Saadi could not have come from intellectual vacuum of minds; it was the embodiment of thousands of years of rich culture with rationalist and logical Hellenistic thoughts combined with the liberty to seek new frontiers of knowledge that led Saadi to say:
"The sons of Adam are limbs of one another having been created of one essence. When the calamity of time afflicts one limb, the other limbs cannot remain at rest."
Iranians have led the Golden age of Islamic renaissance; the greatest heroes of the Islamic renaissance emerged from the rich learned lands conquered by the desert army. Once again Iranians led the call of Enghelābe Eslāmi and now will lead the rollback. The present 'Arab spring' indisputably has a distinctive character based on geography and culture. The Maghreb revolutions were different from the Egyptian category and so will the Spring of Saudis and looming Iranians be. Iranians are ready to revolt against the 'selected' autocratic regime; they are 35 years ahead of any other Middle Eastern country, i.e., being incarcerated by the chains of ideology. Iranian ensuing spring will be the most doable amongst all the 'springs' we talk about; this uprising has the seeds and elements of Dechristianisation i.e. a revolt against the Islamic republic. I trust that the 'Real thing' or freedom that will free the Middle East from chains of ideology will emerge as a result of Iranian counter revolution.
A modern post-revolution Iran will be a semi-secular Iran. Today revolution against the Islamic Republic of Iran is on the cards; it is anytime that uprising will start. It will be the beginning of a new phase of secular revolutions in Middle East. The impending Iranian revolution will be the 'Mother of all revolutions,' it was Iranians that led the resurgence of Islamic medievalism in 1979; it will be them who will lead the way out of this quagmire. The basic reason Iran's Twitter Revolution failed was due to the fact that a revolution cannot be led by wolves in sheep’s clothing. It owes its whimper fizzling out to the inability of Musavi in completely cutting his strong links with radical Khomeini thoughts; to wipe out the 1979 revolution in Iran, it needs a completely new slate.The Iranian Revolution of 1979 stopped short of establishing a democratic government, after enduring more than three decades of renewed repression, Iranians are protesting once again to complete a mission that was left unfinished.
Iran is one country that is ripe for a real counter revolution – against velayat-i-faqih oriented ‘Mullahcracy.’ The read map of a counter revolution in Iran will go through 'middle', a restoration of a more traditional Shiite position often called quietism to replace Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic political theory that emerged in the mid-20th century called velayat-i-faqih, or rule by Islamic jurist. The greatest proponent of this theory is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani marjah al-taqlid, or object of emulation for top Shiite religious authorities in the world of some 20 percent of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims Shiites. Sistani of Najaf 'Hawza al almiyah' has attained the level of marjah and advocates that clerics shouldn’t get involved in day-to-day affairs and instead should serve as an authority independent from politics. Sistani has long favored the quietist, or moderate, tradition. He favors an Islamic state, but not a theocracy as in Iran.
Paradoxically the role of the secular Left in the Islamic Revolution of 1978–79 'The MEK' looks very similar to Wael Ghonim Googlites in Egypt. They were the greatest organizational participants in helping to organize massive street protests that brought down the Shah, also active participants of the U.S. embassy takeover. They were inspired by New Left Islamist Ali Shariati. Shariati considered himself a follower of Frantz Fanon; Jean-Paul Sartre once said, famously, “I have no religion, but if I were to choose one, it would be that of Shariati.” It can be argued that 'Tahrir' Square participants await similar fate under the Akhwans.
Revolutions are about replacing old ideas, about hierarchy and tradition with principles of new Enlightenment based on citizenship and inalienable rights. The modern era that has unfolded in the shadow of the French Revolution mark their birth during the Revolution. The growth of republics and liberal democracies, the spread of secularism, the development of modern ideologies and the invention of total war all owe their meteoric rise in the human sphere as a result of revolution.
At the moment, Middle Eastern revolutions will flirt with the fading doctrine of Islamic republics, instead of choosing the path of democracy, freedom, egalitarianism, and equality, they will adopt a more political Islam, like Iran did in 1979. A lesser dosage of ideology to find a solution to the problems of man is the answer, not more ideology; solutions have to be “earth-based;” they don’t lie in the “heavens.” Those divine affairs should be left in the hands of the Custodian of Paradise.
The analogy to Iran never rings truer given the historical strain of similarity. Iran and Egypt, who have a vibrant class of intellectuals, were both the cradles of civilizations, neither of them originally Muslims. Today they are the theological centers of Islam representing the two major factions– the Shiites and the Sunnis – in Najaf and the Al-Azhar. In Egypt, this is the time to support the egalitarianism and secularism that ensures equal opportunity to all segments of the social order. What is the point of a revolution if it brings you down in every respect – politically, socially, economically, intellectually? Iran is the most apt comparable example, as it became the weakest power post revolution, like the last falling domino. Will Egypt go down the democratic path or will there be an Islamist takeover? Like Brotherhood in Egypt, the love of revival of Islam and unfurling of the great banner of global unity of Islam mocks the dreams of millions of Egyptians, but what happened to the Ottoman Empire will happen to any ideological Empire. This is no time for dogma or ideology to be preferred over information, knowledge and modernisation of ideas. It will be ideas that will fill empty stomachs. Nile runs at its optimum capacity to increase yields proportionate to population increases; it is war of ideas not number of prayers.
