The Arab Spring: opening a pandora's box?
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Issue Vol. 26.3 July - Sept2011 | Date : 02 Oct , 2011

IDR_subscriptionIn Yemen, after the President ran away to Saudi Arabia, a serious tribal conflict has ensued. Yemen is a major stronghold of Al Qaeda in the Arab world and therefore the Saudis and West are deeply interested there to liquidate it. In Bahrain Saudi troops have helped the ruler to crush the Shia opposition for the time being but the discontent rages. Possibly, in Libya, Muammer Qaddafi will have to leave the country in which case how the equation of governance will be resolved with acute differences existing among its tribes, clans and regions will be a time consuming affair. The West would like a pro West government to be established in Libya but the Arabs of Libya are also highly anti US and they do not necessarily consider pro Western government to be in their best interest.

In Syria issues are equally complex. The Syrian president controls all the levers of military power with members of his Alawite sect in all key positions. The Sunni majority, unable to construct a serious alternative, may decide to accept the continuing leadership of President Bashir, albeit reluctantly, till better scenarios surface. Sooner or later, however, the strength of the majority will be felt in the ruling corridors of Syria more and more emphatically and the status quo will change. Syria is the last bastion of Bath socialist philosophy and ideology and if Bashir is thrown out, it will mark the end of the last secular establishment in the Arab world.

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Who are the real shakers and movers in the Arab world? They are largely the young generations familiar with the internet, face book and twitter and, thanks to them, cognizant of the happenings all over the world in terms of enlarging peoples’ rights, economic renaissance and upward mobility. They are better educated than previous generations but they lack adequate avenues of employment and personal development. Their education and awareness heightens their sensibilities, strengthens their aspirations for better living standards and raises their demands for liberty, equity, justice and fair play in their societies. Their desperation was acute and any spark anywhere had the potential for their frustrations to explode. The Tunisian episode became the trigger and they have seized the opportunity to seek new spaces for themselves.

Syria is the last bastion of Bath socialist philosophy and ideology and if Bashir is thrown out, it will mark the end of the last secular establishment in the Arab world.

Will the new structures of governments which may get established be able to fulfill the aspirations of this growing community of young people and, if they do not, what will be the consequences? Their energies will then stretch into areas which will militate against a harmonious existence and relationship between the governed and the governing.

In such a milieu an ideology like Muslim Brotherhood gets a new opportunity to stake a new role and play it out more successfully than what it was able to achieve in the past.

Egypt is the largest Arab country and can be expected to be in a leadership role in the region. A Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo may act as a magnet for the Islamists in the entire region. Since Islam remains inhospitable to democracy, in due course Islam will rise to preeminence in all the countries. Sooner or later this will result in the clergy assuming more importance and weightage in the administration as happened in Pakistan. The process can develop into a sturdy slide towards Islamization of the Arab world and later into an Islamist configuration as a more myopic view of Islam gets generated elsewhere in the world.

India will need to keep an eagles eye on the developing scenarios in the Arab world. While its own energy security will perhaps remain the prime concern, it will also need to insulate itself against the influences of a possibly growing Islamic resurgence in West Asia and North Africa.

The grounds for such a configuration worldwide are fairly strong. In many regions irrespective of the nature of regimes, where Muslims feel victimized, Muslims are always pushing towards Islamization. In Muslim countries, the thrust towards Islamization invariably spawns a drift towards Islamism. In certain countries in Western Europe and also in the United States, the writings on the wall have been deciphered. They are forsaking the values of multiculturalism, which grew out of Renaissance, and Reawakening in some previous centuries in Europe and which had become articles of faith in the conscience of the Western people. Threats of terrorism, fear of Muslim immigrants overtaking and outnumbering the natural residents, and the rigidity of Islamic practices and doctrines which lead to unbridgeable gaps with other religions, have compelled several European countries to turn their face away from multiculturalism. An outline of a dreadful scenario could be in the offing, foreseen more than 15 years ago by a Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington, who had created a lively controversy then by enunciating what he called a theory of Clashes of Civilizations.

Discarding multiculturalism is tantamount to hardening one’s own cultural posture. Set against the Muslim desire to live by their own religious and cultural standards, the space for compromise in these countries narrows down. Under these circumstances can a clash in a higher profile be ruled out altogether in the future? In the US this dilemma is not being articulated in the public domain yet because their constitution recognizes the supremacy of the rights of the individual over the rights of the State. There are many Muslims in America who are born Americans and, therefore, enjoy the same rights as the rest of the population. Publicly, the administration there cannot ask the Muslim Americans to live by the values of the majority. There the conflict is sought to be controlled covertly in the sense that laws have been amended or enacted, like the Patriot Act, to give the enforcement agencies more powers to keep under aggressive surveillance any citizen suspected of transgressing the laws of the country or acting suspiciously.. This private posture of the US government cannot remain hidden for too long and the battle will be out in the open as in Germany, France and Australia. Muslims are averse to any reforms in their religious and ideological doctrines. In the “new” Arab world already burdened with anti US and anti west images, the reactions are bound to be mirror opposites. The growing influence of Al Qaeda ideology will ensure such a result.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anand K Verma

Former Chief of R&AW and author of Reassessing Pakistan.

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