“In matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place”
(the Mahatma Gandhi)
The vices of the pre-Arab Spring regimes were numerous, but one of the most salient was that they almost conceiled the probable vices of the incoming regimes.
The reliance of the former regimes of Tunisia, Egypt and, as well as the outgoing Bahar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria, on their security agencies in dealing with their peoples, created suitable conditions for plunder, corruption and nepotism under the aegis of voracious and unscrupulous ruling families.
The “family - controlled police states” managed to govern for several decades during which political life stagnated, and citizens fell easy prey to despair, over-expectations and confusion in visions and priorities.
Throughout the Arab world, the last four decades have been a period of the collapse and demise of several ambitions and slogans. It has also witnessed the end of what were unquestioned preconceptions that the people lived through questioning neither their nature nor their repercussions.
After 1967 - i.e. the Arab defeat in the Five Days’ War - the nationalist option was shaken. It soon collapsed in the aftermath of the “Black September” 1970 events in Jordan; and eventually, died with the Camp David Accords. Then, by 1989 when the Soviet Bloc disintegrated, the socialist and progressive Arab option disintegrated too.
In fact, what for a while had looked like radical regimes of “struggle” against the Israeli occupation of Palestine later metamorphosed into “police states” whose primary aim was to domesticate their citizens, and “occupy” their own countries rather than “liberate” Palestine. They also deserted their loose “progressive” slogans to become confessional, tribal, clannish and “mafia-style” entities.
Is it not interesting that a political party like the Arab Ba’th Socialist Party, which has long preached “one Arab nation” that extends from Mauritania to Somalia and Eritrea (!) has failed to unify the twin states of Iraq and Syria, in spite of being in power in the two states, simultaneously, for around 40 years? Why did it fail?
For three reasons: First, it has ceased to be a party following a series of break ups and splinters. Second, it has moved away from “Arab Renaissance” (i.e. Arab Ba’th) to become warring confessional, clannish and territorial factions. Third, it has turned away from its socialist ideal when its ruling “mafia families” amassed huge fortunes.
Qaddafi’s Libya suffered the systematic destruction of the “state apparatus”, in addition to exploiting tribal and territorial sensitivities within the country, even within one governorate such as Misrata Governorate, where old tensions still engulf its two major towns Misrata and Beni Walid.
With Tunisia and Egypt, however, the situation is quite different. In both countries the “state” institutions are still there, manifested by strong unified army and police, advanced trades unions’ base, and westernised cosmopolitan elites, in spite of the fact that both countries lived under the aura of the two “historical” leaderships of Bourguiba and Nasser.
Islam has also been prominent and ever present in both countries thanks to Az-Zeitouna and Al-Azhar, which makes it obvious that “political islam” should seek to play a leading political role after the demise of regimes that for a long period used it as a bogeyman against their liberal and modernist critics. Actually, it has been noticeable that the attempts by the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes to ostracize and isolate pragmatic Islamist movements, like Ennahda of Tunisia and the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, only managed to make these movements more flexible, adept, and experienced in maneuvering and mobilisation.
The two aforementioned movements, while being the true incubators for more extremists Islamic groups, have also been able to use the increasing strength of the more hardline fundamentalists, jihadists and “takfirists”, to pose as “centrists” and “moderates” capable of co-existing with the “opposite opinion”; indeed, as an obvious and indispensable partner to those in the “opposite” camp.
Since the early days of 2011 both Tunisia’s Ennahda and Egypt’s Muslim Brothers have presented themselves as “revolutionaries” who are willing to be partners in their respective revolutions, and subsequently, the democratic process which is based in all democracies on the principle that “the people are source of legitimacy and government power”. This is quite a serious challenge for two religion-based movements guided by Shari’a. Cutting corners in vibrant societies like those in Tunisia and Egypt is not an easy matter, which is why perhaps, we are witnessing the teething problems suffered at present by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.
The two major Islamic movements were until then successful in avoiding any serious rifts with their partners in their respective revolutions. However, wise observers seem to have been convinced from the start that such interest-based partnership are bound to be short-lived. Divorce would take place once the old regime is toppled.
In Tunisia Ennahda emerged as a winner in the first post-Ben Ali elections, but was unable able to gain an absolute majority, thus, it had to seek a governing coalition with its major leftist and liberal rivals. What happened in Egypt was different; the Muslim Brothers and other Islamist groups managed to win around two thirds of the parliamentary seats thanks to the fragmented no-Islamist camp.
Such a scene is very interesting when one tries to explain how the two Islamist movements are dealing with the current revolutionary realities.
Ennahda, already heading the government, have been embarrassed by the excesses of the Tunisian fundamentalist groups. Due to their keenness not to allow their liberal and leftist rivals enough time to come together in a broad front against “political islam”, they have decides to pick a fight with the powerful Tunisian Trades Union.
In Egypt, on the other hand, the Islamist president Dr Mohammed Mursi only won his re-run presidential election by less than 2 % of the vote, a significant drop in support from the parliamentary elections. But in spite of his slender victory he managed to commit a series of political mistakes all of which show that it is unlikely that the Muslim Brothers are willing tof share power with anybody. The justifications readily used for every mistake have been “government by numerical majority” and “protecting the revolution.”
President Musri seems to have forgotten that a good percentage of those who voted for him in the re-run presidential election were actually voting against his rival (Ahmed Shafiq, a former Mubarak’s friend Gen) rather than endorsing Musri and his Islamist agenda. In fact many of those are now demonstrating against him.
Mursi must have also forgotten that constitutions are based on broad national consensus not temporary majorities. Last but not least, in a country which claims that it has chosen the path of democracy the people must be the source of authority nor the Supremr Guide of The Muslim Brotherhood.
What majority is president Mursi talking about? Is it that majority that allows Binyamin Netanyahu to sabotage within Israel the two-states solution to the Palestinian Problem? Is it the past majorities of segregationist American politicians in pre-civil right Southern U.S. states?
If President Musri is really eager to hear the voice of the people - the whole people - then he must realise that the people’s wishes will not totally change in a month. Thus, would it so bad if the voting on a dubious, discriminatory and potentially divisive constitution is postponed?
(The writer is a columnist at the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, where this article was published on Dec. 10, 2012)