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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 6    Issue I   1-15 June 2011

The Arab Spring

The Revolution’s Missing Peace


THE wave of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa is of historic significance equal to that of the revolutions of 1848 and 1989 in Europe. The peoples of the region, without exception, revolted not only in the name of universal values but also to regain their long-suppressed national pride and dignity. But whether these uprisings lead to democracy and peace or to tyranny and conflict will depend on forging a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and a broader Israeli-Arab peace.

The plight of the Palestinians has been a root cause of unrest and conflict in the region and is being used as a pretext for extremism in other corners of the world. Israel, more than any other country, will need to adapt to the new political climate in the region. But it need not fear; the emergence of a democratic neighborhood around Israel is the ultimate assurance of the country’s security.

In these times of turmoil, two forces will shape the future: the people’s yearning for democracy and the region’s changing demographics. Sooner or later, the Middle East will become democratic, and by definition a democratic government should reflect the true wishes of its people. Such a government cannot afford to pursue foreign policies that are perceived as unjust, undignified and humiliating by the public. For years, most governments in the region did not consider the wishes of their people when conducting foreign policy. History has repeatedly shown that a true, fair and lasting peace can only be made between peoples, not ruling elites.

I call upon the leaders of Israel to approach the peace process with a strategic mindset, rather than resorting to short-sighted tactical maneuvers. This will require seriously considering the Arab League’s 2002 peace initiative, which proposed a return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders and fully normalized diplomatic relations with Arab states.

Sticking to the unsustainable status quo will only place Israel in greater danger. History has taught us that demographics is the most decisive factor in determining the fate of nations. In the coming 50 years, Arabs will constitute the overwhelming majority of people between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. The new generation of Arabs is much more conscious of democracy, freedom and national dignity.

In such a context, Israel cannot afford to be perceived as an apartheid island surrounded by an Arab sea of anger and hostility. Many Israeli leaders are aware of this challenge and therefore believe that creating an independent Palestinian state is imperative. A dignified and viable Palestine, living side by side with Israel, will not diminish the security of Israel, but fortify it.

Turkey thinks strategically about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, not only because it knows that a peaceful Middle East would be to its benefit, but also because it believes that Israeli-Palestinian peace would benefit the rest of the world.

We are therefore ready to use our full capacity to facilitate constructive negotiations. Turkey’s track record in the years before Israel’s Gaza operation in December 2008 bears testimony to our dedication to achieving peace. Turkey is ready to play the role it played in the past, once Israel is ready to pursue peace with its neighbors.

Moreover, it is my firm conviction that the United States has a long-overdue responsibility to side with international law and fairness when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The international community wants the United States to act as an impartial and effective mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, just as it did a decade ago. Securing a lasting peace in the Middle East is the greatest favor Washington can do for Israel.

It will be almost impossible for Israel to deal with the emerging democratic and demographic currents in the absence of a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. Turkey, conscious of its own responsibility, stands ready to help.

Abdullah Gul is the president of Turkey.

(Source: International Herald Tribune, April 20, 2011)

Religion is a growing force in the Arab awakening. Westerners should hold their nerve and trust democracy

THE sight of corrupt old Arab tyrants being toppled at the behest of a new generation of young idealists, inspired by democracy, united by Facebook and excited by the notion of opening up to a wider world, has thrilled observers everywhere. Those revolutions are still in full swing, albeit at different points in the cycle. In Tunisia and Egypt they are going the right way, with a hopeful new mood prevailing and free elections in the offing. In Libya, Syria and Yemen dictators are clinging on to power, with varying degrees of success. And in the Gulf monarchs are struggling to fend off demands for democracy with oil-funded largesse topped by modest and grudging political concessions.

So far these revolts have appeared to be largely secular in character. Westerners have been quietly relieved by that. Not that they are all against religion. Many—Americans in particular—are devout. But by and large, they prefer their own variety to anybody else’s, and since September 11th 2001, they have been especially nervous about Islam.