Freedom without maturity results in mayhem. Egypt, Libya, Syrians and Tunisia have to put their collective houses in order as soon as possible. They have to get out of rhetoric and move on to the task of cohesive building of the nation. The time to flirt with the likes of Qaradawi is a bad sign emerging from Egypt. Mr Obama, instead of delivering historically distorted lectures at Al-Azhar, should now give a lecture on how freedoms are secured. That title should be "secularism sans ideology" which will propel these nations to greatness.
No revolution process would be completed if the Middle East is not ready to break its chains from ideological underpinnings of political Islam; this 'Dechristianisation' is the most important factor to consider. Given the tendency of Islam to rely upon the strongman, one group of strongmen will be replaced by another (Perhaps that will be the nutshell of these revolutions in the Middle East), but this region has been lucky enough in recent times to have a 'few benign secular despots' like Mubarak, Saddam, King Abdullah as a balance to OBL/Qaradawi kind of alternative dictatorship that political Islam has to offer. But the Information Age has served a final death blow to these benign family-based kingdoms.
It is also imperative for the west to stand by the liberals of Egypt. Liberals' experiences of Iran should be eye opening. The Iranian revolution in 1979 was a genuinely anti-authoritarian in which liberals leaning to the right like Bazargan and Yazdi, played a vital part. Communists, trade unionists, independents, and Islamists were all a part of Khomeini-led rainbow alliance. Islamists used the liberals and others to make way to power, but then jettisoned everyone to hold the power singularly. Like Nazis and Stalin, the best way for extremists is to use mass popular support and eradicate the major supporter in the post cleansing operation.
Egyptians have a very strong history of intelligent academia and mass education; Egypt is not exactly Khomeinite Iran (historically ripe for a Shiite revolution) or any orthodox littoral Arab state. It may offer far more resistance to Islamists, the Coptic minority and secular Egypt has strong grass root support, but it needs all the collective help to make the transition to a popular democracy through the ballot box.
Unlike the fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe overnight, here in the Middle East, the long and dark shadow of the 'Iron Curtain of ideology and despotism' has unfortunately not left a cadre of millions of secular democratic enlightened minds looking for the chains to be broken so that they can join the world of free thinking. Global openness has unleashed a pursuit for freedom among enslaved peoples. This is a new phenomenon. The tyrants are not running away because they have become soft overnight but because their security forces are refusing to fire on their own people and establishments are refusing to support crumbling regimes. Now tanks do not come out to crush peaceful civilians. Potency of war tribunals, trial of war criminals and elections in unheard of places have made these revolutions possible. In a new geopolitical trend, the idea of shoring up of dictatorial and rigid regimes, like the one of Ben Ali in Tunisia or Mubarak in Egypt in the name of stability, is now facing the challenge from a new democratic process. People are not ready to accept slavery. They want freedom.
Now the point of interest to watch is whether this revolution will be the beginning of an Arab street radicalisation and its popular anger to ooze through the policy of state. If an ex-secular state ends up like a radical state like Iran, such a democratic change will lead to tricky prospects for the Middle East peace process.
For future of democracy and sustainability of these 'Middle East freedom revolutions' the leadership of these new freed nations should be directed towards durability of freedom and liberty and importance of minorities rights plus economic emancipation for masses from nepotism that is rooted in these dictatorships. This is what Obama and the West needs to do. The education of pluralism and sanctity of vote, the whole Muslim world of 1.2 billion will look at this freedom and its aftermath very carefully. If freedom and liberty succeeds the future of the world will see the hold of political Islam decreasing on the faithful; if this fails, all hell will break loose.
Stagnation of mind destroys the balance of humanity. People ask why we question instituted truth. Legitimacy of so-called 'established truth' is the cause of intellectual self-indulgence and degeneracy of ideas. It is the established wisdom that needs to be questioned; any thought that abhors free enquiry based on rationalism and reason does not deserve to survive. Hierarchy of deceit that is imposed by the orthodoxy of established clergy is first to be challenged on all occasions. When someone talks about progress of a society I will ask them where their philosophers, thinkers and writers are; why are they not questioning; where is enquiry sitting on the list of their priorities. If one doesn't openly question the root of ills of our society, he becomes part of the ill. What is fossilisation of mind? It is the worst ailment that affects most of us, but we rarely go to any specialist to seek help. Our clergy and soothsayers become our authority to seek remedies from malady of thoughts; they straitjacket us into thousands of years-old hold of incoherent fables and ask us to follow those for eternal nirvana; we create our own divisions of man based on antiquated ideas from scriptures, though it is just a matter of time we all as humans shall be one.
Today we need to talk about precise, surgical operations that are needed to cleanse this rampant puritanical streak of self- righteousness. It is not Islam-phobia to question cause and effects of delay in the emergence of a renaissance and actions to overhaul antediluvian thinking processes; it is only through volte-face and restructuring that we will be able to eradicate from the organic body of 'political Islam' tentacles of its enormous fanatic infrastructure. We need our unwavering resolve to question and condemn the ills of lunatics and fringe killers who have taken upon themselves to make this earth heaven by making it hell for everyone..