Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
The democratic “Arab Spring” (Islamist Spring) is unraveling or tearing itself asunder with grave human rights violations and degenerating to further political oppression. The youth-bulge in highly Muslim developing nations, the poor economic performance, corruption, lack of freedoms, and abuses are all well cited reasons for the regional unrest and uprisings. Unfortunately, the demonstrations demand better leadership or revolution than can at this time be given. And the rulers, elected or otherwise, turn on their opposing factions once they are placed in power.
In Egypt, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) are the real rulers behind the throne. Along with the Interior Ministry, they appear to be making matters worse: launching a preemptive counterinsurgency against political enemies- the targeting and political imprisonment of the Muslim Brotherhood and the overuse of force on pro-Morsi civilian demonstrators.
The removal of former President Mohamed Morsi appeared as a genuine majoritarian consensus, in spite of the fact that there was no election. If by numbers of protestors removing the previous dictator, before Morsi, indicates anything, then such a demand for any Egyptian president is a matter of peaceful public demonstration. The anti-Morsi demonstrations were reportedly higher than those of the anti-Mubarak. Nevertheless the result is the same for a democratically elected president as any other kind: the Egyptian Revolution is an on-going process.
Unfortunately, the “deep state” (the SCAF, police, courts) are pushing too far and swing the other way. The interim government officials have spoken out against the overuse of force.
While a majority surely wanted Morsi gone and do not support his agenda, the reality of the coming war between secular nationalists and Islamists may really be more like 50-50. The problem is one of the losing side not participating when the other is in power. Boycotting the Morsi Constitution, boycotting parliamentary votes, electoral outrage, they seem to get half of it right, but not the other half. As for the ones in power, they are often not really power-sharing at all but controlling the opposition through procedure.
Just yesterday (Saturday July 27) the Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim’s most recent act in dispersing crowds neat the Rabaa al Adawiya mosque in Cairo. Around 72 were killed; and over 200 killed since the military deposed Morsi, reports the New York Times.
The Ministry asserts that it has not fired live ammunition at the protestors and uses tear gas as a mainstay. They argued this was not a massacre but that demonstrators caused a civil disturbance, blocked access to roads and clashed with other protestors, some of them armed from either side.
Each side is protecting itself or trying to find the advantage (Brotherhood) or the right techniques for damage control (current regime). The Brotherhood alleges that there have been 120 killed and 4,500 injured. The Ministry reports only 21 deaths.
Regardless of the actual numbers, the “deep state” is likely to go too far in its counter-offensive. Already they have labeled their enemies violent terrorists. Their Muslim Brotherhood “enemies” are becoming group martyrs again. This turns a larger number of them violent, gains them sympathizers and gives them greater numbers of recruits.
The rest of the “Spring” marks some reforms but largely a stall, resting hope on institutional change being a faulty attempt at change. Tunisia sings the same song: the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. Discontent with moderate Islamists political party, Ennahda, which came to power in October of 2011. Just like Egypt, Tunisian Islamists demonstrate poor political performance, lack of economic priorities, lack of cracking down on more radical Muslim extremists, political persecution and major events like the assassination of Leftist leaders like Chokri Belaid and Mohammed Brahmi. A power-sharing deal is being proposed.
Even though Islamists and salafists have different methods: both want a highly Islamic state- the former wanting Western modernity mixed with Islam and willing to accomplish this peacefully via politics and the latter desiring a more orthodox view of going back to ways of their ancestors and the example of the Prophet. Salfists will be more content with an Islamic caliphate encompassing multiple states but Islamists are often transnationalists as well.
Often the Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood are labeled “moderates” and the salafists determined as the hardliners or extremists. But this is incorrect. These are different distinctions than local or transnational jihadists. Unfortunately for Islamists and salafists, there is often an ideological blur and the two can work together more easily politically than with secular nationalist political rivals; as did the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt and salafists parties like Al Nour.
Their greatest obstacle, however, has been the abandonment of pre-Islamic political culture that is tribal, exclusive and unfortunately cut-throat and brutal. If the West did not just overnight have a revolution to overcome this, it should not expect the Middle East to do the same with a fell swooping revolutionary “Spring.” Turmoil will be the unfortunate necessary condition. Protestantism within Islam may still be decades away; and even that did not stop torture and political oppression in the Western world until hundreds of years later and many wars.
This will likely be a long process but a direction worth striving towards. The once peaceful protests continue on and off as the Muslim world struggle attempts to use peaceful demonstrations, democracy and modernity. Two more obstacles: the coalition in power does not observe public will. The other: an unwillingness to convert to political liberalism.
Of the Spring, there remains the Yemeni presidential elections to be held in 2014, the outcomes of the Syrian Civil War, Libyan and Bahraini civil strife; visible public unrest or civil strife in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Algeria, Lebanon, Sudan, and elsewhere. In the end, Spring dies every season by end Fall and Winter but there will be another Spring.