Now, however, there are signs that Islam is a growing force in the Arab revolutions (see article). That makes secular-minded and liberal people, both Arabs and Westerners, queasy. They fear that the Arab awakening might be hijacked by the sort of Islamists who reject a pluralist version of democracy, oppress women and fly the flag of jihad against Christians and Jews. They worry that the murderous militancy that has killed 30,000 over the past four years in Pakistan (see article) may emerge in the Arab world too.

Islam on the rise

In Libya the transitional national council, slowly gaining recognition as a government-in-waiting, is a medley of secular liberals and Islamists. There are Libyan jihadist veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan among the rebels, though not in big numbers. An American general detects “flickers of al-Qaeda” among the colonel’s foes being helped by the West, raising uncomfortable memories of America’s alliance against the Russians with Afghanistan’s mujahideen, before they turned into al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has branches all over the region, is the best-run opposition movement in Libya and Egypt; and last week’s constitutional referendum in Egypt went the way the Brothers wanted it to. Its members have long suffered at the hands both of Western-backed regimes, such as Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt, and of anti-Western secular ones, such as Bashar Assad’s, now under extreme pressure in Syria. In Tunisia, too, the Islamists, previously banned, look well-placed. On the whole, these Brothers have gone out of their way to reassure the West that they nowadays disavow violence in pursuit of their aims, believe in multiparty democracy, endorse women’s rights and would refrain from imposing sharia law wholesale, were they to form a government in any of the countries where they are re-emerging as legal parties.

All the same, the Brothers make many people nervous. At one extreme of the wide ideological spectrum that they cover they are not so far from the jihadists, many of whom started off in the Brothers’ ranks. The leading Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, has been delighted by Mr Mubarak’s fall. It has in the past carried out suicide-bombings in the heart of Israel and refuses to recognise the Jewish state. Some liberals say that more extreme Islamist groups are riding on the more moderate Brothers’ coat-tails. In the flush of prisoner releases, hundreds if not thousands of Egyptian jihadists are once again at large.

Don’t despair

Islam is bound to play a larger role in government in the Arab world than elsewhere. Most Muslims do not believe in the separation of religion and state, as America and France do, and have not lost their enthusiasm for religion, as many “Christian Democrats” in Europe have. Muslim democracies such as Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia all have big Islamic parties.

But Islamic does not mean Islamist. Al-Qaeda in the past few years has lost ground in Arab hearts and minds. The jihadists are a small minority, widely hated by their milder co-religionists, not least for giving Islam a bad name across the world. Ideological battles between moderates and extremists within Islam are just as fierce as the animosity pitting Muslim, Christian and Jewish fundamentalists against each other. Younger Arabs, largely responsible for the upheavals, are better connected and attuned to the rest of the modern world than their conservative predecessors were.

Moreover, some Muslim countries are on the road to democracy, or already there. Some are doing well. Among Arab countries, Lebanon, with its profusion of religions and sects, has long had a democracy of a kind, albeit hobbled by sectarian quotas and an armed militia, Hizbullah. Iraq has at least elected a genuine multiparty parliament.

Outside the Arab world, in Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, Islam and democracy are cohabiting fairly comfortably. Many devout Muslims among the Arab protesters, including members of the Brotherhood, cite Turkey as a model. Its mildly Islamist government is showing worrying signs of authoritarianism these days, but it serves its people far better than the generals did. Iran, which once held so much sway, is not talked of as a model: theocracy does not appeal to the youngsters on the Arab street.

Still, Muslim countries may well make choices with which the West is not comfortable. But those inclined to worry should remember that no alternative would serve their interests, let alone the Arabs’, in the long run. The old autocrats deprived their people of freedom and opportunity; and the stability they promised, it is now clear, could not endure. Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s remains a horrible warning against depriving Islamists of power they have rightfully won.

