The Arab Spring is making way for a scorching Islamist Summer
Published: Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011, 1:32 IST By Francois Gautier Place: Mumbai Agency: DNA
The Mother of Pondichery once said something like this: “Man is enamoured of his own pain — and sometimes, he even welcomes it”!
I remember a few years ago in Kathmandu, Nepal, when the monarchy had fallen, hearing the Indian ambassador in Nepal, Shyam Sharan, announcing gleefully during a press conference that the Maoists were on the verge of taking power and that they had India’s support. I must have been the only journalist there who pointed out that the Maoists were not particularly enamoured of Delhi and that India would face yet another potential pro-Pakistan or pro-Chinese hostile country overlooking it from a strategic height. He looked at me as if I was mad.
The Mother was right. Man sometimes actually welcomes the forces that are hostile to him or his country or even have come to destroy him. How many times did Indian maharajas, generals, nawabs, invite the enemy in their midst? All Arab and European conquerors had it easy that way.
This leads us to the attitude of the West, particularly of the United States, towards what has been called the Arab revolutions. For some of us who watched these street revolts, there was always the question: where is it going to lead? Those in South Asia who covered Kashmir, remember the old Kashmir, where Sufism and tolerance were still alive till the late eighties, where women went uncovered, cinemas and hotels flourished. But we also witnessed the last Sufi shrine in Kashmir, Char-e-Sharif burnt to the ground by militants, women forced to cover themselves from head to toe, cinemas banned — and we lost our innocence in the process, henceforth always harbouring some suspicion about ‘revolutions’ in the Muslim world.
It is true that there was youth, enthusiasm and spontaneity in many of these revolts, but nevertheless, one was surprised at the way the western world, particularly Barack Obama, not only embraced them, but even gave military support to them under the guise of NATO airstrikes.
Mubarak and Gaddafi may have been dictators — but they were secular in their own way. Hosni Mubarak particularly, was no terrorist like Gaddafi. He was a friend of the West, kept the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the most radical movements in the world after the al Qaeda, at arm’s length and women in Egypt could go around freely, veiled or not veiled.
After he was removed, with President Obama’s blessings, the whole world rejoiced. Yet, very quickly, we witnessed the first signs of Egypt heading in the wrong direction: the Supreme Military Council which has taken over from Mubarak, immediately realigned foreign policy to include better relations with Iran. The foreign minister is soon going to go on a highly symbolic visit to Gaza, now run by Hamas and last week Cairo reopened its border with the Gaza strip, which may allow Hamas to freely import rockets to bomb Israel. Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic fundamentalists, jailed by Hosni Mubarak, have also been released and are preaching openly or forming new parties. Recent weeks have seen the worst clashes in years between Muslims and the Coptic Christian minority, even though priests and imams stood together in Tahrir Square. More alarmingly, a recent poll found that 58 per cent of Egyptians want to tear up the 32-year-old peace treaty with Israel, 62 per cent, want Egyptian law to follow the Koran strictly, and 75 per cent look favourably on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Thus, if these revolutions actually embodied the aspirations of the people of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, or Yemen, for a more Islamic brand of government, we will see not only, as in Kashmir, a radicalisation of Islam, the loss of liberties, especially for women, but also these regimes later turn back against the very hands that helped them: the West and particularly the United States.
Barack Hussain Obama has several identities: American — and there is no doubt he has a sincere aspiration for his country; African — but we have not seen much of concern for these countries; Christian — his wife is a staunch Christian and he swore allegiance to America on the Bible … But also Muslim— and that is the big question mark: how much does this secret, hidden part of his personality influence him and how much does it weigh on his decisions? The way President Obama has been supporting not only Egypt but coaxing NATO to bomb Libya and kill hundreds of civilians must put a question mark on his hidden identities.