UI – Part 359 – Arab Spring – Arab Winter
It was 5 years ago, January 2011, that the Arab Spring sprung. It started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. It was a revolution in the making as the youth of the respective countries sought greater independence and a freer system of laws to include open elections.
Looking back the only country that experienced a change is Tunisia. Libya is in chaos. Yemen is a war zone where Saudi Arabia and Iran are at odds over hegemony in the Middle East. Yemen has lost any independence it had. Bahrain, a small island nation off the east coast of Saudi Arabia, curbed the insurgency and has strengthened the hand of this theocratic realm.
Egypt’s Mubarak fell and was replaced by Morsi, a product of political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood (‘MB’). For an unknown reason he was supported by President Obama. He soon took steps to Islamize the whole of Egypt and failed to consider the economy, job opportunities being sought by the revolutionaries, and the consequences of a theocratic Egypt. Disquiet resulted in a well decorated military leader, al-Sissi, forcibly taking over the helm in an effort to restore Egypt and provide the people what they desired. Over 1000 Islamists of the MB variety have disappeared (jailed or killed), stability has returned, but as yet there is little movement to a new set of democratic elections, a return to tourism or an emergence of a revival of the economy.
Syria is in civil war with the violent jihadist ISIS battling for its declared Caliphate and seeking its own state. Assad is eradicating any opposition to maintain his throne, and third party factions, whom the United States does not know well enough to provide more than limited military support, wants Assad gone and a new government installed. The door opened to an opportunity for Russia. Russia does little with the third parties, letting Assad attack his opposition. Russia favors Assad staying and Obama wants him gone, while others in the USA feel he is the evil we know and would be better than nothing if the goal is a return to a sense of stability in the area. But then there is Russia. Russia, USA and Assad want ISIS gone, as do many others in the Middle East, but their cancer seems to be spreading. Look today at forces building in Libya.
Status of Middle East
The rest of the Middle East is not much better, with few exceptions. The Arab Emirates seem stable, along with Morocco. Jordan must be uncomfortable trying to maintain its independence, fearing the dam they have around them bursting with cries of Allahu Akbar seeking to add a refuge for an existing, new or old political Islamic faction. Palestine is just a mess and is in a nether land between Arabs and Jews, no one wanting them. Iraq remains divided, a north-south ideological division, with Shiite leaders and Sunni residents, and no path to a freer, more democratic or stable country as war planes drop bombs on ISIS occupations, ISIS contingents move in and are driven out of areas, Turkey resists certain Kurd factions and other Kurds still want a State of their very own.
And now we have the 30 million populated Saudi Arabia and 79 million Iran on the verge of a Sunni-Shiite war.
Sunni-Shiite Back Story
Such a war has been ongoing, more a constant fester, a civil war, since the battle between the 5th Caliph Muawiyah’s and Muhammad’s cousin and husband of daughter Fatima, Ali (4th Caliph), lost his desired hereditary rights as head of Islam, and his surviving son conceded the same. The Battle of Karbala (680 ce) is signifiant to this history. In 1400 years or so little has changed. There remains turmoil in the middle east. The major strain of Islam that continued was Sunni, the leadership and guidance chosen from among those most able to lead in the name of Allah and Muhammad. Factions, as spin offs from Ali, believing the guidance must come from the blood line of Muhammad, the Imams as descendants, grew to the east and within and the Shiite believers, Allah and Muhammad their god and prophet, evolved as well.
Before Muhammad’s ‘Age of Ignorance’ (which I contend continues) the Empires were the Sassanid (Persia) and the Byzantine (based in Constantinople, covering territory from the Atlantic Ocean to Turkey to the Mediterranean). With the tragic consequences of the Plague in the mid-500’s, its impact over time on the Empires, a need for Arab participation in the Byzantine forces arose. Muhammad gained power in the early 600’s as his army grew and were successful in raiding caravans and building a treasury for Muhammad’s kingdom. They were paid from the spoils of war, and condemned to death if they left the ranks. They were Muhammadians building a united Arab community, the ummah, under the banner of a monotheistic god, Allah. They conquered in Allah’s name and suggested or forced those conquered to convert. For many this was a new god, but under the sword of Muhammad this god commanded a following. It was Allah’s will.