Islam will never find an accommodation with the modern democratic world until Muslims can take responsibility for their own lives. Millions more have a chance of doing just that. It is a reason more for celebration than for worry.

(Source: The Economist, 31 March 2011)

The Arab Spring Is 2011, Not 1989


The Arab revolutions are beginning to destroy the cliché of an Arab world incapable of democratic transformation. But another caricature is replacing it: according to the new narrative, the crowds in Cairo, Benghazi or Damascus, mobilized by Facebook and Twitter, are the latest illustration of the spread of Western democratic ideals; and while the “rise of the rest” may challenge the economic dominance of Western nations, the West will continue to define the political agenda of the world.

In that optimistic scenario, 1989 and 2011 are two chapters of the same story, which connect in a self-congratulatory way the political appeal of democracy and the transformative power of entrepreneurship and new technologies.

In reality, the movements that are shaking the Arab world are profoundly different from the revolutions that ended the Soviet empire. The Arab spring is about justice and equity as much as it is about democracy, because societies in which millions of young men and women have no jobs — and millions live with less than two dollars a day — crave justice as much as democracy.

As I heard one experienced Arab diplomat say, today’s revolutions are against “profiteers” as much as they are against dictators. The movements are also profoundly suspicious of foreign interference, and Western nations, which for many years have had a cozy relationship with dictators and profiteers, will be utilized, but they are unlikely to be trusted or to serve as models as they were in 1989.

The implications for our Middle Eastern policies are wide-ranging. The good news is that the focus on social justice and practical issues of development and redistribution has the potential to move the public debate further away from dreams of a return to the mythical past of the caliphate promoted by radical Islamists.

In the words of the French scholar Olivier Roy, the Arab revolutions may well become the first “post-Islamist” revolutions. But that will happen only if we in the West accept that Muslim values — which have, like Christian or Jewish values, many interpretations — can become part of the political debate, without being at the center of it.

The more we try to polarize secular forces against Islamic movements, the more unlikely it is that secular values will win. We must abandon the illusion that the defining issue in the region is a battle between moderates and hardliners. Europe and the United States could send a strong signal by ending their policy of “à la carte democracy” and start talking to movements such as Hamas or Hezbollah — which does not mean that we in any way agree with their views.

Bringing the Muslim Brotherhood and related organizations into mainstream politics rather than trying to isolate them should be a priority. This is all the more necessary as the aspiration to justice will lead to demands that the present élites — and in particular security establishments — relinquish their grip not only on power, but also on the economy, and that demand may eventually trigger a second wave of upheavals.

A more democratic Arab world is also likely to be less tolerant of the benign neglect with which the international community has often addressed the Israel-Palestine and the Israeli-Arab conflicts since 2000. That should not be seen as a threat by countries that support a resolution of the conflict in accordance with international law and a two-states solution, but it will require a “reset” of the policies of the last 10 years.

Lastly, as we discover that 2011 is not 1989, and that we are no more the trusted reference, we will have to navigate in unchartered waters: our engagement in Libya will probably have less moral clarity at the end than it has had at the start. Political processes will inevitably be messy, and we will be tempted, especially in oil-rich nations, to pick winners and manipulate outcomes.

That would be disastrous for our long-term standing: in a region whose future has repeatedly been decided by foreigners since the end of the Ottoman empire, outside powers will have to demonstrate that this time they are genuinely willing to support home-grown political processes.

The West has to accept that it is not the central player anymore. But it need not be an indifferent and passive spectator. Finding the balance between engagement and restraint will be the policy challenge of this new phase.

In Libya and possibly in some other situations, the active involvement of the United Nations to find a political solution may help us find that new balance by providing the impartiality and sufficient distance from great powers politics without which no political process will have a sustainable outcome.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, a former United Nations under-secretary general for peacekeeping operations, is professor of professional practice at the Saltzman Institute of Columbia University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

(Source: International Herald Tribune, April 21, 2011)

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