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Revolt in Arab World:LESSONS FOR INDIA, by Balraj Puri, 1 March, 2011 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 1 March 2011

Revolt in Arab World


By Balraj Puri

Popular upsurge in Egypt against its dictator Hosni Mubarak, which started on 25 January ended on 11 February when he was forced to leave the country, paving the way for an elected Government by September.


Importantly, the uprising in Egypt has ignited revolt in other Arab and Gulf countries. Sadly, the lessons of Egypt have not been learnt by other dictators who have unleashed a reign of terror on their people. The worst case is that of Libya where the Armed Forces are trying to crush the revolt against 40 years of autocratic rule of Mummar Gaddafi. How long he continues to defy the inevitable is any body’s guess.


The situation varies from country to country. In Bahrain and Yemen, the upsurge may take the form of a Shia-Sunni conflict.


Undoubtedly, in many respects Egypt was a unique case. Its importance lies in the fact that, with a population of 64 millions, it is the most populous and largest Arab country and lies close to Gaza on the border between Israel and the Hamas controlled part of Palestine.


Its President Mubarak had set a record of corruption. He is estimated to have amassed a fortune of $70 billions and is believed to be the richest man in the world. His corrupt and autocratic rule as also rule of other dictators in the Middle East was supported by the US as Washington believed that the alternative to dictatorship in the Muslim world, in general, was Islamic fundamentalism.


Take the case of Iran, where Mussadag’s regime was overthrown by the Islamic revolution led by religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini. In Pakistan dictators have been the best allies of America. Pertinently, recall that Islamic fundamentalism itself was initially encouraged by the Americans to counter the growing Soviet influence in Afghanistan. Whereby, the Americans overthrew the Soviet supported regime with the active help of Mujahideens who were armed and trained by them.


That dictatorship is no guarantee against Islamic fundamentalism is best illustrated by the example of Saudi Arabia. Which has an absolute dynastic rule of Shah Abdul Aziz and where people have not even elementary democratic rights. It had supported Hosni Mubarak and given asylum to the deposed Sultan of Tunisia.


It is also the source of the most fundamentalist form of Islam. Its Wahabi brand of Islam, with American patronage, has undermined its liberal forms elsewhere. “Saudisation” of Pakistan, through a network of madrasas financed by Saudi Arabia for instance, has damaged its liberal traditions like Sufi, Barelavi, Deobandi and other forms of Islam.


No doubt, Muslim Brotherhood was supporting the popular revolt in Egypt. But it clearly said it had no leadership aspiration. It is too weak to do so and supported the popular movement as it did not want to be completely isolated.


Moreover, Christians, too, have joined the movement in full strength. The demonstrators include all shades of persons, young, old, men, women ---including in Western attire. Many persons in the crowds spoke live on TV asserting they were secular, democratic and wanted freedom.


The Al-Qaeda, Deputy Leader, Ayman al-Zawabri, in a video release on 18 February said that “demonstrations in Egypt were led by secular liberal activities for greater democracy in sharp contrast to the Islamic State. Democracy replaces God’s laws with man’s.”


The Muslim Brotherhood is supporting Mohamad El-Bardei, who emerged as the most known face of the revolt. He is a Noble Laureate and was the former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. El-Bardei began his overt opposition to Hosni Mubarak a year ago and won over a widespread following among the young and middle classes.


The Egyptian authorities harassed his supporters. Nor is El-Bardei a favourite of the US partly because he is being supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and to some extent because he was not tough enough against Iran as head of the IAEA as the US wanted him to be.


However, El-Bardei own views about Islamic jehadis are known. In a recent newspaper article he writes. “The option in the Arab world is not between authoritarianism and Islamic jehadis.” He described Egypt’s revolt as of a rainbow variety of people “who are secular, liberal, market oriented and if you give them a chance, they will organize themselves to elect a Government that is modern and moderate.”


El-Bardei wanted “independent judiciary and free election unlike the last election which was completely rigged and could in fact had a role in provoking widespread revolt of the people.” According to him “younger people in the Brotherhood in Egypt are inspired by the Turkish model which is more inclusive of other religious voices than elsewhere.”


He criticizes the West for having bought the Mubarak’s fiction that a democratic Egypt “will turn into chaos or a religious State (New York Times, Feb 13). Further, Egyptian nationalism with a civilization of 5000 years old, which Egyptians call “Ummul-duniya (mother of the world) of which the Sphinxes are an eloquent witness and the Alexandria library, a rich treasure of knowledge in its time, is no asset for fundamentalism.

Significantly, what is unique in the Egyptian revolt is its non-violent character which in the words of US President Obama was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King (the latter claimed to be Gandhi’s disciple). The revolt was not organized by any Party and led by any leader. Indeed, accounts on Twitter, Face Book and internet coordinated the rebels.


What after the transitional role of the Army? It has endeared itself to the people by the way it dealt with massive demonstrations. On the first day of the revolt an old man kissed the forehead of an Army officer who had come to Liberty Square and asserted, “You are one of us.”


On another occasion, the Army inadvertently killed some protestors. But soon it offered handsome apologies. Thereafter, the Army simply helped people to maintain order and prevent a stampede. The onus now is mainly on the civil leadership. Its success or failure to evolve a consensus on an alternative system will have an impact far beyond the borders of Egypt.

India has a special reason to welcome emergence of a democratic Egypt. For it can revive its old friendship when Nehru and Nasser, who along with erstwhile Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito led the Non-Alignment Movement which played a vital role in international politics in the fifties and sixties.


New Delhi also has reason to celebrate the success of the first Gandhian experiment in non-violence outside India. In fact, India needs to re-learn the use of Gandhian methods from Egypt, particularly in the context of violent movements currently taking place in some parts of the country.


In sum, look at the contrast between Egypt and Libya. While nearly 90 per cent of Indians decided to stay back as they felt quite safe and at home in Egypt, thousands are leaving Libya in panic. Unfortunately India did not offer any support to the Egyptian people in their days of struggle. Worse, its response to the people’s victory, too, was lukewarm. ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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