By Dr. Murad Alazzany, A professor in Sana’a University
As the revolutionary events that swept the Arab world were unpredictable and abrupt, western administrations were left ambivalent on how to react to them. They were hedging regarding their decision whether to side themselves with their long allies whom they vested in securing their interests in the area or with the democratic principles and values they used to preach the world for a long time. However the stunning fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt had the western capitals to flare up a discourse that positioned them fully on the side of the revolutionary youth. They called the uprising events a historical moment in which the inspiration of the people are realized.
However, it did not take that long before Western Foreign policy makers started to wax pessimism about the change in the area. They viewed it as an ominous prelude for the rise of Islamists into power- which in their perspective would turn the Arab spring into winter. The influence of that pessimism reached the extent to read the return of Shiakh Al-qardawai to Egypt and Al-ganwshi to Tunisia after decades in exile as a growth indication of Islamism in the area.
Out of that obsession, Clinton flew to Cairo to ask the military council to delay the parliamentary election to give liberal parties a chance to organize themselves against the Islamic Brotherhood movement. The Muslim Brotherhood is viewed the Egypt’s best-organized opposition group- which exacerbated the fears of winning the election over the liberal and secular parties.
Last month, in a Congressional Hearings a proposal by Clinton administration to specify 140 millions to support the fledgling democracy in Egypt was rejected. The congress alleged the budgetary constraints to be behind its rejection. It also rejected to channel substantial sums from funds specified for the Middle East to support the nascent democracy in Egypt.
The congress rejection to support nascent democracies in Egypt or Tunisia in such a transitional and critical period was not contrary to the expectations of many in the Arab world. It is well know that the United States, since the 9/11 events, has confined itself to a foreign policy approach that kept looking at the area from geopolitical interest and security perspective. That approach is labelled in American foreign circles A Realist Approach. Through the prism of that approach, Islamists are viewed a menacing threat to the US’s interests. Thus the United States became determined not to support democracies where they are likely to yield Islalmists into power.
Currently, the fear of Islamists shoved many American foreign policy pundits to recommend the American administration to fortify the centres of liberal and secularist parties against the Islamic and national ones. One of the ways to fortify such centres is to offer a financial aids and a protection for civil society organizations and their leaders. If the US pursues such recommendations- intervening to decide the outcome of the democratic process and it political player- it will ruin people inspiration towards a successful democratic transition. Besides, it will destroy the good image it has maintained by positioning itself on the side of the revolutionary youth.
The best way the West can help the Arab world to reach a true democratic transition is to stick to a more realist approach at this instant than any time before. A realistic approach must seek to deal with region as it is, shorn of fears and political illusions. It does not seek to change it or favour certain political keys the way it serves its interests. Within such a realist approach, the US has to accept the fact that Islamists represent a cultural identity and a historical reality of the area. If they happened to rise into power within a true democratic electoral system, it is then what the vast populations in the region want and what the US should respect.
American foreign policy makers in particular should not fail under the illusion of extremism that they can somehow exclude Islamic parties to participate in the political transition in the area. Their challenge is to distinguish between Islamic groups which have adopted democracy as their political tool to operate within the change in the area from those group which adopt violence as their tool to achieve their agenda. Instead of excluding such civil groups the west is obliged to seek ways of to engage with them. At the end, American foreign a democratic transition will have to include all the contending parties in order to be seen genuine and legitimate.
Some western pundits and foreign policy makers deny the origin of their fear of Islamists’ rise into power to be their interests. They rather attribute it to the Islamists’ aspiration to endorse the Sharia’a law. This endorsement is viewed as a violation of human rights and a salvation for their morals. Of course, that is only because they tend to see the principles of western culture in glowing term-viewing them the only standards to judge the Other. This makes western foreign policy makers and pundits to see themselves as a benign hegemony and consequently to parade themselves as human rights warriors. They must be notified that if the Sharia’a law application is viewed an oppression of human right, the ‘ imperialist hegemony’ is even worse.
Western foreign policy makers and pundits just need to understand that the Sharia’a law which is the compendium of rules and application devised over centuries by jurists of Islamic empire is part of the people faith and culture. It has eventually developed to equate the state law rather than a body of legal opinion. Thus, the life of the people will go disciplined by strict enforcing of it.
However, the real problem is the tendency of Americans to base their thoughts and policies on what they want. They tend to wistfully think that they can fool people into liking their policies even if they are contrary to their interests. This spiteful form of wishful thinking is what makes Americans reluctant to accept the fact their honey-moon decades with autocracy in the Arab world are over. That is when they used to deal with one autocratic man to secure their interests. They know that dealing with parliaments and an unbuttoned media will make it hard for them to secure its interests represented in fighting terrorism, stemming the rise of Islamists, allowing the flow of oil and protecting Israel.
However, as the Arab public pursues a dramatic change the west must display understanding for the demands of the people and capability of adapting to them. The proper path for the west is to make an instant revision for its conventional policies and formulas of the past by which it used to look at the area and its people. It must seize this remarkable moment to establish a new partnership with the Arab world which must be based on mutual respect, cooperation and co-existence.
That starts by helping the Arabs to succeed in making a genuine democratic transition as it is for the vital interests of both sides. Within a democratic and transparent atmosphere, there will be a possibility to eradicate terrorism. This rational is grounded on the fact that extremism thrived on Arab despotism and on the American hypocrisy involved in supporting that repression. At the same time, the policies in the area which culminated in the Iraq and Afghanistan contributed on the rise of terrorism rather than on eliminating the conditions driving the young towards it.
The death of bin laden might come at the right time to offer the Arabs and the west a chance to leave problems of a decade behind. A decade in which extremism was the prism through which Arabs were largely viewed and the accusation they are readily available to be thrown with. The timing of Bin laden’s and the revolutionary events was not a mere coincidence to pass without contemplation. It indicates that extremism and despotism are linked to each other- it happened that each thrived on another and it may distained to end together. There is a hope that their demise will mark the end of despotism in the Arab world and extremism from the grip of American’s imagination. Thus both can cooperate to make their own worlds better.
Democracies are also known of bringing people together and to heighten levels of trade and commerce between them. Thus, the flow of oil will continue as the Arabs still need its prices to pursue development and progress in their societies. Thus, they would mind to leave it at the doors of western leaders as long they pay cash for it.
In fact it is only the plight of Palestinians under the occupation of Israel which represents an obstacle for any cooperation between the Arab world and the west. This issue has been a root of unrest and conflict in the area. Pursuing a democratic transition and stability in the area depends in resolving this issue in a way that ingenerate peace and justice for the Palestinians. The Middle east will not be settle as long as Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians are tolerated by the international community . The west does not need to give that unnecessary support for Israel rather to seek way by which Palestinians can have their independent state side by side with Israel and within the borders of 1967.