After Muhammad died his military leaders took little time to expand the territories under the name of Muhammad and Allah, utilizing the numbers of fighters they had and keeping them engaged and employed. The presence of the Arab’s from the Arabian Peninsula became more apparent. From the northern areas of todays Saudi Arabia the succession of Caliphs moved north, west and east, taking Jerusalem and areas that today comprise Syria, Iraq and Iran. The battle between the Arabs and the Persians was underway, and continues. Parallel dynasties of Islam existed – the Abbasid Caliphate succeeded the Umayyad (Sunni) at the same time the Fatimid Caliphate (Shiite) dominated areas, the Maghreb, comprising the northern portion of Africa along the Mediterranean, Egypt to the Arabian Peninsula. Cairo was its center. The Ayyubid Sutanate (Sunni) occupied different areas of the Middle East. Remnants of the Umayyad Caliphate continued in Spain as the Abbasid established its center in Baghdad (Iraq). There were ideological divisions of Sunni and Shiite, even when the whole of the Muslim world was united under the Ottoman Empire.
Islam took hold not just in the Arab world, but to the east, in Persia and Afghanistan. The concept of god, from oral traditions, and a community serving one god, had great appeal.
As for revolutions consider the 1979 revolt in Iran. In January 1979 the Khomeini led a revolt to overthrow the Shah. The people of Iran at the time were Western-minded but suffered under the oppressive governance of the Shah. He was placed in power by an overthrow of Mossadegh in 1954 – the prime minister and secular minded leader of the people. It was a dispute over oil and the British control thereof. The Shah did little to advance the nation and improve the economy, a weak leader with selfish wants and support from the West. The Khomeini was in exile in Iraq, but received reports of discontent among the Iranian populace. The Khomeini returned to Iran with a strong team, coupled with the desires of the people who rebelled side-by-side, and made promises of a more democratic country. Once in power he back-peddled on his promises and instead put into play a theocracy. (Think about back-peddling on the Obama nuclear weapons treaty!) Iran has grown ever since as a terrorist nation under the thumb of the succeeding Khomeini’s and their chosen Presidents. It has not helped the people or what they desired. They now are more hijab oriented than free to wear shorts and tank tops in the hot temperatures.
This is what can happen when the youth of a Muslim nation have no ability or training in overseeing the infrastructure of their nation. They make demands and may protest in the streets, but unless they can govern, the administrative moderates just wait their turn for greater power as the leadership is removed. The youth remain on the streets, jobless, and without a new nation. Their desires are dashed time and time again.
The Winter of Discontent
The 6 countries where the youth stood up and spoke out, except for one, remain in the hands of autocratic leaders or in turmoil. Syria and Yemen have become contest-grounds seeking a new direction. With nothing but Sunni and Shiite fundamentalists at odds with each other using modern weapons and barbaric Islamic tactics, guided from the texts of the exploits of their Prophet Mohammad, and with Wahhabist leanings for the Sunni’s, and the Khomeini mindset for the Shiite, the desires of the youth to enter a modern world are being met with a return to the primitive nature of the 7th Century.
Fundamentalist political Islam is of a barbaric 7th century ideology that formed the basis for the Quran and the sayings of Muhammad, incorporating practices outlined in Hadiths and of the Caliphs succeeding the Prophet. The Shiite immediately reject any Hadith of the earliest Caliphs not in the hereditary line. The youth are caught between the 7th century and the West today. Freedom is elusive. Any dissent is met with the sword. Those that were the cause of the Arab Spring are now the victims, being watched carefully, by those who have no call for reform. Those in authority enjoy the position they have or made possible through their association with the current leadership.
Dreams and Visions
The Middle East has always had autocratic leaders. Democracy has never been part of their history. Springing forth into a new order of governance will not be easy, if ever possible. As the world, however, becomes more informed through the internet and other media sites, be they social or otherwise, the vision of humane practices, a loving Biblical God, an opportunity for independent thought and autonomy may materialize in the dreams and visions of Muslim youth.
The young represent large percentages today of the Muslim population. To the extent they can organize, not as ISIS radicals, but as moderates and cause changes in the way the Imams and the Khomeini’s preach to their base, a new dawn and a new spring may be possible. They need to incorporate modern developments and logic, rational consideration for what is human and equal, and not become subject to a return to 7th century pogroms. If there is another revolution they need to have ready the leadership team to replace not just the head of state but the water department chief, the energy department, the electrical utility head and so forth to insure a smooth transition takes place. They must also be prepared to imprison those who would do the same to them. The concern will be who can they trust from the prior regimes. A large hurdle will be finding Imam’s to preach a revision to Islam incorporating modernity.
However the West, Europe and America, cannot ignore any opportunity to support the youth movements, as Obama did with the Green Movement in Iran (2009).
Grace and Peace