Changing Arab regimes or their figureheads?

Hazem Saghieh

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There are two opposing voices in the Syrian cultural environment reflecting different perspectives. One says change should target positions meaning that the revolution should overthrow the current regime along with its symbols, institutions and apparatuses. Another says change should target figureheads, first and perhaps last, meaning that the real revolution is overthrowing the current societal culture, particularly overthrowing the concepts of Islamic politics, its values and its practices.

The first opinion turns the “cultural” into an insult whilst the second opinion does the same to the “political.”

Not understanding the entire concept of “revolution” is partially a result of thoughts and jurisprudences. But it is also partially a result of social and civil formations that are no longer difficult to infer. However, in all cases, revolutionary work weakens to an extent reflecting its weak formation.

Locking freedom’s doors

If we are to look at Egypt and Tunisia after their revolutions as an example, one can say that the transition to changing their figureheads should have also changed the country’s rule.
Hazem Saghieh

Revolutions are not considered complete if at the end they do not shake the current cultural and societal constructs. But, in Syria’s case, how can such an aim be achieved without altering a regime’s rule that only operates through violence, locks the doors to freedom, considers the least of suspicions as a crime “that weakens the nation” and eventually prevents individuals, who are supposed to doubt and make change, from feeling that they have dignities?

If we are to look at Egypt and Tunisia after their revolutions as an example, one can say that the transition to changing their figureheads should have also changed the country’s rule. This is whilst knowing that the violence of Egypt and Tunisia’s previous regimes is nothing compared to that of the Assad regime.

Political confusion

Amid this political confusion alone and specifically through the struggle over authority, rather in the presence of an atmosphere that allows launching a struggle over power, “naturalizing the criticism of Islamic politics and politicizing it” (as Samer Franjieh wrote in Al-Hayat last Sunday) occurs.

Amid this context, it is feared that exaggeration in the theory of changing figureheads and presenting it as a priority may lead to deal lightly with the issue of changing regimes if not even overlook it. Truth is, this exaggeration is partially responsible for the Islamic politics’ control of tyrannized and change positions.

But changing regimes should also hint that changing figureheads will be included on the agenda. The weakness of this hint is not very reassuring. It is what leads those behind it to avoid an angry reaction from those who call for changing figureheads first. Some of these reactions are to exaggerate evading culture and intellectuals, to display an increased readiness to be tolerant with populist behavior, rather tending to celebrate it and glorify it sometimes, in addition to overlook extremist actions that must not be overlooked under any circumstances. Sometimes, these reactions tend to condemn what is western and progressive because the “people” are not like that.

Yes. It is certain that changing a regime’s rule comes first. But without beginning to change figureheads right after altering regimes, we will sooner or later find ourselves confronting regimes worse than the previous ones.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on Feb. 26, 2013

(Lebanese journalist Hazem Saghieh is a senior columnist and editor at al-Hayat daily. He grew up in Lebanon during the golden age of pan-Arabism. Saghieh’s vision of a united Arab world was shattered when the Israelis emerged victorious from the 1967 war.)

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