x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Arab spring born of stronger ideals

In recent months, the Arab spring has shown how positive, domestic change can occur that rejects the violence of the extremists.

When protests erupted in Cairo in February, extremist elements looked for a way to exploit them. "Your jihad," al Qa'eda in Iraq said in a statement to Egyptians, is "for every Muslim who was touched by the oppression of the tyrant of Egypt and his masters in Washington and Tel Aviv".

But since then grandmothers and students, fruit-sellers and soldiers have shown that extremism and the thirst for blood hold little sway in the greater Arab narrative.

The struggle that the general public has waged against corrupt regimes during this spring of Arab revolutions is today far removed from al Qa'eda's global jihad. The dim, misguided allegiance to extremist groups borne of despair and a lack of opportunity has not led to legions of youth strapping bombs to their chests, despite the incessant urging of al Qa'eda and other militants.

The regional response has been instead to raise banners on the street and demand a more democratic and less repressive society. Protests are not global; they are local. They are not against foreign intervention but against the incompetency of domestic governments.

They are largely Islamic, self-determined and peaceful - not Islamist, repressive, and violent, as al Qa'eda's leaders have advocated for more than two decades. The death of Osama bin Laden, confirmed by the US president, Barack Obama yesterday, is a symbolic victory over this virulent ideology.

The danger, of course, remains on the margins. Reactions from al Qa'eda affiliates in Iraq, Yemen and in the Maghreb remain unpredictable. Yemen for one has long suffered the bane of al Qa'eda's presence, while increasing lawlessness in Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan has proven fertile ground for extremist groups.

Already, Pakistan's Taliban has pledged revenge, while Hamas - which condemned the September 11 attacks in 2001 - mourned the death of bin Laden as an "Arab holy warrior".

Removing bin Laden from the collective consciousness closes a chapter on one version of the narrative of the Arab world. It is a narrative of hatred couched in religious dictates. It is being replaced, by the people of the "Arab street," with a narrative of hope couched in terms of civil society, honest government and reform.

here are more dimensions to the Middle East than secularism or Islamic fundamentalism. The desire for reform and pluralism have sprung from moderate Muslims seeking a better future - and the elimination of bogeyman like bin Laden makes it easier for the world to envision that future.

Through peaceful protests, calls for constitutional reform, and an end to corruption, publics across the Arab world have shown that the frustrations of the average Arab can be channelled constructively. The result of his demise - in the public imagination at least - has pushed the effect of al Qa'eda further to the fringes of society, where the movement has always subsisted.