x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Reasons for optimism about Arab Spring

A UK-based Arabic language commentator disagrees with those who say the popular revolutions have failed. Other topics: Syria and wisdom from the past.

Two years on, there are good reasons to be optimistic about the Arab Spring revolutions

"I disagree with the many people, Arabs and non-Arabs, who sounded alarm bells and warned that all hell would break loose if Islamists seized the reins of power," wrote Irfan Nizam Eddine in an article in the UK-based Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

Two years after the start of the Arab Spring, there is no reason for pessimism. Yes, there have been setbacks, turmoil and economic downturn. But these are all part of the price of change after years of stagnation, corruption, persecution and dictatorship, the writer observed.

Other nations have undergone similar troubles during periods of transition and modernisation. In such an environment, all the symptoms of the disease come to light, so that the cause of the disease can be diagnosed and removed, he continued.

So let us see the glass as half full. Everything now is the open; each party has been measured based on what they have said and done, with all their mistakes and the associated threats. Now, the Arab peoples, notably the revolutionaries, have the ball in their court.

Look at Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, and you will find that the journey has begun with positive steps despite concerns about the Islamist Ennahda Party dominating power.

Recent developments - the large-scale popular uprising and, before that, the elections - have proven that the Tunisian people are not going to allow their revolution to be hijacked. It has been proven that Ennahda is unable to dominate government or win a landslide majority to achieve its goals. Coalition is a must.

In Libya, the situation is still blurry. Islamist groups failed to win in post-Qaddafi elections, while moderate parties earned the majority of votes. And hard-line Islamist groups could not seize power by force despite their weapons and militias.

Egypt best exemplifies the post-revolution commotion. The Muslim Brotherhood won the battle of the presidential race and seized the reigns of government after sidelining the top figures of the January 25 revolution.

But they have not won the war. Instead, it can be said that they have lost it, after they entangled themselves in avoidable conflicts and problems, the writer noted.

Among the major causes of setbacks in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere: cravings for a power monopoly and hasty decision-making; unclear vision over the implementation of Sharia; lack of clear-cut political and economic agendas; confusion over the relationship with Israel and the West; and repeating the mistakes of the old regimes, especially in regard to freedom of expression.

But despite the setbacks, Nizam Eddine concluded, there are good reasons to look on the bright side. Any attempt at power monopoly has failed.

So it is now up to the Arab publics and intelligentsia to take matters into their own hands and shape their own futures.

World inaction irks Syrian opposition

"It's back to square one in Syria," wrote columnist Mazen Hammad in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan yesterday.

The writer was commenting on a recent statement by the Syrian coalition of opposition forces, in which they condemned the inaction of the international community as more Syrians are getting killed every day, notably in Aleppo, by the regime's missiles.

The Syrian opposition also decided to cancel several meetings - in Rome, Washington and Moscow - as an expression of its deep frustration with several rounds of talks it has held with international players, without results.

A few weeks earlier, there was "a glimmer of hope", the columnist wrote, that a breakthrough might be achieved when the leader of the coalition, Moaz Al Khatib, declared that the opposition would be open to a dialogue with some Syrian regime figures.

But that opportunity has now been lost, he added, and the opposition is not to blame for that. The regime's answer came in the form of missiles.

"The White House keeps giving unconvincing arguments as to why it is refusing to support the Syrian revolution," the writer said.

Washington says it fears weapons might fall in the hands of Al Qaeda and that more chaos might ensue after President Bashar Al Assad's departure.

But, until the international community makes up its mind, Syrians will continue to die, the author said.

Wise message from early Muslim scholars

Islamists who are now in power, or are vying for it, have a few key lessons to learn from Muslim scholars of the past who emphasised the importance of separating religion and public affairs, wrote the Syrian Hussein Odat in yesterday's edition of the Dubai newspaper Al Bayan.

Odat noted that Jamal Addin Al Afghani, the well-known 19th century Muslim scholar, wrote that "everything ephemeral in this world is subject to the absolute human mind, and thus legislation changes as nations change".

"It is misleading to say that Islam combines civilian and religious authority. This idea is utterly erroneous and intrudes upon Islam," Al Afghani wrote.

The Muslim Brothers and Salafists in Egypt - and others who are trying to monopolise power and impose their own understanding of Sharia in public life - must consider these words of wisdom, the writer said.

The Egyptian scholar and reformer Muhammad Abduh, who served as grand mufti of Egypt in the 19th century, said: "So-called 'religious authority' or 'the religious institution' do not exist in Islam, for Islam does not grant the judge, the mufti or the scholar the least control over creed."

Unfortunately, these enlightened ideas seem to be far-fetched these days, the author concluded.


* Digest compiled by the Translation Desk